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Wagner – Der Ring des Nibelungen  

Filmed at Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona June 2004

Opus Arte DVDs

Das Rheingold OA 0910 D Die Walküre OA 0911 D Siegfried OA 0912 D Götterdämmerung OA 0913 D


Conductor – Bertrand de Billly

Stage Director – Harry Kupfer

TV Director – Toni Bargalló

Set Design – Hans Schavernoch

Costume Design – Reinhard Heinrich

Lighting - Franz Peter David / Manfred Voss


Wotan – Falk Struckmann

Loge / Mime – Graham Clark

Alberich – Günter von Kannen

Fricka – Lioba Braun

Fasolt – Kwanchul Youn

Fafner – Matthias Hölle

Siegmund – Richard Berkeley-Steele

Hunding – Eric Halfvarson

Sieglinde – Linda Watson

Brünhilde – Deborah Polaski

Siegfried – John Treleaven

Hagen – Matti Salminen


When the famous music critic Eduard Hanslick wrote about the first performance of the complete Ring cycle at Bayreuth in 1876 he concluded that it's success with audiences would only be established when it became as popular at other opera houses as it was at Bayreuth .


More than a hundred years on this success is clear to see. Despite the considerable resources required, hardly a month now passes without the Ring being performed at one major house or another, and this month it is reported that all three of Seattle 's Ring cycles sold out in a single day. The first studio recording of the complete Ring in the 1960s * was regarded as a landmark and filled a huge box of vinyl LPs, now it is a practical proposition to own and store the cycle on DVD video. Opus Arte have recently issued each opera as a separate item, in a production directed by Harry Kupfer first seen in Berlin at the Deutsche Staatsoper Unter den Linden in 2002 and recorded live at the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona in June 2003.


This a very definitely a “modern” production. Harry Kupfer's direction of the individual characters is masterly, never at variance with the music and as faithful to the original instructions as the sets permit. These are harshly lit and functional and scene changes such as that from the Nibelungs' cavern to Valhalla make full use of the stage machinery. The great ash tree appears to be fossilised, metal girders and walkways abound, all backed by a vast lattice of fluorescent tubing, which can be lit in various patterns, sequences and colours. Costumes have more in common with science fiction than ancient legend, the giants are robots and the serpent and dragon mechanical monsters. These things will certainly not be to everyone's liking, although personally I found much of it very effective. It was the relentless cobalt blue lighting that I found wearisome, and I felt my spirits lift each time a little patch of green appeared.


Musically, it is a very good set of DVDs. Whilst Bertrand de Billy and the Symphony Orchestra of the Liceu is probably not a combination that immediately springs to mind for Wagner, they give a thoroughly satisfying account of the score. Opting for moderate tempi, de Billy allows the natural flow of the music to build its own tension, and Wagner's score markings are carefully observed.


The singers, too are well chosen, with fine diction throughout. Wagner drew his inspiration from sagas and mythology and peopled his operas with gods, giants, super-heroes and dwarves (we don't encounter any human beings until the last part of the tetralogy), and finding artists who can tackle the demanding music and look convincing in these roles is no easy matter. Graham Clark is superb as both Loge in Das Rhiengold and Mime in Siegfried. The other villains also do well, G ü nter von Kannen (Alberich) and Eric Halfvarson (Hunding) giving much-practiced performances, and as Hagen Matti Salminen is in magnificent voice and seems a thoroughly nasty piece of work.


Wotan is splendidly sung by Falk Struckmann, his great monologue in Die Walküre perfectly judged , but he is saddled with an apparently ill-fitting wig, bluish make-up and appalling costume which undermine his authority. In many ways he is more effective in his second role as the foppish Gunther in Götterdämmerung. Deborah Polaski makes an excellent Brünhilde, with all the appropriate vocal fireworks, and is at her best in the more lyrical passages. She is a tall, elegant figure on stage and her very expressive face really makes the character live. (She also doubles as an equally impressive Erda.) John Treleaven is a young looking Siegfried, perhaps a little one-dimensional to be ideal, and with Placido Domingo's recent Proms performance in Die Walküre ** still fresh in the memory, it is hard to be enthusiastic about Richard Berkeley-Steele's Siegmund.


The Valkyries are a feisty bunch (in transparent baseball helmets), the Rhinemaidens and Norns all excellent and I particularly liked Elisabete Matos as a frivolous Gutrune. The chorus made the most of their short appearances, but sounded a little uncertain with the language.


Last, but not least, to consider the filming. Live recordings of each opera were made on two nights' performances and combined for broadcast on Catalan television. Possibly the time scale was short, as there are some noticeable edits and a number of angled close-ups reveal edges and joins of wigs and make-up. More annoyingly, and particularly in Das Rheingold, where the cameras need to stand back to reveal the full impact of big scene changes, they remain too close and what we see is just a jumble of movement. In transferring the DVD, Opus Arte have sensibly allocated a separate disk to each Act giving convenient viewing break points and making it easy to cut off applause, curtain calls etc. A cast gallery and short illustrated synopsis are added as bonus tracks, and the accompanying booklets contain detailed timings and some good photographs.


Serena Fenwick


* Vienna State Opera Chorus; Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Georg Solti

Decca CD (14 Discs)  455 555-2DMO14 (876 minutes : ADD)

From SXL2101/3(59/193/), SET312/6(66/199/), SET292/7(65/195/), SET242/6(63/194/)


** www.bbc.co.uk/proms/whatson/1807.shtml#prom4















© Peter Grahame Woolf