DVD OF THE MONTH
Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Das Rheingold (1869) [194:00]
Wotan - Juha Uusitalo (bass–baritone)
Fricka - Anna Larsson (mezzo)
Alberich - Franz-Josef Kapelmann (bass)
Loge - John Daszak (tenor)
Fasolt - Matti Salminen (bass)
Fafner - Stephen Milling (bass)
Erda - Daniela Denschlag (mezzo)
Freia - Sabine Von Walter (soprano)
Mime - Niklas Björling Rygert (tenor)
Donner - Charles Taylor (baritone)
Froh - Germán Villa (tenor)
Woglinde - Silvia Vázquez (soprano)
Wellgunde - Ann-Katrin Naidu (mezzo)
Flosshilde - Marina Prudenskay (contralto)
Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana/Zubin Mehta
rec. live, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia, April/May 2007
Staged by La Fura dels Baus/Carlus Padrissa. Stage Director: Carlus Padrissa. Video Creator: Franc Aleu. Staging and Acting Coordinator: Valentina Carrasco. Stage Design: Roland Olbeter. Lighting: Peter van Praet. Costumes: Chu Uroz. Video Director: Tiziano Mancini
Region Code: Universal. Sound Formats. PCM Stereo. DD 5.1 Bonus Track DD 2.0. Subtitles: German, French, English, Spanish: Booklet, English, French and German.
Bonus Film - The Making of Rheingold [27:00]
UNITEL CLASSICA 700508 [221:00]
Move over Copenhagen! A new Ring is appearing to challenge your position among recent stagings on DVD. This is a production to cherish, brilliantly realised for DVD, which should be in the collections of all serious Wagnerians. While fully conscious that not all of my colleagues agree with me (see alternative reviews of the Blu-ray), I suspect the Valencia Ring may well turn out to be the classical DVD event of the year.
Housed in the ultra-modern (and staggeringly impressive) Palau de Les Arts “Reina Sofia” and staged by the hugely exciting Catalan theatre company La Fura dels Baus – who were also responsible for bringing Ligeti’s Grand Macabre to ENO – Valencia’s intentions of creating a proudly Spanish realisation of Wagner’s masterpiece could hardly be clearer. They succeed in creating a musically exciting, visually stunning and, for me, viscerally involving Rheingold that drew me further into the action than any other staging, live or on film, that I’ve seen.
La Fura dels Baus is a thumpingly physical company and they make full use of the facilities of the Palau de Les Arts to wrench the viewer into the action through some awesome visual effects. Their main tool is a vast video screen that stretches across the back of the stage and whose shifting projections are operated, interestingly, by a pianist who follows the conductor at the same time as the orchestra. The vast images often illustrate the action and sometimes comment upon it. During the transition to the third scene, for example, we are plunged all the way from outer space to the surface of the earth, through the sulphurous cleft and down the vast shaft into Nibelheim, a really startling effect. We see the earth’s destruction as a backdrop to Erda’s warning and Donner’s hammer-blow shatters a swirling vortex into thousands of shards which give way to the entrance to Valhalla. Most interestingly, the Rhinegold itself is projected as a living, foetal form which is transformed into a blackened corpse upon Alberich’s theft, and this then becomes a visual leitmotif to go alongside Wagner’s musical ones. Indeed one of the themes of the production is the humanising of objects in the opera, not just the Rhinegold. The Nibelung hoard is “acted” by a troupe of gold-clad dancers who writhe onto the stage as if drawn by the Ring’s demonic power. Likewise there is no rainbow bridge, but a nexus of performers suspended as a grid in the air forming what looks like a celestial elevator to propel the gods into their new home. The visual impact of these images is stunning, helped by their high-definition origins and their startling use of contrasting colours.
There is very little physical set in this production: instead, as illustrated above, performers tend to create and remove the staging as necessary. The major exception to this is the jaw-dropping opening scene where the Rhinemaidens actually swim in individual pods – what incredible breath control they must have had! – which are then suspended above the stage as they salute the gold. Alberich steals the gold by draining the pods, symbolically and physically ending the Rhinemaidens’ party. The Nibelheim scene resembles a horrific mechanical factory producing clones to fight in Alberich’s army, each of which bears a more than accidental resemblance to the original Rhinegold figure. The giants appear in huge metal exoskeletons, while the gods are mostly manipulated in devices that look like cherry pickers, emphasising their distance from the real world and their ultimate powerlessness. Loge whizzing around on a scooter provides a pertinent contrast.
