Das Rheingold, prologue to the trilogy Der Ring des Nibelungen, is notoriously difficult to stage, with enormous differences of settings between one scene and the next and the necessity of a huge orchestra. This new production by the Rome Opera House is the start, it is hoped, of the considerable undertaking of staging annually one each of the four operas, with the culmination of the whole Ring being staged at one go in the fifth year. However, as things stand, the government is set on savage budget cutting and there is no confirmed programme at all in any Italian opera house even for 2006. This project may therefore come to nothing, but the direst situations in this country seem to have a habit of being unexpectedly resolved in extremis, with life then continuing as normal, and the minister for culture, Rocco Buttiglione, is already making noises that such cuts would be a serious error. It is very much to be hoped that a solution is reached, because this admirable new high-tech, high-class production is a further important step on the road already taken by the Teatro dellOpera di Roma, of excellent productions at costs as reasonable as is consistent with the finest quality, a policy which has led to Rome being the only opera house in Italy which manages to run without deficit. If the rest of this Ring does indeed come off and at the same level, it will be something very exciting.

Costumes and sets are by PierAlli; the costumes are classic Wagner robes, vaguely mediaevally inspired, but the sets are exceptionally innovative and effective. Constantly moving computerized images are projected onto a transparent screen to the front of the stage, while the singers move on simple fixed structures either behind the screen and visible through it or in front of it. In spite of action that shifts abruptly from the bed of the Rhine to mountain peaks with Valhalla in the background, mists and so on, such techniques allow scenes to change very speedily, with minimum effort and maximum effectiveness.

Will Humburg conducts with superb authority. Although a Wagnerian hand of long experience, he sets about the daunting task of guiding the vast orchestra through the extreme difficulties of the score with an extraordinary energy, freshness and enthusiasm.

All the singers were of a very high standard, with the principals exceptionally so; special mention should be made of Ralf Lukas as Wotan, Christian Franz as the cunning Loge, the truly exceptional Hartmut Welker as the odious and treacherous Alberich, Elisabete Matos as the sweetly-voiced Freia, and Katja Lytting as a matronly Fricka.

Teatro dellOpera di Roma, Piazza Beniamino Gigli 1, Rome. Tel. 06 481601 www.opera.roma.it. 18 October 2005. Further performances 20, 21, 22, 23 and 25 October 2005

www.john-fort.com