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Customer reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
Das Rheingold: Metropolitan Opera (Levine) [DVD] [2013]
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on 15 August 2013
Glad to have the opportunity to review a Ring recording, one of the biggest works of art, and whether you love or loathe Wagner, music or man, it is a challenging and rewarding experience, every music lover should tackle it. With such a rich, complex work of art, there are perhaps as many meanings and interpretations as listeners, and as an allegorical struggle between good and evil, love and power, of relevance to us all. This will be interesting because we have a change of conductor mid-cycle, and I have these big Wagner works for breakfast. So. Here we go....

Musically a mostly excellent performance, but the interesting production design doesn't always add to the experience and has proved controversial. It replaces the superb naturalistic Otto Schenk / Gunther Schneider-Siemssen production, and revolves (pun intended) around the so-called Machine stage, basically a series of motor driven planks which can be rotated around an axis, allowing infinite placement and fluid movement. With interactive projections it represents, for example, under the Rhine, the Nibelung cavern, etc., and you get water bubbles, scudding clouds and stuff like that. When effective it's all very nice, but sometimes prior knowledge and imagination are required. The rainbow bridge is ineffective despite a vivid overhead spectrum. The production is more impressionist than literal, and looks both naturalistic and artificial, if that makes any sense. Fortunately there are plenty of close-ups of the singers and superb costumes, because the singers act well.

The cast is excellent. Bryn Terfel conveys the introspective side as well as the impatient, brutish nature of the young ambitious Wotan, he has a strong pleasing voice. Eric Owens relishes the role of Alberich, vocally strong, teeth flashing before huge scary dreadlocks. Richard Croft as David Cassidy lookalike Loge with huge quiff and shiny costume. Gerhard Siegel does a star turn as Mime. All good, including Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), Wendy Bryn Harmer (Freia), Franz-Josef Selig (Fasolt) and Hans-Peter Konig (Fafner). Special praise to the Rhinemaidens, acting and singing suspended precipitously on harnesses and wires.

Alberich is usually described as an evil Nibelung dwarf who steals the gold intent on gaining power, but surely the Rhinemaidens are partly to blame for the theft. They tease Alberich for his appearance and lustful advances, openly boasting of the gold and how it can be forged into a ring of power. Really they shouldn't be too surprised when Alberich curses love, steals the gold and sets off on his evil quest.

I love Wotan's spear joust with the dragon's tail and when he and Loge are peering the wrong way for the tiny toad, I'm like 'It's behind you!' Sorry, fellow Wagnerians. Yes. Be serious. At 2 hours 38 minutes, this is towards the longer timings for Das Rheingold, the longest piece of unbroken Western music. Though I prefer hurtling speeds, it's all about phrasing, James Levine's conducting seldom feels slow, though the ascent fron Nibelheim feels more a trudge, a rare example of loss of momentum, and I would prefer a more bombastic entry of the gods into Valhalla. With my anorak on to compare timings in my collection, the fastest is Karl Bohm Bayreuth 1966 (marketed as 1967) 2 hours 17 minutes, Wilhelm Furtwangler Milan 1950 2 hours 29 minutes, the slowest is Reginald Goodall London 1975 2 hours 54 minutes (ouch).

Picture and sound quality are excellent, the Metropolitan orchestra superb. The stage plinth emphasises voices, despite the excellent cast the voices are too prominent, I would prefer more orchestral volume, though I'm just using a standard TV. The DVD is chaptered copiously and there are subtitles, so now I know what they're all singing about! Can't wait for Die Walkure and more Bryn Terfel....
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on 29 May 2013
Let me state this straight ahead; This is a disappointment of a Metropolitan/Levine/Blu-Ray/Rheingold.
Should anyone be looking for a Metropolitan/Levine/Rheingold, than it would be a better choice to have the previous production mase in 1990 with the Metropolitan/Levine (also on the DGG label, also with DTS5.1 surround audio besides the usual PCM stereo).

The visual effects first:
The new production has the stage covered with long planks front and back of the stage a decor that changes its color according to the illumination: the planks are placed vertical-horizontal and in any position in between that and are supposed to replace any more natural, or "traditional" approach to staging, but soon after only the first moments are getting tedious. The support-robs that at times are fastened to the singers on stage when they have to stabilized and hang from the (at times) steep planks is ridiculous and reminds one of the "Cirque du Soleil" tricks but without the art and the stunning visual effects of that circus...
The less than enjoyable visual effects gets even a ridicule laughter from the public (the transformation of Albrich into a small creature, in that case into a frog:
That stone frog placed on the stage planks could have been taken from any garden center and the second it is placed there the public begins to mock-lough it out (I make this point just to clarify how ineffective the decor and staging is...)

With the 1990 production you get a much believable stone-field and scenery stage which changes slightly and very logically accordingly - to witness: the Rheinmaidens swimming, Alberich grasping the gold, the scene where Alberich slaves brings up the gold to the surface of the stage while they come out like worms from holes in the stage, and more than that, when Erde makes her phantom-like appearance...
All in all - the 1990 visual effects, lightening, and decor are more advanced, less on the boring "modern" side-effects. All in all much to be preferred over this 'new' production.

