on 18 May 2013
The first rule about performances of The Ring is that there is no such thing as a perfect production. Take just the staging as an example - if you go for the absolutely traditional 'Lord of the Rings' type scenery and costumes, then this is great for some, but staid and unimaginative for others. If on the other hand, you go for minimalist and daring (e.g. the gods dressed as Nazi stormtroopers or whatever) then to others it's gimmicky and distracting. And that's just the visuals - on top of that you can have endless debates about the quality and type of singing, the conducting, the acting, blah, blah, blah. Since Wagner always intended The Ring to be a marriage of equal partners between words, music and visuals, getting the combination just right to suit even one person is against the odds. Therefore, in order to enjoy a production of The Ring, you have to be prepared to accommodate.
What you have to accommodate in this production in my view are two things - Voigt's Brunnhilde and the sound quality. Neither is awful, but they might not suit everyone. Some reviewers have said they find the orchestral sound too recessed. Compared with some other cycles, this is true, but I found that after a few minutes my ears had adjusted and it certainly wasn't a deal-breaker for me. As for Voigt. she just does not sound quite right. In Act 3 of Die Walkure (when all the Valkyrie maidens are gathered together) I found myself wondering which of the other singers could have done a better job than Voigt. To my ears she sounds a bit like Angela Lansbury! [And I mean no disrespect to Ms Lansbury with that remark!]. I have loved Voigt in other roles, but here, she just isn't quite right. But nor is she awful - we're not talking about a Sofia Copolla in Godfather III sort of thing. It's a *relative* weakness in an otherwise very fine cast. And I would sooner have a slightly below par Brunnhilde than a slightly below par Wotan any day.
On the plus side, the staging is magnificent. I usually dislike minimalist staging but this works, because it's minimalist and not minimalist at the same time. Just to explain this apparent contradiction - the scenery largely consist of a set of massive metal slabs that can bend and rotate to form an amazing variety of shapes. But the slabs are rarely left as bare metal. Aided by very clever projections (some of which alter in response to the singers' movements and volume of voice) and a few props, the stage rarely looks barren. The costumes are generally sensible, the direction solid, the acting by and large excellent. The singing is top notch. The standard of orchestral playing and conducting is high. I would have liked James Levine to have done all four operas (he had to withdraw from the final two because of illness) but I don't think the voltage drops significantly with his replacement (I know that some have said they notice a change, but I think the danger is that if you look for change, you'll find it whether it really matters or not). The ending is a little anti-climactic, but to be frank, I've always found this with The Ring. The only production that bucks the trend is the Valencia production, which is so over the top it has to be seen to be believed.
I think that for someone getting into The Ring, this would be a good first choice. My personal favourite remains the Valencia production under Mehta, but that is far more idiosyncratic (though it remains remarkably faithful to Wagner's stage instructions nearly all the way through) and unless you already know the plot, it can be confusing in places.
on 10 June 2013
Before you embark on this journey, I would heartily recommend that you watch the accompanying documentary, 'Wagner's Dream', first. I found the insight into the producer and casts' visions both enhanced and added to my understanding and enjoyment of this production. It did, however, launch alarm bells in my head when I heard Bryn Terfel tell us that the drama doesn't kick in until Die Walkure - this could explain why I felt that he didn't seem as involved in this Das Rheingold as he was on the two occasions I saw his Wotan at Covent Garden. Although, let's be quite clear, this is a much better production than the current Covent Garden Ring.
