RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Brünnhilde - Jennifer Wilson (soprano)
Siegfried - Lance Ryan (tenor)
Gunther - Ralf Lukas (baritone)
Gutrune - Elisabete Matos (soprano)
Hagen - Matti Salminen
Alberich - Franz-Josef Kapellmann
Waltraute - Catherine Wyn-Rogers (mezzo)
1st Norn - Daniela Denschlag (alto)
2nd Norn - Pilar Vazquez (mezzo)
3rd Norn - Eugenia Bethencourt (soprano)
Woglinde - Silvia Vázquez (soprano)
Wellgunde - Ann-Katrin Naidu (mezzo)
Flosshilde - Marina Prudenskay (alto)
Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana/Zubin Mehta
rec. live, Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, Valencia, May-June 2008
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 Götterdämmerung [27:48]
UNITEL CLASSICA 701108 [287:00]
The Valencia Ring reaches its triumphant conclusion. While I have praised this cycle throughout I was beginning to fear that Padrissa and his team had peaked in Rheingold as it had produced a more dramatically involving experience than either Walküreor Siegfried. However they have pulled out all the dramatic stops to provide a thrilling culmination to the cycle where music and visuals work together to provide a hugely satisfying conclusion.
The huge video screens that have dominated the whole conception behind this Ring are put to outstanding use in Götterdämmerung, again providing visual leitmotifs that comment on the musical. Many of them are satisfyingly familiar: Brünnhilde’s rock is largely the same and the organic picture of the gold as a child is back again. Furthermore the Rhinemaidens return in their watery pods, swimming, singing and demonstrating their phenomenal lung power. The film screens effectively convey the journeys in the opera: Siegfried comes down the mountain and rides along down the Rhine and his Act 3 narrative repeats his journey up the mountain to Brünnhilde’s rock. Waltraute’s arrival is especially atmospheric. This time, however, the world of men that we are shown is distancing and decaying. The Rhine is cluttered with discarded plastic bottles and Act 2 takes place before a bleak futuristic cityscape that reminded me of Blade Runner. The motif of the revolving globe returns, but this time it rotates in perpetual darkness rather than shimmering light. A vortex of life runs through the branches of the World-Ash and Waltraute’s narrative, but it is gone when we enter the world of the Gibichungs whose hall looks disturbingly similar to Mime’s forge. Their obsession with wealth and materialism is underlined by their costumes which are covered in symbols of every currency, something which is explored in detail in the very informative Making Of extra. In the Prologue Siegfried is still dressed as the Wälsung son of the forest, but when he arrives at the Gibichung Hall he is sterilised and dressed as one of them even before he takes the potion.
The simple scene painting works very well: the Rhine flows beautifully and we see lots of water-life that swims around next to the Rhinemaidens. Furthermore the final conflagration looks great: the screens lick with flame and we see the living Valhalla of Rheingold return and slowly disintegrate. However the most powerful image for me was the blood-letting of the sacrifices to the gods that accompanies Hagen’s call to the Vassals and the arrival of Gunther in Act 2. As well as being a fantastically compelling image it provided an apt commentary on the barbarism of the scene being enacted below. The edgy, restless camerawork that had so irked me in Walküre and Siegfried is still present but this time I found it less annoying - maybe I’m just used to it, or maybe the action and pace made it seem less irritating.
Happily the musical performance matches the visual feast. Jennifer Wilson’s Brünnhilde, one of the great strengths of this cycle, is as impressive as ever. She seems more human and vulnerable for the exchanges in Act 1 but she takes on eviscerating power in Act 2, even managing some biting sarcasm for the oath on the spear. The immolation is powerful and compelling, rising to a fully assured peak and a beautiful climax. Lance Ryan’s Siegfried suffers from none of the insecurity that he has shown in Act 1 of Siegfried. In fact he seems to enjoy the challenge of this opera even more, sounding thrillingly heroic in Acts 1 and 2 but movingly vulnerable for the death scene in Act 3. He even manages an extended (and very exciting) high Hoihe as he calls to the vassals after the Rhinemaidens have departed. Salminen’s Hagen dominates every scene in which he appears, black and menacing, conveying years of experience in this role and proving even more compelling than he had been for Janowski (RCA) or Levine (DG). His acting makes a virtue out of stillness, underlining Hagen’s role as the malevolent puppet-master at the heart of the story. Gunther and Gutrune are sung well but with an element of distance that conveys their victimhood, and Wyn-Rogers’ Waltraute is both beautiful and exciting. Norns and Rhinemaidens make a lot out of their scenes and Kapellmann’s Alberich continues to impress, albeit briefly.
However, the real stars of this Ring have been the outstanding players of the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana and this is, in many ways, their finest performance. Their virtuosity can by now be taken as read and their power in the climaxes is astounding, but it was their fantastic attention to detail that continually impressed me here. Listen, for example, to the flutes at the moment at the end of Act 1 when the flames rise up again, or the sleeked clarinet that accompanies the breaking of dawn in Act 2. The fantastic Dolby sound makes this all the easier to pick up and only adds to the virtues of this performance. Mehta, who had provided such distinctive thrust in earlier performances, continues to provide a strong hand but his conducting here lacks the nth degree of excitement that would push him into the superleague. The transitions are well directed and there is nothing at all wrong with the climaxes or long views, but there is nothing especially distinctive about them either. Still, in the presence of such fantastic playing this is little to complain about.
So now that the Valencia Ring has come to its conclusion here are a few reflections on the cycle as a whole: The idea of using the vast HD film screens to convey Wagner’s world was, to me, very successful and highly convincing. It works better in some areas than others, and it is finest when commenting on the action rather than simply accompanying it - which it does best in Rheingold and Götterdämmerung - but it allows the performers to evoke the mythic and extra-human elements of the story that were so important to Wagner himself and so they raise this cycle above the suggestive and sometimes reductive efforts of Harry Kupfer or Patrice Chéreau - to me now very dated, however great its long-term significance has been. However it also goes beyond the mythical, thus setting it apart from the Met Ring which is fine but at times just looks daft and a tad dull. Copenhagen sets itself apart as a humanitarian, perhaps even feminist cycle, and I think that it sits well alongside this one as an entirely different interpretation that is still effective. The singing, playing and dramatic conception of the Valencia Ring works for me on almost every level and, while the camera direction is undoubtedly annoying at times, this is a Ring on DVD to live with and to return to again and again.