Der Ring Des Nibelungen: Das Rheingold

Composer(s):
Wagner
Works:
Das Rheingold
Performer:
Juha Uusitalo, Ilya Bannik, Germán Villar, John Daszak, Franz-Joseph Kapellmann, Gerhard Siegel, Matti Salminen, Stephen Milling, Anna Larsson, Sabina von Walther, Christa Mayer, Silvia Vázquez, Ann-Katrin Naidu, Hannah Esther Minutillo
Label:
C Major
Catalogue Number:
700508 (NTSC system; DD 5.1; 16:9 picture format)
Performance:
starstarstarstarstar
Sound:
starstarstarstarstar
5
Reviewer:
BBC Music Magazine

Salzburg’s dynamic Damnation of Faust in 1999 made me hope that the Catalan company La Fura dels Baus (roughly ‘Fire in the Belly’) might one day stage a genuinely modern Ring – one that, instead of deconstructing or just guying Wagner’s visions, would reinvigorate them with the latest theatrical techniques.

Now Valencia’s futuristic new opera house has had them do just that. Thrillingly so; this is the most exciting staging I’ve seen – slightly recalling Cirque du Soleil, perhaps, except that here the spectacle is wholly and intelligently at Wagner’s service.

Scenery combines dazzlingly mobile 3D computer projections on a towering cyclorama, with groups of acrobats. Thus Valhalla in projection is a human construct of lesser figures (shades of Hobbes’s Leviathan!) which the acrobats shape in mid-air as Rheingold ends. Inevitably some imagery works better than others; the harpyish Rhinemaidens, literally giving birth to the gold, are less compelling than the planetary descent to Nibelheim, or Walküre’s opening wolf-chase and gleaming Tree, in which Wotan’s ravens perch, and which scatters Siegmund’s name like falling leaves.

Against these amazing backgrounds the Gods, futuristically costumed, glide high above the stage on individual gantries propelled by ‘invisible’ stagehands, Chinese-style, only sometimes descending to mortal level; Loge, half-divine, scoots about on a Segway hidden beneath his robes. But they’re no barrier to keenly dramatic, involving performances from a fine cast,
with some superb principals.

Juha Uusitalo is an old-school Wotan, rich-voiced and imperious yet vulnerable. His confrontation with Anna Larsson’s full-voiced, Joanna Lumleyesque Fricka, hanging among starry skies, is memorable. Jennifer Wilson’s bright-toned Brünnhilde, though, doesn’t entirely convey the force of character the later operas demand.

Franz-Joseph Kapellmann’s elderly, stolid Alberich lowers the voltage somewhat, but John Daszak is an exceptional Loge, incisively sung and gleefully horrid. Peter Seiffert and Petra Maria Schnitzer are sturdy-voiced Volsungs, he rather lumbering but she bright and tragic, tied up like a dog by Matti Salminen’s literally Neanderthal Hunding. As giants he and Stephen Milling survive clumsy costumes. Gerhard Siegel’s Mime is excellent, lesser Gods, Rhinemaidens and Valkyries more than adequate. 

Least dazzling is Zubin Mehta’s conducting, sweeping rather than detailed – no increasing tension in Walküre Act I, for example – but with enough warmth and grandeur to hold our attention. And it’s all beautifully recorded on DVD – but on Blu-ray it’s simply breathtaking, pin-sharp images and airy surround-sound drawing one into the Valencia stage with almost 3D effect.

Wagner still responds best to Romantic imagery; but this redefines it on a cosmic scale. It’s the finest Ring on video so far. Michael Scott Rohan