11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Sir Butternut Longsword
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The other reviewer must not be too immersed in modern Wagner performance, because if he was, he would know that this is comparably tame as opposed to the Pappano Ring, or Barenboim, or even the recent disastrous DeBilly ring, which this considerably outdoes on every level-Brunnhilde, Orchestra, conductor, Siegfried(especially Siegfried).
I have still not seen the Rhinegold, but the Walkure was good and at times great(specifically the first act and the final farewell scene) Jeanine Altmeyer may be familiar to Wagnerites from the Janowski cycle, the first recorded in digital sound. Altmeyer's voice has deeped considerably from that performance-for the better. As in Walkure-she started out cold, even hoarse, but quickly came to form and really has only one or two rivals on DVD-Brunnhilde has been laughably horrid in DVD performance(Hildegard Behrens, Deborah Polaski, even G. Jones-for my money only Anne Evans with Barenboim was worthy and at times Linda Watson.
A curious thing is that in other rings, certain singers will do several roles, or in Karajan's case-a different singer will do the same role. But here, in each opera, the orchestra is different. In Die Walkure, the Netherlands really played well for Haenchen in a nuanced, truly revelatory performance(again the first act and act III scene III< along with act II monologue on.
Now regarding the staging. It is unique and different, but for tradionalists and modernists alike. There is very little, if anything, to offend compared to Barenboim(which is musically far superior), Boulez(which is not as shocking anymore and has therefore lost almost as of its appeal since it is for the most part musically inferior to most sets vocally). The orchestra is in the middle of the action, literally apart of the action. This may sound odd, but it works very well and doesnt distract from the music.-though I imagine it may have been difficult to concentrate seeing it live. The Amsterdamians play well here, obvioulsy they are not Bayreuth an at times I was wanting for more of a luscious string sound and more competent horn playing, but they are still first class and truly play their hearts out, much like the Netherland did earlier in the Die Walkure set.
Among Modern versions, I would recommend this over the Barenboim(mainly due to the staging)-definetly over the DeBilly-over the both Levines. The earlier Levine boasted a better Siegfried(the last true heldentenor Siegfried Jerusalem-I dont care what you think of him-he was a heldentenor---)but this Siegfried is not as bad as John Trevealen(no one is) or Manfried Jung-or Reiner Goldberg or any of the other severally deficient singers who have attempted this role on DVD, I have no idea what is going to become of our beloved operas in five or ten years because already we are seriously lacking talented singers and it is only going to get worse. This is about as good as it gets from our modern day stockpile.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
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I saw this Ring-cycle live in the theater in Amsterdam in 2005 when it was doing a reprise. This DVD is taken from the first cycle, back in 1999. This production delivers a stage in which the orchestra, singers and public are kind of merged into one big area in which the story takes place. The sober and suggestive staging leaves a lot of room (literally) for your fantasy. This is a place in which Gods are like men and the world they inhibit is an undefined one in terms of time and location. No horrendus and ugly "Buhnebild" here and actors who look like the've spending their nights sleeping under bridge. From the Pierre Audi-direction you can say that, when it does not lift or explain the drama any further, it does at least not interfere with the music in an annoying way. By times, it's like looking at an opera concertante. At other times, in scene's like the first appearance of Hagens men you see the rhythm and the massiveness of the musical score back on the stage without becoming a ballet. You might wish for a better direction around the action in general, but with a work of art this big there's always something to desire.
In 1999 Jeanine Altmeyer sung Brunnhilde en Heinz Kruse sung Siegfried. Although Altmeyer has definitly past her prime here, I find her performance here in Götterdammerung more then acceptable. Of course she's no match for the big names in the catalogue like Nilsson, Mödl or Flagstad but you can't blame each soccer player for not being Maradona or Pele either. For the rest of the cast; Kurt Rydl is a great Hagen, menacing en dangerous as he should be. I remember him singing this role with a soar throat. Despite that fysical handicap he really delivered the goods that night. He's definitely one of the most convincing Hagens I've seen (and heard) so far. The men he leads are reduced (if you can put it that way) till a bunch of faceless people. An army, ready to go to war if he wants them to.
The Siegfried of Heinz Kruze will not be of anyone's taste but I've had no problems with him. He looks rather funny and innocent than blunt and ignorant (it's how you see your Siegfried) but his singing is good. His murder is a good example of clumsy stagedirection; not focussed enough and as a result the drama gets clouded and incomprehensive. The immolation scene, however, works very well. Especially on screen. In the theatre you see four men waving a red drape in which Brunnhilde disappears, as she is swallowed by the fire. It looks like another example of inappropriate and disappointing staging in a Pierre Audi-production where you surely would have expect fire in the one and only scene of the opera where the orginal stage directions of Wagner said "fire". On screen, however, with its cropped image of the stage, it looks great and impressive.
Finally, a big hand of applause for Hartmut Haenchen. His approach of Wagners music, based on orginal notes taken after the Bayreuth premiere in 1876, is one of fluidity and transparency. It shows that the drama and impact of this music is best served with an approach reveilling all the layers in Wagners' music instead of a bombastic one that would turn it into something far more one-dimensional. Gotterdammerung is one of my favourite opera's in general and it still surprises me that every time I hear it there is something new to discover in the music.
