LONDON — It’s by no means a good suggestion for a critic to make predictions, however I’ll enterprise one: When the Metropolitan Opera’s subsequent staging of Wagner’s epic “Der Ring des Nibelungen” arrives in New York in just a few years, there received’t be any tales concerning the set.
The final time the Met unveiled a “Ring,” 11 years in the past, there have been hardly tales about something however the set: Twenty-four large, seesawing planks conceived by the director, Robert Lepage. Splashed with projections, these planks formed themselves into the sprawling four-opera cycle’s varied locales, from the heavens to the depths. And “the machine,” because it grew to become identified, saved making information, with its 45 tons, its technological sophistication, its phenomenal expense, its creaks and malfunctions.
It labored, the Met insisted, greater than it didn’t. However working or not, the machine was at all times the main target — not the music, the characters or the mental themes of Wagner’s deeply human, politically charged magnum opus.
Richard Jones’s new production — the primary installment of which, “Die Walküre,” was offered on Friday by English Nationwide Opera on the London Coliseum — couldn’t be extra totally different. (“Das Rheingold,” “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung” are scheduled to roll out right here over the following few years earlier than all of it involves New York beginning in 2025.)
Easy, easy, clear and grim, Jones’s “Ring” to date options units which are pared down — even, by the top, nonexistent: The ultimate act of his “Walküre” takes place on a naked stage, dusted with black snow and ringed with plain darkish curtains. The machine isn’t any extra.
In these austere environment, designed by Jones’s longtime collaborator, Stewart Laing, the interactions of the opera’s emotionally wounded, invariably disillusioned characters really feel bleaker than ever. Amid the starkness, Siegmund and Sieglinde’s covert love within the first act presents them much less ecstasy than barely momentary reduction. Within the third act, with out Lepage’s planks noisily shaping a snowy mountain round Brünnhilde and Wotan, the viewers has no distraction from the shattered relationship of this father and daughter.
The setting is modern — however vaguely so, stylized, nearly summary. Within the opening act, the hut through which Sieglinde lives is a lonely cabin of ominous newness, as if a band of survivalists had not too long ago constructed a hideaway. (This might not be far off: Her husband Hunding’s gang all have the identical obscure image printed, militia-style, on their shirts.) Firstly of the second act, Wotan, wearing a vivid pink ski jacket, is staying at a lodge; Brünnhilde wears sneakers, a saggy T-shirt and shorts, together with her title printed down the perimeters.
However although the soprano Rachel Nicholls, who performs that function, stated in a recent interview that Jones’s imaginative and prescient of Brünnhilde, the cycle’s heroine, is loosely impressed by Greta Thunberg, that appears extra a reference to Thunberg’s youthful assertiveness than to her environmental activism. It is a present however not (at the least not but) explicitly current-events “Ring.” Wotan and his livid spouse, Fricka, stylish in white, are identifiably bourgeois right here, however there may be not a robust social or political message driving the opera’s conflicts.
Like many recent productions of the “Ring,” the general fashionable gloss of this one is shot via with conventional touches, and little right here actually violates the libretto. A tree grows within the heart of the hut in Act I, simply as Wagner wrote, its branches tearing via the roof and a mighty sword buried in its trunk. The Valkyries have horses — shivering cloth-draped actors with animal heads — and spears. On the finish, Brünnhilde, who wears a breastplate over her T-shirt, is encircled in a blazing ring of fireplace. (Properly, extra on that later.)
And the manufacturing, whereas spartan, doesn’t stint on theatrical aptitude, as when the Valkyries, charged with carrying slain warriors to Valhalla, connect cords to the lads’s our bodies, which then float up in solemn limpness. With out scenic spectacle, small occasions — like Hunding’s hut shifting slowly upstage — register as nearly thrilling.
Jones elicits tiny but revealing moments from his performers, too. Climbing on all fours over a daybed, the eloquent, lyrical bass Matthew Rose conveys right away the important childishness of Wotan, the king of the gods. And when Fricka reaches out a few inches, making an attempt to take his unreceptive hand, it’s a miniature portrait of a damaged marriage. Siegmund lifts Sieglinde’s sleeping physique and walks together with her in order that her toes are dragging on the ground, a surprisingly poignant intertwining of affection and loss of life.
