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Das Rheingold: Berliner Philharmoniker (Karajan) [DVD] [2008]

4.4 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Actors: Jeannine Altmeyer, Brigitte Fassbaender, Peter Schreier, Thomas Stewart, Zoltan Kelemen
  • Format: Classical, Colour, DVD-Video, PAL
  • Language: German
  • Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, German
  • Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 4:3 - 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: Exempt
  • Studio: Universal Classics & Jazz
  • DVD Release Date: 4 Feb. 2008
  • Run Time: 143 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B000YD7S12
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 94,993 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)

Product Description

This 1978 studio production of the prologue to Wagner's masterpiece is the only segment of the famous Salzburg Festival/Metropolitan Opera productions, first seen in the 1960s, that made it to film. Based on one of those original productions, Georges Wakhevitch produced stage settings and transformations that supported Karajan's concept with every possible means. Herbert Von Karajan's staging is in the epic style of another age, emphasizing the dignity of the gods rather than their all too human failings. With the singers - foremost among them Peter Schreier - Karajan had an ensemble that fully conformed to his intentions.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Herbert von Karajan's studio film of his Salzburg Festival production was lambasted by critics and flopped at the box-office which resulted in Unitel cancelling the filming of the rest of the cycle, a project they were not enthusiastic about to begin with anyway, having to contend with spiralling costs and Karajan's ego, but the loss is truly all ours. Studio-bound though it is, this is nonetheless a great 'Rheingold', thrilling conducted and sung (even better than Karajan's 1968 audio recording in fact!) and a valuable record of the production itself.

If it looks similar to the Met Opera production also available on DVD, this is because it was co-designed by the Gunther-Schneider Siemssen who directed the Met's production, but with Karajan's input this is the version to see rather than the stodgy, uninspired museum piece seen in New York. Thomas Stewart's Wotan and Peter Schreier's Loge dominate the work throughout. Indeed Shcreier is barely reognisable, with his shaved head and red outfit, capturing Loge's wily mannerisms and cunning to perfection, it's a powerhouse performance. Stewart too is on excellent form as Wotan, even if Karajan (who also directed the film incidetally) too often cuts to reaction shots - the fact that Stewart can muster quite a variety of reactions in close-up to the various events depicted is truly a testament to his acting ability as well as his singing! In smaller roles, Brigitte Fassbender is an acceptable if unmemorable Fricka and Jeanine Altmeyer a stunning Freya, beautfiul to look at and singing with the right touch of terror and sympathy when confronted by the lumberig giants.
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Format: DVD
Karajan is still a polarizing figure. This item, one of the earliest tries at filming a Wagner opera, has earned wildly mixed notices: "They don't get any better than this," exults one reviewer. "Best left at the bottom of the Rhine," sneers another. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between.

The positives first. Orchestrally and vocally this is an unsurpassed RHEINGOLD. Karajan's 1968 DG recording is often acclaimed for its color and fantasy, but it features three pieces of much-criticized casting: Fischer-Dieskau's underpowered Wotan, Manglesdorff's squally Freia, and Stolze's rasping character tenor as Loge. This DVD replaces them with Stewart, Altmeyer, and Schreier, all distinct improvements. The enclosed booklet claims that the film's soundtrack was recorded in Salzburg's Grosses Festspielhaus during the 1973 Easter Festival. But it wasn't taped during a performance or even a dress run: there are no audience noises, no stage thumpings, and the singers don't budge from their microphones. Just like the earlier DG set, this is clearly a studio effort -- and since its producer and head engineer are the same individuals who generated Karajan's EMI opera recordings, one wonders if the UK firm considered releasing it audio-only.

In any case Stewart is in bronzen voice here, a little tight at the bottom but with top notes that soar over the orchestra with an exciting spin and gleam -- he makes the best recorded case for a dramatic baritone rather than a high bass in this role, and he etches the text with imagination: his Wotan is imperious, temperamental, smugly amused, and in the end deeply shaken by Fasolt's murder.
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This film is a triumph in almost every respect. Karajan conducts swiftly and with a fine sense of line and dramatic pacing. The singing is excellent, even if Wotan begins to wobble in the last few minutes. The Rhinemaidens sing particularly beautifully, as does Brigitte Fassbaender as Fricka, though she makes very little effort at acting, and looks bored and blankly unengaged throughout - even Erda's appearance causes her only the mildest flicker of interest. Erda, sung with wonderfully secure and beautiful tone by Birgit Finnilä, is acted by veteran Martha Mödl. Peter Schreier as Loge overdoes the arch knowing look, but wears a very fetching red leather body-suit, and sings - like all the rest of the cast - with a conversational lightness which makes the drama seem real and completely credible. The lightness of touch in the singing (rather than old-fashioned heavy declamation) is one of the finest points about this performance. Visually, the highlight is certainly the visit to Nibelheim, which is brought vividly to life in a manner impossible in the theatre. We really do descend deep into the earth and see the Nibelungs toiling and sweating and being scared out of their wits by Alberich. The depiction of Valhalla is disappointingly vague and dull, and the rainbow bridge is feeble. On the other hand, the first scene is wonderfully done, we really do seem to be in the Rhine (IN it!) and the Rhinemaidens are swimming around fluidly while Alberich slips and stumbles around in his efforts to pursue and seduce them. The effect of optical distortion by water is very well handled too. My small gripes are nothing when measured against the overall achievement of this wonderful film, which should be in every Wagnerian's library: it is Das Rheingold as I have always imagined it in my head, and now at last I can really see it as I have wanted to see it.
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