For anyone who is fed up with the abstract or bizarre settings of Wagner's mythical Rhinelands (some of which work well and some of which are disasters) that are presented by the vast majority of European productions available on DVD, then here is a refreshing change. Visually it gives a plausible representation of the locations and the characters, including many characters with prosthetics or full body suits and extensive makeup. Surprisingly what could look ludicrous works very well here because it has been expertly done and care has been taken to ensure that it has not gone over the top and does not impede the singers movements or vocal performances. Siegfried Jerusalem looks particularly impressive as Loge, barely recognisable until the glorious voice emerges and dispels any doubt. If this were merely a 'true' visual representation of the events then that would be insufficient but the great strength of this production is that it is musically excellent too. The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra plays brilliantly under the baton of James Levine. One can sometimes quibble about his tempi but there is no dispute about the sheer quality of the orchestral playing. Added to this the cast is absolutely first rate. Siegfried Jerusalem is outstanding as Loge and James Morris begins here his extremely effective and satisfying assumption of the role of Wotan. It is wonderful to have Christa Ludwig as his wife Fricka and the two giants are marvellously played by two great basses, Jan-Hendrik Rootering and Matti Salminen. Ekkerhard Wlaschina is also excellent as Alberich. These are all great performances amongst what is an excellent and highly satisfying cast who give one of the most uniformly successful performances of Rheingold which is available on DVD.
Visually this is a delight. The opening scene is particularly effective in giving a genuine impression of being under the waters of the Rhine, cleverly achieved with scenery and lighting but also with multilevel set elements and a transparent front curtain with moving highlights that accurately suggest liquidity. My only slight quibble here is that the pinnacle of the rock on which the Rhinegold is resting has not been properly secured and wobbles at various points in the action, the worst being when Alberich steals the gold and this rather reduces the effect of that moment. There are also very good sets depicting a distant Valhalla and the final overarching of the Rhine with the Rainbow Bridge to allow the gods to enter the fortress. The subterranean domain of the Nibelungs is also well represented, a small quibble here is that whilst the disappearance of Alberich is well done, the changes into a dragon and a toad (always tricky moments for the production team) are just a little silly - not really convincing, although this is perhaps not suprising in a representational production.