That is altogether extra detailed, shifting, stimulating and satisfying than the Met manufacturing it’ll change. And tellingly, Jones’s single use of projections is extra haunting than something Lepage got here up with: The nefarious Alberich, who solid the omnipotent ring of the title, seems, grinning with gold-capped enamel, as Wotan’s waking nightmare.
The applause on the finish for Jones — hardly euphoric cheers, however not a boo to be heard — will need to have been gratifying for a director whose historical past with the “Ring” is troubled. After an aborted cycle at Scottish Opera, begun within the late Eighties, he made one other effort on the Royal Opera in London just a few years later, within the spirit of the influential Brechtian, absurdist “Ring” that Ruth Berghaus staged in Frankfurt within the mid-80s.
Jones’s “Ring” was a infamous fiasco, with the catcalls — introduced on by Rhinemaidens in fats fits, Fricka driving what seemed like a black cab, Beckettian giants, childlike drawings and tribal masks — making the entrance pages of native newspapers. It was sufficient, in his telling, to scare Jones off opera for a bit. (Throughout his break, amongst different initiatives, he directed the 1997 musical “Titanic,” which surmounted a raft of early technical points to turn into a Broadway hit.)
However he has since returned in earnest to opera homes with productions together with a melancholy, dreamlike “Hänsel und Gretel” that has been a frequent vacation presence on the Met because it arrived there in 2007. A surreal picture from that manufacturing recurs in Jones’s “Walküre”: The fish and bushes in gown fits from “Hänsel” at the moment are shadowy figures on the margins of the set, with human our bodies and the oversize heads of birds.
English Nationwide Opera — performing, as is its customized, in English translation — has introduced collectively a superb British forged dedicated to Jones’s imaginative and prescient. Nicholls’s voice isn’t large, nevertheless it’s penetrating and candy, and he or she’s convincingly a sensible, courageous if headstrong teenager. The tenor Nicky Spence is a sturdy, ne’er-do-well Siegmund; Emma Bell’s sturdy but mellow soprano, full via its vary, vibrates with emotion as Sieglinde; the bass Brindley Sherratt is a brooding, bruising Hunding.
Affected by a chilly, Susan Bickley acted Fricka whereas the mezzo-soprano Claire Barnett-Jones — one of many Valkyries — sang it, with articulate energy, from the facet of the stage. Martyn Brabbins, the corporate’s music director, led a torpid first act that later improved in responsiveness, with out ever feeling actually pressing. (On the Met, Yannick Nézet-Séguin will conduct a distinct set of singers.)
Not all the things works within the staging: When the motion is that this uncovered, any false step is magnified. Siegmund and Sieglinde finish the primary act working round in large circles, which got here throughout as foolish. And whereas the agonizing stillness of Brünnhilde and particularly Wotan of their lengthy last scene is efficient in principle, Rose and Jones don’t fairly promote his limitless impassivity, and the stress generally slackens.
However all in all, this might be a tonic for the Met and its viewers, conditioned by the Lepage period — and the monumental, Nineteenth-century-style Otto Schenk staging that preceded it — to suppose that the “Ring” can’t be placed on with out inconceivable extravagance and expense. Jones presents a reacquaintance with the intimate drama on the coronary heart of the magic fireplace.
Oh, however about these flames. Even with a manufacturing this seemingly uncomplicated, it simply wouldn’t be a “Ring” with out technical problems. Days earlier than Friday’s premiere, the native authorities vetoed the essential, climactic fireplace impact to make sure the security of the century-old Coliseum. So Brünnhilde, wrapped in Wotan’s jacket, was lifted towards the flies — and remained suspended there because the stage stayed chilly and naked.
Sure, the Jones “Ring,” similar to its Lepage predecessor — whose rainbow bridge stalled on the opening evening of “Das Rheingold” — has formally begun with a headache. Maybe the Met ought to begin engaged on these fireplace code approvals now.
By Dec. 10 on the Coliseum, London; eno.org.