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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Strong conclusion to a fascinating cycleMay 12 2010
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Over the past couple of months I have watched this cycle in order. Although I recommend it, largely for some strong singing in the key roles and for some innovative use of projections and dancers, I also came away with the feeling that what could have been the top cycle on DVD slipped a notch or two as it progressed from Rheingold to Gotterdammerung. The most striking and unique features of this cycle are the nearly constant use of video projections as backdrops (ranging from National Geographic quality landscapes to a variety of abstractions) and the nearly constant use of a corps of dancers/extras who were on stage as plants, animals, Nibelungs, and even Valhalla itself. Some reviewers have commented that all of this activity distracted from the main action/singing. Although I appreciate that view, I found it always interesting, at times mesmerizing, and at times utterly perplexing. (For all the brilliance of the special effects and sets, I had the feeling that the director and designers were like kids locked in a candy shop of technological sweets -- they couldn't resist gorging themselves.) In any event, there is so much going on that I will resist the temptation to start listing examples. Suffice it to say that for Gotterdammerung, they have brought the saga into present times. Hagen, Gunther, Gutrune, and their minions wear modern dress (much of the time) although they are encased in odd make-up and ornamentation (more about the stupid costumes below). As in several other productions, the theme is gods/man/dwarfs as despoilers of the world with restoration through return of the ring. Besides the nifty staging, this production also benefits from a couple of first class singers in THE roles -- Lance Ryan as Sigfried and Jennifer Wilson as Brunnhilde. These were very satisfying performances. I had heard good things about Wilson, so her solid performance was not so surprising (good top notes and presence in Act 2; somewhat prosaic immolation scene, however). For me the surprise was Lance Ryan -- he had great stamina, no tiring in Act 3 and a strong death scene (also a very good Siegfried in that opera). I would put them right up there with the best of any others on DVD. The rest of the cast was not as strong, but all were satisfactory. As a small aside, it seems that Salminen has been playing Hagen (and doing it well) since Wagner's death. Time is catching up, and it strains credibility in this performance when Hagen (who is supposed to be around Siegfried's age) resembles Merlin. Orchestra and conducting are good throughout the cycle. Two disappointments -- one minor and one major. Minor: given all of the special effects, Act 3 (arguably the greatest act of the entire cycle -- maybe of opera) seemed a bit anticlimatic. But maybe that's because the bar was raised too high in the earlier operas. Major: the costume and makeup designers should be chained to Mime's anvil for eternity. Most DVD ring cycles (and I've seen just about all of them) have piss poor costuming, but this one just about takes the cake. As one example, they managed to make Jennifer Wilson resemble an Anna Russell caricature (huge breastplate emphasizing huge breasts)and the worst prom/bridesmaid dress imaginable, complete with bustle. For crying out loud, a simple tunic would have been more flattering, tasteful, and consistent with the production. All in all, I recommend this cycle highly. It's becoming increasingly difficult to rank order the growing number of Ring cycles available on DVD. To make matters worse for me, the cycle I had placed as number 1 (Barenboim/Kupfer) now seems too bleak, a bit long in the tooth, and at times downright boring (despite some excellent performances) when compared to some of the recent releases such as this one and the productions from Copenhagen and Amsterdam.... what's a person to do?... gorge on them all.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
TheLast Installment for the Newest in the Ring StakesApril 11 2010
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At last we have come to the final installment of the Valencia Ring. For a relative new opera house they have met the challenge on their own terms and we are all the more fortunate. This is not to say that it is the "best Ring that is available, best sung, best staged, etc. It is perhaps the most creative, but one is temped to wish that the rubric "less is more" had been invoked at any number of points along the dramatic road. Notably in the Siegfried and the Gotterdammerung. Of course anyone lucky enough to have seen these productions in the house will doubtless have a different take. Those whose admmission is by way of the DVD will have a different response.
My main gripe is with the excessive use of projections in the last two operas. In the distant shots the characters on stage can be lost. Even singers with a more dramatic presence would be absorbed in the stage picture. At times the effects work and the end result is dramatically effective. At other times it can be impossible to sort out the stage picture making viewing a muddled mess.
