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Decca Phase 4
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Der Ring des Nibelungen (1876)
John Tomlinson (Wotan)
Anne Evans (Brünnhilde)
Siegfried Jerusalem (Siegfried)
Bayreuth Festival Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
rec. Bayreuth 1991-2
Stage production by Harry Kupfer
Region codes: NTSC 2,3,4,5; Picture format 16:9; Sound: LPCM
stereo, Dolby digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 Surround; Subtitles
in English, Français, Deutsch, Español, Italiano
[7 DVDs: 154 + 237 + 243 + 270 min.]
Warner has now boxed up the DVDs of the Barenboim/Kupfer Ring
cycle made in Bayreuth during the early 1990s. Göran Forsling
and Tony Haywood have already reviewed the individual issues with
considerable enthusiasm (see below). Apart from a handy box to
keep the four cases in, the only difference between acquiring
the operas separately or in this package is price. At the time
of writing, the difference on one UK website was approximately
£94 separately versus £66 together. Interestingly, Barenboim’s
complete cycle on CD costs £85 and the famous Decca/Solti traversal
£125 on the same website. That this is a considerable bargain
should therefore be obvious. I don’t have the CD set for comparison
but the sound on DVD played through a stereo amplifier is excellent.
Provided you have such connections, this package could serve all
your audio-visual needs in relation to the Ring. The only thing
missing would be the libretti but you could probably find these
on the web using this useful link. For newcomers
to the work, I can strongly recommend Deryck Cooke’s introduction
with musical examples by Solti & the VPO on a Decca recording.
point I should make right away is that these are not live
performances in the sense that an audience was not present.
But they do seem to have been recorded “as live” and I would
regard the absence of audience and applause as an advantage.
In this respect it seems to be different to alternative DVD
versions yet available.
purpose here is to reflect on the cycle as a whole. The watchwords
in this respect are “consistency” and “excellence”. This
is a cycle which really does hang together, and which grabs
one’s attention and never lets go. I thought it would take
me some time to watch it but once started I found myself
blocking out the next available evenings in the diary. The
most credit for that must surely go to Barenboim. Hidden
away in the Bayreuth pit, the only appearance he makes is
in the supplementary interview (see below) but he inspires
the orchestra to great heights. There is detail but not at
the expense of structure, excitement but not at the expense
of lyricism. There was nothing I felt to be controversial
in his direction, simply music at the service of the drama.
on list for recognition must be the principals. Before naming
names I should make the point that this is not a Ring that
one must hear or have because of a particular singer in one
of the roles – I simply would not be able to choose between
the principals. The four biggest roles, in order of appearance
are Alberich, Wotan, Brünnhilde and Siegfried though none
of them sings in all four operas. Günter von Kannen, John
Tomlinson, Anne Evans and Siegfried Jerusalem - must be a
handy Christian name to have if you want to be a heldentenor!
- take these roles. Each sings and acts consummately and
was completely inside the role by the time the recording
was made. There are no real weaknesses in the smaller parts
and the Graham Clark who takes Loge in Rheingold and
Mime in Siegfried is a major plus giving highly characterised
performances. Swapping Mime’s between these two operas is
a minor blemish and, when Clark appears in Siegfried,
I didn’t find myself spotting any likeness with Loge. Linda
Finnie also takes multiple roles – most importantly Fricka
in the first two operas, and re-appearing as Siegrune in
Act III of Die Walküre and as first Norn in Götterdämmerung.
This is luxury casting indeed and equally fine is Philip
Kang, especially as a rather subtle yet evil Hagen. He also
takes the role of Fafner in both his incarnations.
have already mentioned the fine acting of the principals.
Göran Forsling felt that at times there was too much acting
involved, a view I can understand but don’t entirely share.
The Kufper staging was intended to be timeless and the sets
seem to achieve that with transitions being effected very
well indeed. There are a few potentially controversial touches
in the form of visual effects not specified by Wagner, for
example Wotan controlling the Woodbird and a well-dressed
audience watching the end of the gods on television at the
very end. Personally I could have done without them but I
did not feel they were a major drawback.
subtitles are worth a comment because they are pithy and
in the modern idiom, at least in English. Whilst occasionally
blinking at them disbelievingly, I liked the style. As far
as I can tell from sampling, the German sub-titles provide
the authentic text. There is one extra on the first DVD of Götterdämmerung – an
interview with John Tomlinson and Daniel Barenboim lasting
13 minutes and clearly recorded within the last few years.
The former describes working on this Ring as the greatest
experience of his professional life. The written documentation
provides synopses of each opera and there are additional
articles in the booklets including a conversation and an
interview with Harry Kupfer.
writing the Ring over a period of around 25 years
from about 1850 Wagner refused to compromise in relation
to practicalities. Presumably he believed that one day it
would all be possible. Technology has doubtless since facilitated
producing the work in the theatre but has it become more
practical for the audience? Spending many hours in the theatre
and travelling to a major city, and hundreds of pounds makes
this as impractical as ever for most people. But on DVD,
with the advantages of your own living room, the impact is
not far behind. Wagner would have been ecstatic without doubt.
I’d love to go Bayreuth but, aside from the cost in money
and time, I would have to wait years and get lucky in a ballot.
Now I feel like I have been.
own experience of the Ring in the theatre is limited to the
recent ENO cycle in London. I have also seen the Boulez version
and part of the recent Covent Garden cycle on the small screen.
The CD sets I own are Solti and Goodall, famous for dramatic
effect and being slooooooooooow respectively although I love
them both. Insofar as I can make comparisons from that background,
I feel that Barenboim and Kupfer beat them all hands down
to provide a central “must-see” and “must-have” experience.
Given that this set is one of the cheapest ways of acquiring
the Ring in any format at the moment, it is an obvious one-stop
shop for the work. Snap it up soon because it will be an
investment and acquire legendary status, if it hasn’t already.
In fifty years time people will look back on this in the
same kind of way they are now doing on the 1955 Keilberth Ring,
of that I am sure. I expect that DVD will have disappeared
by then but, if physicists have worked out how to teleport
us back in time – akin to an ancillary facility of the Tarnhelm – a
trip to Bayreuth in the early 1990s to see this may have
become hottest ticket in the universe.
Other useful links:
on the internet
All You Need
To Appreciate Wagner’s Ring
article on the Ring (useful for a list of recordings)
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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