The singers:
The new production has Wotan sung by Bryn Terfel. Now to clarify, Bryn Terfel has quite a large voluminous voice but basically it is a Baritone voice (maybe on the dramatic side of the fence). I have heard singing Wotan's farewell scene with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and my opinion stays the same: the voice is a bit too light in tessura for the Wotan role (a true Bass-Baritone, or a Bass is what this part calls for, but not a Baritone voice).
On the 1990 James levine/Metropolitan, we have Wotan sung by James Morris and immediately it become obvious that this Bass-baritone dominates the stage even without much bodily movement, and it becomes clear that this is the Wotan to listen and watch.
Also; Morris has an astounding voice to match his astounding stage presence standing tall like a Greek god with his gestures controlled, sparse, in-exaggerated; James Morris does not have to smear his arms with mud (and for whatever purpose..?) the way Bryn Terfel first appears on stage looking wild, more like a dirty Neanderthal than an ancient god.
Fricka (Wotan's wife):
The new production has Stephanie Blythe (an enormous woman) with enormous talent, a big, powerful voice which has a special dramatic timbre and which at times sounds like a distance reminiscent of Kirsten Flagstad's voice.
The dress of this Fricka in this production is ridiculous to say the least;
Stephanie Blythe is dressed with a (lemma-chiffon) a shining cloth appropriate for an dress appearance at a Viennese ball with her clean tidy hair nicely done, while the other singers dresses is something that looks like an SM brown lather show presentation;
The stupidity on the part of the dressing-department is brought farther into the ridiculous realm, with her husband Wotan looking like he was rolling in the mud...

Nevertheless Frika part in this opera is quite limited in scope (one would be intrigued to hear her Stephanie Blythe sing Fricka's aria and duet with Wotan in the Walkure opera where much more is placed on Fricka's voice...)
The 1990 Metropolitan production gives this part of Fricka to the veteran, much respected and much loved Christa Ludwig - a singer that does not need any introduction except to say that her appearance with the Metropolitan 1990 production brings nobleness and statue to this role (it is believed to be one of her last public appearance on the operatic stage...) Christa Ludwig's gestures - like those of her partner Morris are measured and command old godlike respect...

Loge (half-god of fire):
This role has always been one of the more difficult on all of the Wagner Rheingold production.
It is sung by a tenor that at times has to flex his voice below the tenor range or to have some healthy upper Kopf-tone resonance bursts and has to be utterly convincing as a slippery cunning character.
The new production has opted for a more smooth tenor voice without many "games-flexibility-in-the-voice" and without much of a traditional Loge voice show-case. It becomes quite a straight forward singing here and (whatever) acting there is with this role in this production, compared to the 1990 magnificent Siegfried Jerusalem.

The role of Alberich (Bass) is superbly sung and acted by Eric Owens who possesses a large, dark true vibrant full-range show-case voice.

Erde (Contralto voice according to the score requirements)
Here in this Metropolitan production he role is given to Patricia Bardon:
Now, here is something of a disappointing when one compares this contralto voice with the voice of Birgitta Svenden in the 1990 Metropolitan production and in the 1991 Bayreuth Festspiele conducted by Barenboim).
While this (short scene) where Erde appears to warn Wotan can make your hair stand on edge, because of the dramatic effect in Wagner's score of this sublime musical moment, it is also very clear that Erde's voice has to be something truly extraordinary and not just an accumulation of notes sung by a lower female's voice.
(A friend of ours who listened for the first time to this opera and was concentrated on this Erde scene, was utterly flabbergasted by Birgitta Svenden - the 1990 production - he swore he never thought a white female voice can sound so low, vibrant and full-bodied).
Unfortunately, Patricia Bardon's voice does not made the right Erde impression and certainly misses on the drama and mystery the role calls for.

There is another problem with this production: The singer's voices is not competed against the orchestra in any traditional theatrical way: Every singer has his own discretely attached microphone(much like a pop/rock concert) - with the consequence that there is no real theatrical-opera house acoustic properties in general and certainly no bloom to the sound in particularly.

The added bonuses are not very impressive either; The very short orchestra/singer rehearsal cut does not help any in understanding the creation of this production (except maybe showing us how the singers are dressed in day to day clothing...) and the decor-master explanations of how the stage planks are moved with the computer generated work of the lightening etc, all this does not really contribute for a better appreciation of the production.
The very short interview something like a two minuets bubble with Bryn Terfel does not amount to much either.

The better performances are to be found on the Metropolitan Opera production of 1990 with James Levine conducting, or with the 1991 Bayreuth Festspielhaus conducted by Daniel Barenboim.
All in all - a Blu-ray DVD disappointment.
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on 21 August 2013
I am a huge Wagner fan. I have watched at least 6 different productions of the Ring. For me, the fully satisfying productions musically as well as vocally are those of Barenboim and the previous Met production with Levinne decades ago.

