Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Wagner – The Ring Cycle

Director – Kasper Bech Holten

Conductor – Michael Schonwandt

Royal Danish Opera

Recorded Live in May 2006


Das Rheingold - Decca  074 3265 - 1 DVD – 148 minutes

Die Walkure - Decca 074 3266 - 2 DVDs – 229 minutes

Siegfried - Decca 074 3269 - 2 DVDs  – 240 minutes

Gotterdammerung – Decca 074 3272 - 2 DVDs – 267 minutes


Set & Costume Design – Marie i Dali and Steffan Aarling

Lighting – Jesper  Kongshaug

Dramaturgy – Henrik Engelbrecht


Wotan / The Wanderer – Johan Reuter / James Johnson

Brunnhilde – Irenie Theorin

Siegfried / Siegmund – Stig Anderson

Hunding – Stephen Milling

Hagen – Peter Klaveness

Alberich – Sten Byriel

Mime – Bengt-Ola Morguy

Loge Michael Kristensen

Sieglinde – Gitta-Maria Sjoberg

Gunther – Guido Paevatalu

Gutrune – Ylva Kihlberg

Fafner – Christian Christiansen

Fricka – Randi Stene

Erda – Susanne Resmark

Rhinemaidens – Dijna Mai-Mai, Ylva Kihlberg, Hanne Fischer


As a fan of the poems of Benny Andersen* whose gentle humour has made me aware of the great pride the Danes take in their national identity, it comes as little surprise that this, the first complete Ring cycle to be seen in their capital city since 1912 takes a strikingly independent approach, causing the DVD set to be firmly labelled as The Copenhagen Ring.   


Staged in their magnificent new opera house, cast largely with Scandinavian singers, radical, adventurous and fun, it’s a real cause for celebration !


With typically Danish irony the Saga of the Gods is transformed into the personal tragedy of one woman.  As the overture plays we see Brunnhilde, distraught by the betrayal of Siegfried, desperately searching through papers and memorabilia in her father’s library, trying to recapture the past and understand what has led her to this crisis point.   Almost all of the opera is seen through her eyes as a flashback. 


So this is a domestic story, and one with a definite time line through the twentieth century, where the characters age accordingly.  Rheingold is set in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Walkure in 1950, Siegfried in 1968 and Gotterdammerung in the late 1990’s.  One of the delights of this production is the immense period detail in the interior sets and props, I am tempted to wax lyrical with descriptions, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise of discovering items as the plot unfolds.  Suffice to say that you can understand very clearly what is happening and believe in it.  It certainly works much better in filmed close up than some of the weird and wonderful science fiction type costumes used in more “conventional” settings.


Whilst I have described the production as domestic, this does not imply that it is in any way tame.  Rheingold in particular contains scenes of quite explicit violence, with Wotan cutting off Alberich’s arm in order to possess the ring.   Later on we see the Valkyries as battle hardened angels of deat, temporarily abandoning the mutilated bodies of the war victims on the roof top whilst they enjoy a champagne party.  The Twilight of the Gods takes place amidst ethnic cleansing in an oligarchy where out of control violence is always close to the surface. 


All this is leavened by touches of humour which counterpoint the tragedy.  Loge is a chain smoking god of fire who can never find his matches, Mime brandishes his Michelin Green Guide to Niedhohler as he regales Siegried with details of the dragon’s lair, the Norns comment from the audience, consulting their programme notes to retell the saga, Gunther and Gutrune preen themselves in the splendour of nouveau riche tasteless glitz …


The rapid scene changes could not have been accomplished without state of the art stage machinery, but on film this is not always evident as sets are quite small and cameras close.


The cast, who are very largely drawn from within the company, work well together.  Their acting is first rate and their singing is of generally excellent standard.  Most notable is the Siegfried of Stig Anderson (who also doubled up as Siegmund because of the illness of another singer) and the two Wotans (Johan Reuter  and James Johnson) are outstanding.  There is the splendidly aristocratic Fricka of Randi Stene, a lyrical Erde from Susanne Resmark, and a highly gutsy flock of Valkyries.    Peter Klaveness’ Hagen is terrifyingly cold blooded, in contrast to Bengt-Ola Morguy endearingly intellectual Mime.    Brunnhilde is the central pivot, and Irenie Theorin is a tower of strength, surmounting every challenge.  The orchestra sound sumptuous all the way through under the baton of Michael Schonwandt.


Purists probably won’t like this Ring, but the detail is amazing and I found it totally absorbing and very believable - I was reduced to tears in the final scene as Brunnhilde is wracked with grief.    But life is stronger than death, in this version she lives to give birth and cradle Siegfried’s child in her arms. 


The bonus feature is a lively discussion between Queen Margrethe and Kasper Bech Holten.  The queen’s obvious enthusiasm bubbles over and draws more spontaneous and forthright comment from the director than any formal interview could possibly have elicited.


I can’t remember watching a complete Ring Cycle on DVD and ending up wanting to go back to the beginning and play it all through again, but I did with this one.  It is the “must have” DVD Ring Cycle with a wealth of detail giving hours of pleasure to come.


Serena Fenwick



*Cosmopolitan in Denmark and Other Poems about the Danes Benny Andersen 1995 ISBN 87-21-00357-2


See also Musical Pointers' reviews of The Ring at Amsterdam and Barcelona

and of Monte Stone's Interactive Guide THE RING DISC