Wagner: The Ring Cycle

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Richard Wagner
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Wagner: The Ring Cycle
WORKS: Das Rheingold; Die Walküre; Siegfried; Götterdämmerung
PERFORMER: Bryn Terfel, Deborah Voigt, Richard Croft, Jay Hunter-Morris, etc; The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra/James Levine
CATALOGUE NO: DG 073 4841/4842/4845/4848


The New York Met’s previous Ring cycle was one of the last stagings in the world to depict Wagner’s natural settings as he would have recognised them. It inspired considerable affection, and general manager Peter Gelb turned to Canadian multimedia director Robert Lepage for a compelling replacement. The result has proved fiercely controversial.

Lepage’s staging centres on what’s (not always affectionately) known as The Machine, a vast stage-high array of diamond-shaped slats, rotating around a central axis to form rostra, waves, treetrunks, rockfaces and all else. The naturalism relies wholly on ingenious interactive computer projections. Some look superb – ravens flying across black water, a ‘stream’ which reacts to a hand or sword dipped into it – while others are ineffectual or distractingly weird, like the giant eyeball which reflects Wotan’s revelations to Brünnhilde. Some settings, like Die Walküre Act I, place the singers poorly; others suspend them on distracting safety wires or require stunt doubles. It looks amazing but incidents misfire as often as they thrill and many singers suffer from unimaginative direction or silly costumes.

Which is a shame because the musical side is so strong. Norns, Rhinemaidens and so on are strongly cast, and the principals are superb. Bryn Terfel is twice the Wotan he seemed at Covent Garden, displaying commanding tone and rough-hewn sensitivity. Deborah Voight’s Brünnhilde is attractively lyrical. Jay Hunter Morris’s stand-in Siegfried is a discovery, a handsome, extrovert giant. His tone is sinewy and adequate, but he needs to develop Siegfried’s reflective side. Jonas Kaufmann and Eva-Maria Westbroek are superb Volsungs, in need of livelier direction. Eric Owens’s robust Alberich is subverted by embarrassing dreadlocks, Gerhard Siegel’s Mime by his girth – also a drawback for Stephanie Blythe’s otherwise superb Fricka. Iain Paterson’s Gunther is so strong it’s no surprise he’s moving on to Wotan; Hans-Peter Konig is a brutish Hagen.

Most regrettable, though, is that James Levine conducted only Das Rheingold and Die Walküre before ill health set in. Fabio Luisi’s readings are smoothly powerful, but without Levine’s thrust and focus. This Ring provides Wagner’s spectacle, but doesn’t fully achieve his corresponding mythic depth and atmosphere.


Michael Scott Rohan