Rheingold! Rheingold!

Went to the opera twice in the last 7 days. Which is a bit of an event. It’s partly to do with this new job with BBC4, partly because a gorgeous gay couple had a spare ticket.

The newly-refurbished ENO is a treat. The auditorium looks amazing and it struck me how much more spacious and comfortable it is compared to Covent Garden. Restored to it’s sparkling glory 100 years after it opened in 1904, the Coliseum is a really bobby-dazzler of a building.

And the first part of Phyllida Lloyd’s Ring Cycle production is a gem too.

It’s a great opera. Rheingold. 2 and half hours long without a break admittedly, but I never once felt bored which is quite an achievement for Wagner. And top of the list of reasons for that is Jeremy Sam’s amazing translation. I’ve always been aware of the naturalistic to-ings and fro-ings beneath this tale of gods, giants and dragons but Wagner’s German text is willfully archaic and wordy. Sam’s manages to excavate a fluid and nuanced English which seems drawn onto the body of the characters.

And Ms. Lloyd’s trashy modern interpretation works really well with just the right mix of alienation and sass. Wotan and Fricka are like self-important home owners screwing the planet to save their own little backyard. And the singing and playing was absolutely top-notch too.

Compare and contrast the dreary evening I spent at Royal Opera two nights ago. Samson et Dalila is an opera justly neglectd for decades. And why Covent Garden feels obliged to chuck millions of pounds of subsidised money at this overblown revival is a blood-boiling mystery. Is this the justification of the £3.1 million Arts Council grant and £140+ ticket prices (compared to top whack £65 at ENO)? A pantomimic pastiche of “grand” opera complete with unreconstructed Orientalism and old-school operatic acting of the worst kind. I counted 65 extras on the stage in one scene adding nothing but terrible hamminess and a woeful sense of senseless expense.

It’s only the memory of Tom Ades’ Tempest that stops me wanting the whole place shut down and turned into a cinema.