Coliseum, London
Director Richard Jones brings magic-realist noir to Wagner’s world – with results that range from poignant to distracting

English National Opera’s The Valkyrie marks the start of the company’s new Ring cycle, conducted by Martyn Brabbins and directed by Richard Jones. The opening night, however, had its fair share of troubles. Days beforehand, for starters, Westminster Council vetoed the use of flame effects in the last act on safety grounds. Annilese Miskimmon, ENO’s artistic director, accordingly asked the audience to use their imaginations, as Wagner would perhaps have wished. The production is itself, however, notably uneven, and the fire-less final scene felt anticlimactic at the end of what was ultimately a far from fulfilling evening.

This is Jones’s second Ring for London, and though magic-realist noir has now replaced the absurdism of his 1995 Covent Garden cycle, his starting point for Valkyrie remains the same, with Sieglinde (Emma Bell) casting spells to summon Siegmund (Nicky Spence) into her life through a trapdoor in the floor. Stewart Laing’s designs suggest a dying, post-apocalyptic world, where humanity exists alongside sinister anthropomorphic creatures, Wotan’s ravens among them, and black ash falls repeatedly from the sky. Hunding (Brindley Sherratt) keeps Sieglinde confined in a wooden shack, while Matthew Rose’s hot-tempered Wotan and Rachel Nicholls’s Brünnhilde (dressed to resemble a younger Billie Eilish) hang out in what seems to be its upmarket equivalent. Fricka (acted by the indisposed Susan Bickley on opening night, while Claire Barnett-Jones sang from the wings) is tellingly out of place here, with her airs, graces and urban glamour.

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