Richard Bratby

Ecstasy from Birmingham Opera Company: Wagner’s RhineGold reviewed

Plus: meat-and-two-veg programming at the First Night of the Proms – but it hit the spot

The moment in Birmingham Opera Company's production of Das Rheingold where music, visuals and meaning suddenly coalesce, expand and engulf everyone present. Image: ©Andrew Fox

At the end of Birmingham Opera Company’s RhineGold, as the gods stood ready to enter Valhalla, Donner swung a baseball bat and summoned a rainbow bridge of human bodies — crawling, abject, before the new lords of creation. It was pretty much what we’ve come to expect from BOC’s founder Graham Vick, a director who never hints at a contemporary social message when he can ramraid our consciousness with one. Here, though, there was another twist of the knife. The human bridge was made up of delivery couriers, complete with branded cagoules and cycle helmets. Didn’t someone describe lockdown as ‘middle-class people hiding while working-class people bring them things?’. A smart touch, and vintage Graham Vick.

Except Vick wasn’t there. He died three weeks ago from complications of Covid-19, just as rehearsals commenced. This staging was directed by his long-term BOC collaborator Richard Willacy, and it’s impossible to say how closely it resembled Vick’s vision, in as far as he’d tied anything down. BOC always operates on the hoof, and apparently Symphony Hall was the third choice of venue. It was transformed, with a circular stage erected over the stalls, and the cast (including the non-professional community performers that Vick always put at the centre of his work in Birmingham) entering and exiting from all sides. If this wasn’t a Graham Vick production, his legacy — and his desperately missed presence — could not have been more evident.

BOC – incontestably the most artistically significant force in British opera this century – must survive

Naturally, this was an urban Rheingold. The Rhinemaidens were selfie-taking party girls, Alberich (Ross Ramgobin) was a Just Eat courier, and Wotan (Eric Greene)’s posse of bickering deities were nouveau-riche celebs in ghetto-fabulous threads, first seen giving a press conference for FNN: Fake News Network. That was surely a Vick touch; likewise Wotan’s MAGA hat, slipped on for the benefit of the cameras.

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