By deducting one star, you may think that I didn't like it, but I have to tell you that I found much to admire, but I was disappointed with Das Rheingold, I didn't think that the conclusion to Die Walkure worked and I was very underwhelmed by Deborah Voight. It is actually Deborah Voight that is the main issue for me - howevever, I thought some reviewers have been a little too harsh on her. She isn't a disaster and I certainly don't hate her, but I don't like her either. She's too waily and her acting is too static for me, especially when you compare her to some of the outstanding singer\actors in this production - I would highlight Jonas Kaufmann, Jay Hunter-Morris, Bryn Terfel and Eva-Maria Westbroek as deserving particular praise. Having highlighted my main reservations, I'll move onto my review:
As I said, I was disappointed with Das Rheingold. I didn't think the electronic set worked particularly well - although, a tweak in the lighting would have helped to mask the wires and harnesses holding the Rhinemaidens, which are only too obvious and distracting on the Bluray. The action kicks in nicely and I have to admit that, contrary to some reviewers, I thought Eric Owens sang and acted very well. However, I was less enthusiastic with Stephanie Blythe's Fricka - but it would be churlish of me not to point out that most other reviewers love her. I thought that Bryn Terfel seemed more distant from the action than he was at Covent Garden, but he sang brilliantly and is certainly much more than 'adequate', as one person suggested. The other roles are taken very well - especially Wendy Bryn Harmer's Freia - but, whatever was the production team thinking of by dressing and lighting Richard Croft's Loge to look like Liberace?! That didn't work for me at all, other than make me snigger and I thought Patricia Bardon's Erda was disappointing - especially as Erda can steal the show.
I didn't like the entry of the Gods into Valhalla at all - what was the point of heaving them up a steep incline (on very visible ropes and harnesses)to a backdrop of flashing, dispersed light? Well, it didn't work for me - although on the night this was taped the mechanism didn't break down, nor did the audience boo as they did on the opening night.
Die Walkure is a completely different beast. The set works on every level and I was particularly impressed with the wood in Act I. Siegmund is very convincingly chased through this forest at the start and the action just grips you from start to finish. Jonas Kaufmann is superb - the best Siegmund I've ever seen or heard. In fact, to be honest, he's in a class of his own. Eva-Maria Westbroek is very convincing as his sister, but Hunding is too wooden. I don't like Deborah Voight's interpretation at all - nor did I like the massive throne that Fricka is wheeled around in. It makes her look like a wicked witch in some dark, Grimm fairytale. The conclusion to Act II is just perfect - I have never been so moved by Siegmund's death and Hunding's dispatch is chilling.
I often think that the Ride of the Valkyries is better heard than seen. I have never seen it done satisfactorily - and I still haven't, but I've seen a lot worse than this. The closing scene is done very poignantly, but why is Brunnhilde suspended upside down on a vertical plane? This didn't work for me - but, overall Die Walkure is excellent.
Now we get a change of conductor and unlike some, I didn't find this switch-over either obvious or jarring. I thought both conductors bring out aspects of the score I haven't noticed before and I couldn't critisise either of them for any aspect of their excellent orchestrations.
Siegfried is just the dog's kahunas!!! I loved it from start to finish and would give it 10 stars alone if I could. OK, I agree with everyone - the Yogi bear look-alike at the start doesn't work and I will concede that the dragon would look more at home on the set of 'How to Train your Dragon' - but dammit, this is so good that none of this matters. The set works on every level - I was so impressed with it. Then, there is the wood bird, well, what can I say? It was just perfect. The cast are superb and Jay Hunter-Morris is the best Siegfried I have ever seen. Alright, he doesn't have the vocal power of your usual heldenen tenor - but he acts and looks perfect. Even Deborah Voight was OK in the closing scene. So what more could you ask for? Only to nit-pick, maybe, by having a dragon and wild bear that works.
Gotterdammerung is also very well done - although I think Deborah Voight is at her worst here (far too waily and off-key for my taste) and I felt that Hagen was too wooden (oh, how I yearned for Matti Salminen). Gutrune and Gunther are much better here than they are in the Otto Schenk DVD. However, the set was the supreme focus of the drama again - as it was in Siegfried. And touches such as the blood diffusing across as Gunther washed his hands after Siegfried's murder, added to the drama - I could go on, but there are so many examples such as this. I was a little disappointed with the 'juddery', mechanical horse which doesn't catapault Brunnhilde off to Valhala (it looks more like a small kiddies fair ground ride), but the image of the Gods in the distance crumbling to dust as the music dies away brought a lump to my throat.
