Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Der Ring des Nibelungen / John Brocheler Graham Clark Chris Merritt Henk Smit Reinhild Runkel Albert Bonnema Hartmut Haenchen Het Muziektheater Amsterdam Opus Arte|
Actor: Heinz Kruse
Director: Pierre Audi
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
This stunning production of The Ring from Het Muziektheater Amsterdam blends the lyrical, mythical and philosophical qualities of Wagner's work into a profound unity. — Pierre Audi's stage direction is inspired and amazing ... more »
Not Radical but with Enough Novelty to Thrill (or Infuriate)
harmless drudge | Philadelphia, PA | 11/20/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In evaluating this Ring cycle I am using the Barenboim/Bayreuth, Boulez/Bayreuth, and Levine/New York cycles as references. (I have also seen the Walkure from the Stuttgart cycle, but that one falls into an entirely different genre, closer to parody/comedy.) Turning to the Amsterdam cycle:
Visual/Lighting -- The Amsterdam cycle is consistently well lit with bright, primary colors usually in agreement with what the text suggests. I found that to be highly enjoyable and a refreshing change from the dismal, everyone put on Nilsson's mining helmet, lighting of the Barenboim Bayreuth cycle.
Visual/Sets -- The most distinctive feature of the Amsterdam cycle is the staging. Overall, the stage looks smaller than the Met and certainly shallower than Bayreuth; what's unique is that the main stage is extended out and circles the orchestra with a narrow walkway. That has two consequences: 1. the orchestra is in view for all full stage scenes (only disappearing for close ups of the singers) and 2. action as well as entrances can be spread with some singers behind the orchestra and others in front. This unique staging sometimes leads to vocal imbalances, and some may object to the presence of the orchestra. I thought it was a stroke of genius and made the orchestra a visual as well as vocal partner to the events on stage. In addition, some of the scenes have multi-layered platforms canted or suspended over the main stage. As for the settings, there is no obvious time period, sort of like Barenboim rather than Boulez's industrial revolution cycle or Levine's more realistic Norse mythology.
Visual/Costumes -- Costumes are generally colorful (again, not the pervasive darkness of the Barenboim Bayreuth cycle -- the reason I pick on that cycle is because it is so well cast but sabotaged by the sets and costumes) and are somewhat out of time (that is, flowing robes and gowns that could be mythological but could also fit with some contemporary fashion; an exception being Gutrune who in some scenes is dressed like she stepped out of a Jane Austin novel). The robes of the gods in Rheingold miss the mark, looking cumbersome and inelegant. While I'm on a roll, the costumes for the poor Rhinemaidens are hideous (writhing about the stage in tight body suits -- the anguish is probably real).
Acting -- As is often the case in Ring cycles, the "bad guys" are the more entertaining and convincing actors -- Alberich, Mime, Hagen. (But as Milton observed, Satan was more interesting than the angelic hosts, so...). But the "good guys and gals" also throw themselves into their parts with general enthusiasm -- Fricka (on second thought, maybe a "bad girl"), Wotan (in Walkure and Siegfried, but very uncomfortable and stilted in Rheingold), and the incestuous pair (S & S) deserve special mention. Brunnhilde is also energetic (as are her peers in the competing cycles -- Evans, Behrens, and most of all Jones).
Singing/Conducting -- For an audio recording, of course, this is the only category of importance. Fortunately, a well-staged and interesting visual production can compensate (or distract) from a less than ideal singing/playing combination. Such is the case here. First, the orchestra's contribution is definitely a plus; however, compared to some of the first class audio recordings from Bayreuth, Vienna, or New York, the Amsterdam cycle's players are not always in the same league when it comes to thrust and execution; it's the difference between top notch and very good. When it comes to the vocal end, the singers as a whole are also not at the same level as those found in the better audio recordings (be it live ones such as Keilberth, Knappertsbusch, Bohm or studio ones such as Solti or Janowski). Speaking of Janowski leads me to the Brunnhilde, Jeannine Altmeyer -- who assumed the role in Janowski's audio recording made in the early 1980s. Not surprisingly, the years have taken a toll. She still manages to do a decent job overall but clearly she's not the woman she was twenty-five years earlier (who is?). I thought she was splendid in Walkure but below par in both Siegfried and Gotterdammerung. Compared to those in the other cycles noted above, I would put her overall performance (acting and singing) behind her competitors (Evans, Jones, Behrens) but not by all that much. (The makeup crew should be shot; obviously Altmeyer is no longer a spring chicken, but the makeup used actually accentuates her age, making her appear like a middle aged Goth.)
Siegfried has the physique of Melchior but, alas, not the vocal splendor; he gets through the part but I would rate him below Jerusalem with Barenboim yet above Jerusalem with Levine. He's competent in the manner of Boulez's Jung. Sieglinde and Siegmund are more than adequate in both the vocal and acting departments.
All in all this is a solid ring cycle with, for me, a unique staging that has been mostly well thought through. As with most Ring cycles (Levine being the exception), the director takes interpretative or creative liberties. Sometimes this works for me (e.g., Siegfried as Gunther at end of Act I in Gotterdammerung and the novel climax to the immolation scene) and sometimes it doesn't (e.g., magic fire scene from Walkure and funeral march from Gott.). At the risk of carping, where the heck is Wotan's spear throughout Walkure? -- the spear is a central symbol so much so that even modern settings of the Ring (such as Boulez) have Wotan wielding a spear. Also, why is Mime part insect but brother Alberich looks pretty (make that ugly)human?