So what impact does all of this have? Well, for this reviewer at any rate, I found it a tremendously exciting, repeatedly exciting ride which never flagged throughout the work’s whole duration. I kept on wondering what was going to come next, which is no mean feat for a score I know so well. It is far from traditional, and the Gods’ costumes look like leftovers from Blake’s 7, but in terms of insight and involvement I found it offered far more than Schenk’s view for the Met or Chéreau’s now somewhat dated Bayreuth staging. In fact I found it probably comes closest to Kupfer’s Bayreuth production of the 1990s because they share a sense of a whole world raped and corrupted beyond full repair. Importantly, though, the scale of La Fura’s perception retains an element of the spectacular as well as the myth so important to Wagner’s vision, something that many modern productions have lost in recent decades. In a fun though not especially informative accompanying “Making of” film, Carlos Padrissa claimed while his production was not naturalistic he was going back to the mythical spirit of Wagner: this surely is far more important.
All of this would count for little were it not for the truly outstanding musical performances. Juha Uusitalo’s Wotan is commanding and imperious, the role carrying no terrors for him. He shows supreme self-confidence in the opening scene, changing to desperate self-doubt after Fasolt’s murder, before recovering himself (or does he?) for the entry into Valhalla. John Daszak’s Loge is bright, quirky and clear and he has a marvellous way with the words. Franz-Joseph Kapellmann’s Alberich is only occasionally unsteady, but he captures the malice of the role in a thoroughly musical way, as does the nasty Mime of Gerhard Siegel. Anna Larsson’s Fricka is somewhat shrill, but this is not out of place for this character, while Sabina von Walther’s Freia is much sweeter and more sympathetic, as is Germán Villar’s Froh. Ilya Bannik has a luxuriously big voice for the role of Donner, characterful and sizeable, though in a completely different way to Uusitalo. The giants are marvellous too: Matti Salminen’s voice has weakened since he recorded Fafner for both Janowski and Levine, but his Fasolt shows that he can still dominate a stage. Stephen Milling’s Fafner is just as dark but with a telling bent towards cunning which his brother lacks. The Erda of Christa Mayer is powerful but surprisingly light, though no less effective. For their musicality as well as their swimming ability, the three Rhinemaidens are beyond praise.
Presiding over all is the experienced baton of Zubin Mehta. In an accompanying “Making of” film Mehta assures us that he has been preparing The Ring since 1954 and the years of experience show in a reading that emphasises the seamless. Some may find his reading contains too much legato, but he doesn’t lack energy in the great transformations, especially the tricky transition to scene two. He presides over an orchestra that was hand-picked by regular music director Lorin Maazel. They seem, from this performance, to be a crack Wagner team, playing every bar with energy, insight and sensitivity. The brass, in particular, are fantastic and Mehta brings every one of them on stage for a well deserved bow at the end.
The whole project is helped by first-rate filming and technical support. During the prelude the intelligent camera-work alternates between the swirling images on the stage curtain and a birds’ eye view of the orchestra pit, so we are brought up close to the horns and the undulating bows of the cellos. During the opening scene, when there is so much to look at, we often get merged pictures which I found very satisfying, and elsewhere in the piece we always feel that the eye is being placed where the ear says it should be, the only possible section being the moment after the toad Alberich’s capture where the camera rather bizarrely focuses on Mehta in the pit. The sound balance is spectacular in Dolby 5.1, though note that there is no DTS. The balance of singers to orchestra is just right and the off-stage Rhinemaidens in the final scene are captured to perfection.
In short, I found this a remarkably compelling, wonderfully entertaining DVD which I will return to more often than Schenk, Chéreau or Kupfer. In fact I think that Rheingold at least has the edge even on Copenhagen because where Holten focused on the human and down-to-earth, Valencia’s use of effects means that there is still a sense of the powerful, supernatural and indeed god-like about this production.
Remarkably compelling, wonderfully entertaining … a sense of the powerful, supernatural and indeed god-like … see Full Review