So, in conclusion, I actually think this is very good and wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. Peter Gelb hit the nail on the head when he told us in 'Wagner's Dream' that the Met can't survive by continually reviving old and tired productions. This Ring Cycle does work, but also, needs some tweaking to get everything right. I read in the NY Times, when I was there last, that this production was being put in storage for a while - but I believe it would be a shame to ditch it. There are so many good ideas here, but you can't expect audiences to sit in their seats for 40 minutes while the set is being re-booted, as happened to my cousin when he went to see it - and I really do believe that they need a better Brunnhilde than Deborah Voight. I won't be giving up my Otto Schenk Ring, but this is a good recording for the digital/Bluray age. I wanted to say well done to everyone involved, but I was worried that might sound patronising and this recording does not deserve that. In fact, it just deserves praise and I was so pleased that it was awarded, like the Met's other telecast, a Grammy for best opera recording. The vast canvass of the Ring makes it nigh-on impossible for everything to be perfect - but this recording is pretty damned good! I hope you enjoy it.
Incidentally, I have now seen it 'live' in NY; but I have to tell you (as when I saw the Otto Schenk Cycle 'live') the cast I saw were nowhere near as good as this crowd.
The following is taken from the DVD 'Making of the Ring'-Frankfurt opera.The interviews are with Bernd Loebe,director of the Frankfurt opera,Vera Nemirova, stage director and conductor Sebastian Weigle, but are in German with English subtitles,which can be confusing as it is not translated properly. "Other rings are overloaded with expensive technology and are concerned with the present. We wanted to develop assocations for the audience,so they can take the ideas of our ring; each person can use these views and make something out of them for themselves.This Ring looks at the past and present,so the future can be shaped.However,chaos occurs when we work against each other. The planet has a chance if we work and communicate with each other.Egotism is out of place",states Loebe.Nemirova,the opera director" mentions that "this Ring-the World space,is really the four elements,water,fire,air and earth,become four concentric rings with a core; the world slice interacts with each other and becomes the ring. Rhinegold is cosmic blue(ultramarine)caused by a drop of water.Walkure,brownish rings from the World Ash,Siegfried forest green and Gotterdammerung,a cold metallic surface covering the forest and the ground.A machine out of control in the present where we fight for power. The ring has no magical power,only is given naively this reputation; the power is within us.We create the situations not the Ring. Valhalla is us. All humans and Gods meet on the ring space at the end,looking at the pit,this utopian space. Thus,we are responsible for all that happens.Wagner's Ring is timeless,as it deals with human existence."
The Ring libretto's(1851-1852) were written backwards,and the music from Rhinegold onwards(1853-1874).Wagner was under the influence of Feuerbach,the German Philosopher(1804-1972)who wrote"that far from God or God's having created mankind,it is mankind that has created them;so religion has to be seen as a product of the human mind which meets basic human needs.Therefore, religion does indeed reveal fundamental truths to us,but these are basic truths about us.All the views we have about God are in fact about ourselves.When we say God is love,we are giving voice to the fact that love is the most important thing there is,and the right way to achieve anything is through love.We then grow up and cease to project responsiblity onto imaginary creatures,but take responsiblity upon ourselves.Most of Feuerbach's most central ideas got into the Ring.Many of of its characters are gods at an early stage in the worlds development.At the beginning of the Ring,the Gods have the power,but these forces are plucked out of the hand of human beings,who take responsiblity for the world onto themselves.Yet this is not based upon leadership,or power but on love alone".(Magee 2001: 52-55).According to Millington, "for Feuerbach the essence of human nature and morality, is the I- you relationship. Only in conjunction with another,by creating a mutual drive to happiness,does an individual develop any consciousness of social responsiblity".(2012:96). This then,is the essence of the Frankfurter Ring; the reason why I stated that this is the first Ring to get close to Wagner's philosophy that he used in the Ring.
