The first night of Wagner’s epic Ring cycle is outstandingly well done in Robert Lepage’s 2010 production, which combines a relatively traditional staging with some impressive feats of engineering and high standards of musicianship.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the staging is the enormous device which dominates the rear of the stage. A series of 24 long planks, which can rotate around a central beam, is used to excellent effect in all four scenes, with the help of subtle lighting and projections. In scene 1, the three Rhinemaidens sit on part of the device, lit up as a pebbled river bed, and their various movements and orations provoke flurries of bubbles and pebble movements. When Wotan and Loge descend into Nibelheim, the planks appear to create a vast staircase, viewed from above. In the final scene, the planks arrange themselves into a well-conceived rainbow bridge, again viewed from above. The sets and Lepage’s direction are consistently well judged, only ever adding to the natural drama of the opera.

The quality of the singing and orchestral playing is exceptionally high. Bryn Terfel leads the cast with a complex and nuanced portrayal of Wotan. The manipulator of scene 3gives way to the pensive old man of the final scene with convincing characterisation. His singing is always full in tone, but he finds a softer, reflective voice for the more introspective corners. Loge (Richard Croft) makes a witty and intelligent accomplice. There is good humour in his dealings with the dwarves, but he also finds some beautiful lyricism in his “Immer is undank” passage, whilst he warms Freia with the lights glowing from his hands. He is also portrayed as the most astute of the gods, with a strong show of guilt in helping their cause in scene 4. He is left, as the curtain descends, staring after the others as they enter their fortress.

Eric Owens’ Alberich is a strong presence, singing powerfully with an edge of malice. His curses of love and the ring are very well delivered musically and dramatically, as is his rage after being tricked by the gods. The two giants, Fasolt (Franz-Josef Selig) and Fafner (Hans-Peter König) are both suitably imposing in their huge voices and primitive attire of thick brown costumes, with furry trousers and large beards.

Stephanie Blythe sings Fricka with a mixture of great power and delicate vulnerability in the face of the imminent demise of the gods. Her obvious distress and concern for her sister suggests a strong sense of compassion. Freia (Wendy Bryn Harmer) and Erda (Patricia Bardon) both sing their limited roles with sensitivity. Freia is a touchingly innocent younger sister to Fricka, and Erda sings with a rounded, maternal voice.

Froh, Donner, Mime and the three Rhinemaidens complete the cast with strong performances. The Rhinemaidens’ joyful celebration of their gold in the first scene is memorably spectacular in their fluid vocal lines and physical movements.

James Levine conducts without any hint of the spine troubles which he suffered during 2010. He draws a brilliant palette of colours from the Met Orchestra, glowing in the swirling E flat of the Vorspiel and blazing nobly in the final bars. The Wager tuba section supplies some particularly lovely playing in various hushed interjections.

There are a couple of peculiarities in the staging, which make for strange viewing. Freia and Loge enter by sliding head first on their stomachs down the steep slope at the back of the stage. The tarnhelm appears to be a rather flimsy piece of golden lace which is draped over the wearer’s head. Overall, though, this is an intelligently staged production, backed up by superb musicianship from all involved.