It is difficult not to sound hyperbolic about this Rheingold. So let us try to remain in terra firma. This performance from Sergio Calatrava's stunning new Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía in Valencia, Spain is first and foremost solidly grounded on Wagner's music and text. Zubin Mehta excels. The music propels the story, comments on it and builds to a monumental Entrance into Valhalla. The orchestra, like in Bayreuth, was handpicked for the tetralogy, mostly in Spain but throughout the world (Mehta says in an interview that Lorin Maazel did the recruiting.... and recruiting for a "Wagner" orchestra, on the theory that an orchestra musican that excels in Wagner can play anything else). The singers are mostly young but excellent Wagnerians with a sprinkling of prized veterans like Matti Salminen as Fasolt. The Wotan is new to me, Juha Uusitalo, powerful and eloquent, a real find. If there is another "star" part in this most ensemble of ensemble operas is Loge, here the subtle, ironic, wily, John Daszak, almost always weaving his way around the stage in his standing moto, a lyrical, musical, dramatic presence with a voice the timbre of which reminded me of the late great Gerhard Stolze without the mannerisms. Ana Larsson whom we've heard in much Mahler is a witty, self-serving Fricka; Alberich and Mime are properly nasty and well sung by Franz Joseph Kappelman and Gerhard Siegel respectively. Christa Mayer warns effectively as Erda, and the great, beautiful singing which comes as the clouds break and the rainbow bridge appears is by Illya Bannik and Germán Villar as Donner and Froh. Not only are they all excellent musicians and vocalists, but they are superb actors so one is always engrossed in the interactions between the characters.
The production by the fabulous Catalan group La Fura dels Baus, Carlus Padrissa stage director, is breathtaking. It is symbolic but without imposing an interpretation on Wagner's work other than what Wagner is trying to convey through text and music. It is unlike any operatic production one has ever seen. It uses gymnasts, projections, videos, lights, seemingly every device a modern stage can muster to illustrate the opera. It is never less than riveting. No stage picture is superfluous as it all adumbrates the work. When there is so much imagination, intellect and understanding in evidence it is the mark of great artistry that it is always kept disciplined, always serving the purpose of the work. This is for me the most exciting and revealing production of Wagner since the Chereau Ring at Bayreuth. But it goes one better, as it does not impose a specific ideological or epochal garb on the work. It is spectacular and dazzling but chaste: it is timeless and true only to Wagner.
Of this Ring cycle I have now seen this and Walküre (which I saw in a movie theatre). I am waiting for Amazon to deliver the latter. Siegfried and Götterdammerung are out I believe next month. The blu-ray sound and images are stunning. If the last two dvd's are like the first two, this will be the preferred version of the Ring to acquire, bar none.