The Ring cycle is in a tough box,with the DVD's placed in plastic cases. The booklets only give the cast and the synopsis. Only times are put next to each scene.There are no track numbers so that the individual pieces can be played.The information about the opera is on Rhinegold's second DVD,"the making of the Ring".Recorded June/ July 2012. The conductor of the Frankfurter opera-und Museum orchestra is Sebastian Wiegle,who is one of the few Wagner conductors who does something distinctive with the music;his pacing is superb with a chamberlike feel to it,building up to fast climaxes. He gives the singers the freedom they need.The playing of the orchestra is stunning,not lacking in power or intensity. Wiegle says"that in the Frankfurt opera house we have to find our own distinctive sound for Wagner and the Ring." His interest in the Ring goes back decades,from when he was an orchestral Horn player.Wiegle conducted the complete ring under Barenboim several times. He has been chief conductor of this opera house since 2008.In the Vorspiel scene 1,Gotterdammerung,the duet between Siegfried and Brunnhilde,Weigle becomes positively like Knappertsbusch in his slowness,then swift in Siegfried's journey.Weigle's tempos can be reasonably quick at times ,and at the climax he becomes the reincarnation of Toscanni.The sound from the DVDs is good.
The staging is by Vera Nemirova; there are four rings with a core,which can become a bridge,walkways,a cave,then when they come together the rings are solid and become a flat disc. This idea is a copy of Wieland Wagner's idea used in the 1950's and 1960's at Bayreuth.At times the images caught on film, remind you of Wielands mimimalistic approach, even in the colouring of the sky. In Rhinegold which opens with a flat deep blue ring, turns into a light blue with the four rings creating an underwater space,upon which Alberich must climb. The Ring can lift up and underneath becomes the underground as in Rhinegold. In Die Walkure,on Hunding's house it is snowing,and there is a place for the coffins in Act 3 and the top ring World slice becomes a mountain. Siegfried,the ring lifts up on stilts becomes a house. The cave,which is the core,has red light inside where the dragon dwells.On the flat grass disc,the flames are in a circle,with Brunnhilde on a plinth. The ring circle lifts above Siegfried when he is standing over Brunnhilde.In Gotterdammerung on the flat disc,the ring, the three Norns who are young and are attractive,wear white and black lined dresses with wide sleeves, and have long light African brown hair. They wind a ball of wool around the Rhinemaidens,Wotan,plus other godlike identities. This has to be the best setting of the Norns I have on the nine DVD's and Blurays of the Ring I own. The Ring breaks up into a deep blue river,or silver seats for the palace.The surface is metallic. Lighting is used a great deal,as in the Dutch Ring. Nearly everything Wagner asked for has been provided.The flame Brunnhilde throws is at the audience, lighting them up suddenly,which stuns them.Then Alberich sings in his Gold jacket"Give me the Ring" amongest the audience; looks at the balcony where Wotan,Fricka and co are standing.Then Alberich sits on the balcony as well.This action says"Well,folks, its up to you " First time I have seen this in the Ring,usually Alberich is given nothing to do. A great idea making the audience part of the action. However, the Gods and people are on the stage looking at the audience,as if to say, can we save the planet or destroy ourselves.Or as Vera Nemirova,the stage director mentioned,"Valhalla is in you".
The Valykries are dressed as they were in 1876,as is Brunnhilde,they even have helmets with wings and hold spears.Siegfried wears traditional dress even a fox coat. In Die Walkure, Brunnhilde wears a fox skin as does Wotan in Act 2.Act 3, she wears traditional garb. We have the past which becomes the present and the ending,the future.Waltraute wears 1876 costume in Gotterdammerung.I have not seen a helmet with wings before.This is certainly a ring that makes sense and sticks to its stated aims as outlined by the stage director.Now to the singers.
(RHEINGOLD,Walkure and Siegfried). Wotan is Terje Stensvold, a pure Heldenbaritone. He has been singing for decades.A wonderful performance, marvellous in the other Ring operas as well,worth the price of the set just to hear him. His home base is Norway,and only came to international prominence in his 50's;he is now 65.He has a distinctive voice,a reviewer thought he sounded a bit like London and Hotter.He is as good as the other Wotan's, James Johnson-Copenhagen Ring,Bryn Terfel-New Met Ring,James Morris-old Met Ring. McIntyre-Chereau Ring.Loge,Kurt Streit is Loge and has a high voice,he is marvellous. Alberich-(Siegfried and Gotterdammerung), Jochen Schmeckenbecher is one of the finest,a baritone, nearly as good as Hermann Becht in the Chereau Rhinegold,my favourite.Jochen has an emotional edge to his voice. This Rhinegold must come a close second.Its that good. Fricka-Martina Dike. She is a Mezzo and is nearly as good as Randi Stene who is Fricka in in the Copenhagen Ring,and she is the best.Dike is a fine actress.Terje and Martina sing well together. Mime Hans-Jurgen Lazar, actually sings his part.The Rhine maidens are good,they always are.