For reasons that are explained in the "bonus" the setting of Gotterdammerung is moved to what I suppose can be called contemporary. This does not add one whit to the the overall dramatic effect and indeed it is not used consistently. In act III, Siegfried is wearing a generic costume that looks anything but contemporary, but his dreadlocks are still missing. I should add that Ryan's best singing is at this point: the voice is steady and the emmission of tone even. I understand that he will be singing at Bayreuth this summer. Wilson certainly has the potential for being one of the best Brunnhilde's going. Her acting at this point is made up of stock gestures that one would have though were discarded decades earlier. She is also contumed atrociously. She wears a breast plate (why?) and a long full skirt with what appears to be a bustle--all of this makes her look far heavier than she is. I doubt that she will receive a call from From Bayreuth--and the loss will be theirs. Salimen continues to amaze with a superbly sung Hagen. Gutrune and Gunther must be two of the most ungrateful roles that Wagner ever wrote. Matos as Gutrune is costumed to look like a trollop; her voice is shrill. Gunther is made up to look like a refugee from a George Romer horror flick. Vocally only adequate.
I assume some PR flack coined the term "A Ring for the Twentieth Century". Statements like this can only come back to bite you. Yes, they are using tenchiques that most theatres can only wish they had. But in the end a great cycle is the result of interesting and creative staging (Chereau/Kupfur)great singing (go back to the fifties) and we do not live in a great era for Wagner and Verdi singing. We have some excellent singers and some intelligent singers, but with Rings being staged all over the place there aren't enough to go around. I wanted to throw my non-existent hat ini the air and yell "Ole" when the findal chords were over. God knows the Valencia audience did. In the meantime the Ring I will return to most often is the Kupfur/Barenboim set with the Chereau/Boulez waiting in the wings.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
BRAVURA VALENCIAMarch 8 2010
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This is an absolutely stunning production of Gotterdammerung presented by Valencia. They are really positioning themselves to become one of the most authentic houses around. The singers were amazing especially Matti who presented a sterling performance and Lance who had some superb moments. However, the star of the show is the American dramatic soprano Jennifer Wilson who thrills with very vocal power machine but still manages nuance, intelligence, and femininity in her output. Finally we have a real Brunnhilde again!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Cirque du Soleil meets WagnerJuly 16 2010
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Gotterdammerung [Blu-ray]Wagner: Gotterdammerung [DVD] First, this performance sounds magnificent! With Solt and Nilsson in memory, this one comes close, with a Brunnhilde of comparable power, a chorus to knock your socks off, filmed in HD-widescreen with 5.1 audio. The concept of society run aground in its polluting, soul-devouring search for more power and money are artfully presented, as if in a Cirque du Soleil performance. Yes, the costumes seem to be from some Halloween frat party, but the stage craft, video projections, acrobatics and directing seem to make sense, if not all the time. As with any art form, the observer may be thinking, "If only I had done that, I'd have done it this way, or left that out, etc." But with so many great moments here, those minor oddities can be forgiven. Jennifer Wilson (Brunnhilde) is a vocal force on par with Nilsson. Listen to Disc 2, que #8 or the vengeance scene at #11 to hear what I thought we'd never hear again. Matti Salminen is now the definitive Hagen, in the Gottlob Frick mold. Lance Ryan (Siegfried) certainly looks the part, and sounds good,if a bit underpowered. The diction by everyone is impeccable and clear. If you know German, you won't need the subtitles. The rest of the cast, including the Norns, Gunther and Waltraute are very capable in spite of their bizarre costumes and masks. I imagine the first thing the Rheinmaidens were asked by the Front Office was, "Can you swim?" The choral sound is huge and virile. This brings us to the orchestra and Zubin Mehta, conductor. They sound magnificent, as if borrowed from Bayreuth. It's a rare, but deserved treat when they all appear on stage, with instruments to take a bow at the end. The Valencia (Spain) forces are a major ensemble, and well captured here. This 2008 performance was very beautifully filmed by Unitel and Teldex. Highly recommended!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Matti Salminen then and nowOct. 18 2010
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Matti Salminen is still, even in his mid-sixties, the greatest Hagen my generation has ever had. His appearance shows his age but his voice is still extremely powerful, cavernous and booming. And he's still a fantastic actor with a special gift for playing menacing characters. In the 1990 PBS broadcast performance from the Metropolitan opera, his Hagen was evil but also appealing in a way--I felt for him when he sang that his blood would taint the blood-brotherhood drink; also in his conference with Alberich; also his interactions with the chorus of vassals in Act 2 exuded comradely good-fellowship. In this Valencia performance he's never appealing. He's pure-evil nasty from beginning to end, evoking fear but not sympathy. I don't think he smiles once.