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Recordings

Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold
17 May 2010

Valencia Ring: Das Rheingold

Recorded live at the Palau de les Arts “Reina Sofia”, Valencia, this new video of Richard Wagner’s Das Rheingold is based on the staging of La Fura dels Baus, with Carlus Padrissa, stage director, and featuring an international cast conducted by Zubin Mehta.

Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold

Juha Uusitalo (Wotan), Ilya Bannik (Donner), Germán Villar (Froh), John Daszak (Loge), Franz-Joseph Kappellmann (Alberich), Gerhard Siegel (Mime), Matti Salminen (Fasolt), Stephen Milling (Fafner), Anna Larsson (Fricka), Sabina von Walther (Freia), Christa Mayer (Erda), Silvia Vásquez (Woglinde), Ann-Katrin Naidu (Wellgunde), Hanna Esther Minutillo (Floßhilde), Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Zubin Mehta, conductor,

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The production itself is a fanciful blend of innovative stagecraft and visual projections that works well to respect the traditional libretto and simultaneously explore the contemporary technology. With a bow to the athleticism of the Cirque du Soleil, the set makes use of spatiality that is not always possible in all of the houses that take on this opera. At the same time, the visual medium brings together the visual elements effortlessly, with a fine mixture of close-ups, full-stage views, and cross-cuts that call attention to the effects of stage designer Roland Olbeter.

At the core of this video is a solid musical execution led by Zubin Mehta. The True HD 7.1 sound offers a crisp and clear audio track, which captures the details of the orchestra effectively. At times the mix favors the orchestra sound at the expense of some of the stage sounds, as with the splashes of the Rhine Maidens in the first scene. Here the women perform from individual water tanks, which eventually suspend over the stage, and in this milieu they sometimes splash water at Alberich as they taunt him or spray water across the stage in gestures that accompany the fluid, mercury-like projects. This is quite effective, and works well in conveying the sense of the score. One detail distract, though, with the projection of an infant, at the presentation of the sword-motif resembling the free-floating space child depicted in the latter part of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey and anticipating too soon the conception of the redeemer in Siegmund’s son Siegfried — at this point in the opera, Alberich has not yet actually stolen the gold to set these events into motion. This image soon gives way to a more appropriate project of the color of gold that almost overwhelms the staging, and the crisp, sharply defined visuals bring this out well for the viewer, perhaps more effectively than in a live performance. At the end of the first scene, though, Alberich drains the tanks of the Rhine maidens, and in doing so, leaves them gasping like fish out of an aquarium. This is an intriguing concept in that the dwarf has just robbed the Rhine maidens of the gold that was the focus of their existence, and this offers a good parallel. Yet when some men come to tie up the impaired Rhine maidens and carry them away trussed like quarry, the gesture is disturbing.

With the second scene, the graphic element makes use of projects of plans, which enhance the text of scene, with its focus on the exchange between Fricka and Wotan about the construction of Valhalla. Here Juha Uusitalo is impressive with his sonorous and lyrical bass voice in creating a sonic image of the god positing the world he has put into motion. Fricka, as portrayed by Anna Larsson, is solicitous and engaging, as she prompts Wotan for her validly deeper concerns. Larsson is nicely lyrical in this role, as she shapes the phrases and thus supports the text convincingly. The use of movable construction lifts is effective in a scene which some directors envision statically, with Wotan and Fricka merely pointing to a painted flat of Valhalla. The constant motion might also challenge the principals, and as such, they meet the demands well, without being affected by the sometimes swift movement. Later in this scene, though, the image of child, now suggesting a kind of Buddha, dominates Wotan’s monologue.

The third scene is also provocative in its use of human bodies suspended from meathooks, like carcasses to be processed at a factory. Here Alberich, depicted by Franz-Joseph Kapellmann, gives a fine point to the role and Mehta revels in the music of Nibelheim scene. The staging conveys a sense the cinema with its use of multiple layers of details and appropriate colors. The close-ups are useful in offering a human side to the scene, while also putting the mechanistic elements into the background, akin to the way this was presented in the film version of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, especially when Alberich displays the oversize ring. The only image that is sometimes out of place is the placement of Loge on a Segue, which conveys mobility, but also seems easily datable. Yet the scene also contains an over-the-top evocation of the dragon with torches in the hands of each of the actors who are part of the contrivance that represents the beast. Similarly the visual effects at the end of the scene in the contest with Alberich as the toad, works wonderfully well in the film medium of the DVD.

The projections likewise move the viewer well from the end of the third scene to the fourth in ways that are not always so convincing. In contrast, the present production deserves attention for its effective combination of images with music. Even the spinning of the globe fits well into the tempos of the orchestral interlude which sometimes occurs in a darkened house. This sets the stage for the concluding scene in which the action sets into motion the destinies that will be worked out in the three operas that follow. Elements from this passage are also part of the scene with Erda, sung well by Christa Mayer, in a touching staging. Mayer has a silvery sound that works well in conveying the text, rather than some of the darker voices used for her role. Another effective performer is Stephen Milling, who brings fine shape to the role of Fafner in his distinctive approach to the role. Likewise, the elements of the opera come together well in the final part of the scene, as the dealings with the giants conclude and Donner’s solemn declarations allow the gods to complete their long-await entrance into Valhalla. The use of lifts, again, works well, with Ilya Bannik as Donner given the center of the stage and then moved away effortlessly, as the other characters are moved into the staging. The construct of Valhalla as a pyramid of figures ingeniously intertwined allows a human element to enter into this sometimes technologically dominated production.

All in all, this is a production of Das Rheingold that deserves attention for its solid conception of the work. If it is sometimes excessive, that aspect of the production fits well into the nature of Wagner’s work. The entire production shows a fine sense of imagination in terms of the imagery, visual space, colors, motion, and costume, which La Fura dels Baus delivers with excellent style. At times it the production of this famous opera remains something to enjoy visually, while also savoring the fine performances of a well-chosen cast, both of which are served well by the clear images and full sound of the Blu-ray medium. The clearly articulated text emerges nicely in the sound mix, and those who wish to use subtitles have access to the libretto in German, along with translations in English, French, and Spanish. More than that, those interested in the conception of this Ring cycle can pursue it on the documentary, which offers details about the production.

With its finely rehearsed orchestra, well-matched principals, and excellent sound, the DVD has much to offer. Those who are intrigued by this production may find it useful to return to various parts of the work, which are thoughtfully banded for easy reference. Ingenious in execution, it is musically satisfying, as Zubin Mehta contributes a fine video to the discography of Wagner’s Ring der Nibelungen.

James L. Zychowicz

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