I don't know how I would have experienced this registration without having seen it in the theatre first, but I would surely recommend this DVD-Götterdammerung for all Wagner-lovers.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
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I'm not totally convinced by the performances here - or how anyone can rate this Siegfried above virtually any of the others? He has a decent if not great voice, but is pretty wooden and characterless most of the time, and is pretty short to boot, meaning most of the other characters literally look down on him (even Alberich! - and possibly Mime, though I haven't seen Siegfried in this production yet, so I may be being too harsh on Siegfried).
The production itself is quite spectacular and visually interesting, provided you're not totally allergic to non-traditional staging. Given that there is a circular ramp (or ring) around the orchestra - which the actors use occasionally to good effect - it does mean that the conductor is sometimes visible in the picture. You could argue that he - i.e. the orchestra - is a character in the work (a Greek chorus), but it does rather go against Wagner's concept of the invisible orchestra.
Finally, the Gibichungs! I thought the way they make their entrance is quite disturbing. Their choreographed movements are very entertaining, although I'm not sure the idea really makes sense.
Well worth watching, even if I find the ending a bit of an anti-climax given some of the pyrotechnics elsewhere in this staging.
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The problem with having the orchestra on-stage is that Wagner orchestras are huge and heavily brass. Wagner hid the Bayreuth orchestra for a reason. No singer can be heard over such an orchestra. There are more than a few tender moments in the Ring. How can a singer convey romance and tenderness while screaming at the person next to them? Moreover, the conductor's whole body can be seen in every scene, not to mention all the musicians' lights. Singers need to see the conductor - particularly on such a huge stage as in Amsterdam where the sound carries strangely from one side of the stage to the other and the hard, curved sets project the sound forward towards the audience. This cannot be accomplished when the singers are between the conductor and the audience.
Heinz Kruse destroyed the production. His Siegfried reminded me of a very old Curly Joe (from the Three Stooges) mincing his way across the stage. There is always a huge problem when filming a stage production - the camera will often be "in the face" of singers, whose true age at that moment is clear. If there were no Kruse here, I would give this "Ring" a thousand stars for its appearance
I thought the sets and principal characters' costumes (Rhinemaidens and Mime aside) were wonderful! The costumes are certainly the most fascinating and artistic non-traditional costumes I've seen. (Though I would have to question why the Gibichung men and women look so much different than Gutrune and Gunther...and why the Nibelungen workers look so much different than Mime and Alberich.) Why was the set designed to produce constant steam and frequent fire....except at Brunnhilde's immolation? If you are going to wrap Brunnhilde in red silk to represent fire, why begin the effect when she is nowhere near ready to approach Siegfried's pyre?
And why change the story? Wagner never intended for Hagen to kill his step-sister; nor did he intend for Gunther and Gutrune to have an incestuous relationship; nor did he intend for real Gunther and tarnhelmed Siegfried to be together on the Brunnhilde's rock during Gunther's wedding night. What is the point of real Gunther laying on top of Brunnhilde in her cave WHILE real Siegfried is singing how he will stay away from Brunnhilde during the wedding night to show his respect for his blood-brother?
The booklets in each opera case are excellent. And I particularly enjoyed the filmed interviews. (In what other opera video can one hear an expert describe the lead singer as the worst thing about a production?) I wish there had been a "making of" section in the DVD set.
I've read dozens of English translations of Wagner's libretto of "The Ring." The one used in these Amsterdam productions is unique in that it is almost an exact word-for-word translation. I enjoyed it very much. Such exact translations may seem a bit stilted to our ears today. But, to me, they better capture how Wagner and his new audiences were thinking.
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This is another opera performance that I really wanted to like more than I actually did. The production was innovative and imaginative with its use of lighting, hanging blocks (one serving as a sleeping place for Hagen) and stage direction. Most impressive was the way the stage was designed to have something like a circular runway that surrounded the orchestra which provided considerable dramatic action for the singers.
In other words for those who still hate or dislike Patrice Chereau's Bayreuth Centennial "Ring", stay away from this! Trust me, there is not a whiff of the traditional here even if it does generally aim for the spirit of the work. The only truly oddball thing that stuck out (although I found it creepy and amusing) was the Gibichung scene with their Robotic Martian shananigans in Act 2; and Waltraute actually sports a pair of metal wings! Also the Immolation Scene is entirely suggestive with a large red sheet being waved by the crew with Brunnhilde in the center--quite an effective sight IMO.
The costumes are generally striking as they were created by a Japanese designer Eiko Ishioka; however some of the costumes recall those from her earlier film work, particularly Gunther and Gutrune who end up resembling Gary Oldman's Dracula.
For me however I came to realize that what was not working was the singers, in particular the ungainly, dramatically unconvincing Siegfried. The crucial scenes with Brunnhilde were a bit comical since the tenor looked like a half a foot shorter that the ex goddess (I might be exaggerating, but you get the point). Vocally the tenor, Heinz Kruse, was reasonably steady and had stamina, but on a visual medium he did not exactly come across as heroic much less romantic (why were the women fighting for him?). This would have worked much better on a purely audio CD format.
Jeannine Altmeyer has long been a sympathetic performer back from the Chereau/Boulez days, and here she is steady and attractive; but she is stretched at the very top and understandably tires in the Immolation scene. Kurt Rydl is a evil, and somewhat gross Hagen; the rest of the cast OK with the Waltraute overdoing her scene.
The conducting is closer to Boulez than Reginald Goodall, and all the better for it since it really zips along in this theatrical presentation. The visual and sound for the DVD was very good, if not absolutely flawless. In short, a very mixed recommendation, but only for the more adventurous, and understanding the shortcomings of this particular performance. Luckily for us there is wide range of Rings available for most everyone to pick from.