The “Ring,” given its size and prominence, is a symbol of an opera house’s values, and the lean vitality of Kosky’s vision, which will unfold in London over the coming years, seems right for an era of budget and programming cuts.
At the Royal Opera, Pappano and the orchestra match Kosky with fiery but never overblown playing, especially from the lush yet biting strings, their intimacy startling. This is a “Rheingold” that, first and foremost, supports its singers.
Wotan, the king of the gods, and Alberich, the dwarf who steals the gold from the Rhine, are here almost brotherly figures, both with bald heads and sturdy bodies, and they share certain qualities, too. Christopher Purves’s Alberich has aristocratic reserve, while Christopher Maltman’s booming, tight-smiling Wotan is capable of feverish aggression; it is shocking but not surprising when he cuts off Alberich’s finger to take the ring.
Yet the tenderness with which Maltman embraces the fragile Erda, as the voice of the goddess is heard warning him to give up the ring, is just as indelible, and feels just as true. As Fricka, Wotan’s wife, Marina Prudenskaya sings with slicing anxiety; Sean Panikkar is a charismatically grinning, cackling playboy as Loge, the anarchic fire god; Insung Sim is unusually agonized as the giant Fasolt.
This is not an ostentatious production. But the finale, which shouldn’t be given away, is proscenium-filling spectacle, and vintage Kosky, in that it uses one of theater’s simplest, most traditional devices with unforgettable showman flair, conveying all the glittering glamour and fundamental emptiness of the gods’ ascent to their new home — a triumph as hollow as the giant tree.
Through Sept. 29 at the Royal Opera House, London; roh.co.uk.