So whats so special (other than the blu ray clarity) about this one ?
It is a truly evolved 21st century production making great use of technology but at the same time devoid of trashy 20th century costumes, un-necessary nudity and the need to make it different for the sake of being different.
Mehta with Fura dels Baus with a young orchestra brought out the Velrncia Ring, which although musically and Vocally were just short of great, was a little overdone with unwieldy and clumsy crude mechanical sets that had people on stage operating them, distracting one from the performance itself. Even the projections there were tending to being a tad glitzy and tacky at the same time.

Most of those kinds of hiccups are overcome in this one, unless one were to psych oneself that 'those are just planks' being operated and so on. The sets must have cost a bomb, and surprisingly look both minimal as well as gorgeously elaborate at the same time, thanks to the deft use of tech.

The trailers I saw of these do not do justice to the production.
Why I am elaborating on these aspects is because this theatrical cycle was and is meant to be Visually great in addition to the rest of the drama and music ax Wagner had intended.


Brynn Terfel is almost a perfect Wotan. Looks, sings and acts the part. Never mind that Wagner intended this part for a Bassy Baritone rather than Terfel's timbre.
Eric Owens as Alberich is another perfect casting for the role.
As for the rest, the Rhein Maidens were outstanding without being distracting inspite of the slightly acrobatic requirements of the sets.
Fricka looked (sic!) Wagnarian and sang thus too... (Stephany Blythe)
Rest of the cast fell in to their roles quite easily with Loge (Croft) slightly disappointing.
The Orchestra and Levinne ? Heavier in their approach than the previous production, but SUPERB.
I would still only give it 4 stars, in comparison with the greats I have already mentioned, and some others that Wagner lovers like me would easily support
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on 12 May 2013
I watched "The Making Of" first on Sky Arts, and this put me off a bit, I thought "Oh Dear" but went on to watch Rheingold, I am pleased I did. The aforementioned programme did not do it justice. It is very watchable with some rotating planks making some interesting staging. The lighting effects are also quite impressive, and the costumes and character presentations pretty good. Wotans peek-a-boo bang however is a big miss.
The artistes. Eric Owens is in turn lecherous, bullying and vindictive, his dark voice is equal to any of those in my 6 other versions.
The Rhinemaidens, Ok but there are better blends of voices in other productions, still they are pretty good.
Stephanie Bylthes Fricka is as good as any, she is fully equal to her task.
Bryn Tervil does quite a good job as Wotan, but Donald Macintyre, John Tomlinson and Lames Morris all have the edge on him.
Selig and Konig are quite reasonable Giants, but watch out in other productions for Matti Salminen.
Wendy Bryn Harmer is the best Freia of all in my opinion, both in voice and presentation. I could eat her golden apples any day.
Diegel and Croft are not outstanding as Froh and Donner, but are up to the job.
Richard Croft has an absolutely pleasing voice, he is to my ears a lyric tenor, as Logi I would have preferred a more sly voice which other productions have used.
Gerhard Siegal is not bad as Mime but most other productions have an artiste that can outwhine him. Think Heinz Zednik.
Lastly Patricia Bardons mezzo Erda is very good on the ear.
To sum up it is good enough for me to add it to my list of future additions to my library, but if you are new to the work there are better. The Met 1990 or Bayreuth 1991.
Just to add to the above it is now resident in my library, and I find it very enjoyable, even if a it behind the 1990 met production.
It certainly has the edge on Barenboin and the Bayreuther production but Patrice Chereau Bayreuther is somewhat better.
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on 16 June 2013
Wagner's Ring is an impossible work. It requires sets that defy all practicality, singers who can manage to both act and sing as well as being heard over a vast orchestra as well as players and a conductor able to make what can easily become a sagging and protracted mess into a riveting drama. I am no Wagner expert but this is a great introduction to the Ring. There are many positives: brilliant filming in Blu-ray, dramatic sets and lighting, no attempt to impose some stupid interpretation on the text and some very fine singing (especially Bryn Terfel)and playing. The recording is excellent and the quality extends even to the details; the subtitles are carefully located on the screen. No, it isn't perfect but here perfection isn't possible. If you want to get to know what is one of the greatest (if flawed) artistic creations of Western Civilisation this is the best way in. It is not even particularly expensive!
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on 17 July 2013
I have never attended any performance of THE RING. I was drawn to it by the cast, especially Bryn Terfel and I felt that it was about time that I took a look at Wagner's work. I appreciate the fact that the portrayal of Rhinemaidens is difficult to present on stage and I was not entirely convinced by their production in this work. The singing is excellent, as one would expect from such a cast. I enjoyed my introduction to Wagner.
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on 22 February 2018
Great production and singing
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on 26 September 2017
Incredible singing and production
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on 12 June 2013
I watched part of this production on cable tv shortly ago and decided to buy it. I am a huge opera fan, but generally avoid Wagner as his operas are in the neverending extreme of the genre - this production is very watchable and the singing is first class. Very highly recommended.
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on 16 May 2015
Apart from Terfel, this is a weak cast. An often interesting set but not for repeated viewings.
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