DIE WALKURE:Siegmund -Frank van Aken is married to Eva-Maria Westbroek,Sieglinde in the New Met Ring,and the Battle Walkure.He is reasonable but has a few problems with his voice which he manages to control. Sieglinde Amber Wagner is a find and could eventually become Brunnhilde.Hunding Ain Anger, always attracts good singers.The Valkyries are good,for some reason in all my nine sets they always are. Brunnhilde Susan Bullock is seen as a great Brunnhilde,she is very good in this Walkure,however in Gotterdammerung in Starke Scheite we see why. SIEGFRIED:Mime is young and Peter Marsh makes the most of it,after taking over from Lazar.Brunnhilde Susan Bullock is in better voice then her other half. Siegfried Lance Ryan trained by Gianni Raimondi and Carlo Bergonzi,who was so good in the 2009 Valencia Ring staged by La Fura dels Baus,is under considerable strain.I heard this type of problem on the Famous 1950 La Scala Furtwangler Ring,with Flagstad and Set Svanholm, whose voice is shot in Act 3.Fafner Bass Magnus Baldvinsson is good,what else can one say.(IT WOULD BE WITHIN YOUR INTEREST TO LOOK AT THE FULL REVIEW).Erda(Rhinegold) Meredith Arwady who is attractive, is surrounded by long blond hair in a box but she does not fit the part in Siegfried.The ballet dancer takes the part of the bird,and a male singers voice is heard.Wagner prefered a young boy singing the part to a woman. The Dutch ring does the same. GOTTERDAMMERUNG:Norns 1.Meredith Arwady,2nd Clauda Mehrike,3rd Angel Blue are exceptional,probably the best I have seen. This norn scene is well thought out.The Rhinemaidens are exceptional. Alberich Jochen Schmackenbecher a real find. He should change his name to something more manageable.Waltraute Claudia Mahnke, outshines Susan Bullock in their interaction.Bullock starts off underpar and then gets better as she progresses. Siegfried,Lance Ryan has some good moments but at times shouts,his voice sounded tired and wobbles. I did wonder why Frankfurt opera,did not bring in a replacement like they did for the Mime after Rhinegold.For example, Jurgen Muller; who is Siegfried in the much underrated DVD Lubeck Ring,he is that good.Wow.! What about Jay Hunter Morris from the New Met Ring, who is young and looks the part.I would rather tell you the truth,then have you the reader complain.Hagen Gregory Frank has a big and dark voice. Martin Kranzie is Gunther who hates himself for the murder of Siegfried.He is Beckmesser in Glyndebourne's Die Meistersinger.So my summing up is this,this would have been a great Ring,for most parts are well taken;but what should have been an attraction, Lance Ryan becomes a liablity.Susan Bullock is great in Die Walkure,she does manage in Siegfried,but is better in Gotterdammerung and a fine singer she is.Therefore, I have given it four stars,not three. But then I like the Ring; apart from many Bluray-DVDs,I have 4 CD Rings,Bohm, 1950 Furtwangler with Flagstad,Solti,and the 1955 Keilberth edition with Varnay and Hotter.
PCM stereo. Dolby digital 5.1 surround.16.9. Region Worldwide. Menu language German only. Subtitles: German and English.
Dixon,G. Music International.Levine,R.Review-Classics Today. Magee,B. Wagner and Philosophy.2001.Penguin books. Millington,B.Richard Wagner. The sorcerer of Bayreuth. 2012. Thames and Hudson. Quint,A.Fanfare.
I have edited my original pre-view, which was based on attending actual performances, in light of two subsequent viewings of the blu rays - so please forgive any disjointedness in the following "review"!
The Blu Ray is very impressive with solid - if not reference - video and excellent audio.
I have none of the reservation about audio balance mentioned by other reviewers and felt the music and voices were excellently presented. How wonderful not to have singers swamped by orchestras!
As I was watching the blu ray on video projection I did wish however that the video presentation, directed by Gary Halverson, was not so obsessed with close ups of the singers at the expense of the overall stage production, as it occasionally destroyed the "magic" of seeing the epic vista of the set and reinforced the artifice ( you can even see the mesh of the wigs !). I really wanted to be totally swept up in the theatricality as i was in attending the actual production. However it is still generally adequately shot and avoids the trixy camerawork too often in evidence in Met telecasts.
A big bonus is that the Met's often very weak behind the scenes interviews, are here thankfully given as optional extras and so do not interrupt the performance in the way they do on TV or during the cinema live screenings. A bonus disc provides the documentary "Wagner's Dream" which at 2 hours, provides further fascinating insights into this epic production.
Musically the performances are of a high standard.
American tenor Jay Hunter Morris, who took over the title role in "Siegfried" at short notice and Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde, received justifiable praise too. Although in the performance of "Gotterdammerung" I attended she was not in the finest form - but this has been corrected on the Blu Ray.
Iain Paterson, is an impressive Gunther, as was Hans-Peter König as Hagen but to identify the full range of talent on offer, in this little note, is impossible - just believe me when I say it is very impressive indeed.
No, with the exception of Jonas Kaufmann, the singer's performances aren't always perfect. Voigt's Brunhilda is clearly not to everyone's taste, although I enjoyed her very much. Bryn Terfyl's generally impressive Wotan, is much better in Walkyrie than it is in Rhinegold and Morris' Siegfried has its weaknesses at times too but he gets through the ordeal of Sigfried admirably - but the immediacy and excitement of this production - featuring such an accomplished and distinguished cast - is something to be celebrated and enjoyed along with the magisterial contribution of conductor Levine and the solid, if not quite as impressive, contribution of Luisi although his handling of the final moments of Gotterdaummerung do not have the awe and majesty of Levine's earlier recording.
Still, without question, this"Ring" is an important addition to the many other productions already available.
From "Rhinegold" to "Gotterdaummerung," - some 16 hours later - the Mets Opera's new production is generally very theatrically effective too.
As the cycle progressed, Director Robert Lepage use of"the machine", the name given to Carl Fillion's 45-ton set composed of 24 planks which when combined with sophisticated video projections works tirelessly - and with varying degrees of effectiveness - to evoke the full range of scenes demanded by this monumental work.
Those intrusive visual production details which distracted audiences in early productions, (e.g. the clanking of the set, the whirring of the fans cooling the equipment and the anxiety on the faces of the singers when required to climb up vertiginous slopes or clamber over yet more wooden planking,) and reduced for them the overall theatrical success are, thankfully absent from the blu ray discs.
Without question, Lapage's production remains reassuringly traditional in very many ways - it is clearly the product of a creative genius - and he is brilliantly supported by
Lionel Arnould's quite astonishing video imagery and François St-Aubin's costumes.
My only caveat is the climax of the cycle where alongside the rather disappointing conducting I mentioned, the production fails to deliver the visual coup necessary and falls short of the magic it has so often brilliantly produced earlier in the four operas. Still this must not be overstated and does not deserve the cynical criticism of several mainstream reviewers. It's just a little lacklustre after the astonishing spectacle of what has gone before.
If this were to be corrected and the magisterial James Levine (whose illness prevented him from conducting the last two operas) were to return to conduct the cycle once more, it would we well worth a trip to NYC to experience this outstanding production - although a bill for over £1000 for the tickets necessary to have decent seats might prove an obstacle!
To sum up - the blu ray video transfer is up to the technical quality of the Met's other releases - not wonderful but good - and the audio is excellent. So all in all this new version of the $16 million production of "The Ring" is highly recommended. Lepage has brought a creative brilliance and a true attentiveness to the libretto which results in a dramatically effective and musically astonishing event of truly epic proportions which is ideal for the big screen Blu Ray experience.
The discs are a worthwhile purchase as I really believe that this ambitious production gets closer to Wagner's original staging requirements than many more "traditional" versions and some moments are positively stunning!
So 4 stars for the performances, 4 stars for the Video and 5 stars for the audio. This add up to just under 5 stars as a total!
But nothing in life is ever perfect!