Enough already; despite quibbles here and there, I thoroughly enjoyed this production and view it as a nice complement to Barenboim, Boulez, or Levine. It's sufficiently different in design and cast not to overlap with any of the other three. If I had to pick one, I suppose I would still go with Barenboim, but that sort of decision is simply unpatriotic in our consumer driven society. The Ring lover should have them all.
Fascinating production, excellent performances
Pekinman | Illinois | 11/19/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As a previous reviewer has done I have also used the Levine, Barenboim and Boulez films of the Ring as comparisons. The Levine is really not truly comparable to these other three as it is a very traditional production by Otto Schenk. And it's a very good traditional production. My enjoyment of that filmed cycle was muted by some bad casting, notably the ponderous physical presences of Gary Lakes and Jessye Norman as Siegmund and Sielinde. She sounds glorious but is not as impassioned as she is on the older Janowski recording from the 1980s. Lakes is not bad but he's huge, and the two of them together make for a highly stodgy-looking first act of 'Walküre'. And Christa Ludwig's Fricka is well past her great prime and looks and sounds more like Wotan's old auntie than his young wife. Levine's conducting can be very turgid as well which doesn't help. The great pluses of his version are the wonderful performances by Siegfried Jerusalem (Siegfried) and Matti Salminen (Hagen). Hildegard Behrens was a good Brünnhilde but she always looked to me like her head was going to explode when she sang full tilt, a bit disconcerting to watch over long stretches.
The Boulez and Barenboim productions (Chéreau and Kupfer respectively) are a mixed bag in the same way as Levine's.
The Chéreau production is beautiful and interesting to watch with very few scenic flops (notably, the Giants and their dead-weight totally fake looking arms). The cast is mostly excellent, though Siegfried Jerusalem (both the Levine and Barenboim films) is far preferable to Manfred Jung. Gwyneth Jones is very exciting to watch and her singing was under better control than it is on some other recordings, and she's a formidable, magnetic actress. Anne Evans (Barenboim) is much more passive but had a beautiful voice, more suited to lighter roles than Brünnhilde, but she too acts convincingly.
If I had to choose between those last two I'd plump for the Boulez. As for Wotans I think James Morris (Levine) is far preferable to John Tomlinson's (Barenboim) woofy sound and uncertain top notes. Donald McIntyre (Boulez) is, on the other hand, lighter voiced but a fine actor with a steady, attractive more baritonal sound than the deeper, more gravelly voices of Morris and Tomlinson.
As it is the Audi/Haenchen film is easily the most recommendable of all these productions, in spite of minor disappointments in some of the singers. Compared to the Barenboim and Boulez productions I found Audi's brilliant, innovative and wildly creative sets to be far more attention-grabbing and thought-provoking than those two other 'modern' versions from Bayreuth. Audi has utilized the beautiful Amsterdam opera theater in a ground-breaking manner. He circles the stage out into the audience, the orchestra and conductor placed within the circumference of the wide swinging ramps that loop out into the theater, placing them in full view of the audience. It's similar to a Noh theatre approach and it works! The orchestra and conductor do not detract from the stage action in the least, in fact they enhance it in a strange way. They become, like the Japanese Noh orchestra, part of the drama.
The sets and costumes for Rheingold and Walküre are the most successful, especially Walküre. The bathing helmet-like wigs are a little much, they make the gods look a bit like kewpie dolls, but one quickly gets used to them. The stage for all four operas is largely sparse and uncluttered by props. Audi has paired everything down to the minimum, allowing the cosmic nature of the sets to create a timeless atmosphere within which these gods walk amongst the human race. The sets are high tech and do not indicate any specific historic time. I LOVED this production. Audi relies heavily upon flying buttresses and gorgeous lighting. And his solution to the almost insoluble problems presented by the giants and the dragon are brilliant. The giants are especially arresting in their golem costumes, even rather sexy as both singers are tall and slim and their rocky bodies exude a primordial sexuality that might attract someone like Freia, at least in this production where she is shown to be very much in sympathy with Fasolt's amorous devotion.
Hartmut Haenchen is a very fine Wagnerian and his orchestras (which change with each opera) are superb. They easily survive comparison with the more famous orchestras that have recorded this work, though clearly they aren't the Vienna Philharmonic, nor is the fine Dutch chorus on the same level as the chorus of the Bayreuth Festival or Bavarian State opera.
What is most appreciated in Haenchen's direction is his high-lighting of many beautiful details, especially in the woodwind section. He is fleet-footed in his direction, like Boulez and Böhm, but never glip, or merely sliding over the surface of the more profound moments.
The cast is not altogether stellar but none are less than good. Jeannine Altmeyer is still in refulgent, plangent voice as Brünnhilde but the 'Siegfried' Brünnhilde is beyond her now. The high c's are touch and go and a tad flat, but nothing as ear wrenching as Linda Watson's flatness on high notes at Bayreuth recently or even Deborah Polaski from the Barcelona set with Bertrand deBilly; a film that I have not included for comparison because it is so inferior to the others I've referenced. Graham Clark's Mime is hyper-active and securely sung. There are times, though, when I wanted to swat him. This response is largely based upon the fact that he's costumed like a giant fly, which is hilarious and VERY disturbing.
The other great success is the Alberich of Henk Smit, who looks disconcertingly like the late Sir Georg Solti. Smit may not have the voice of Gustav Neidlinger but he is a great actor, resembling also Max Schreck in 'Nosferatu'. Smit's Alberich also elicits more vividly than most the profoundly tragic and fateful path he walks.
Heinz Kruse has a fine voice, one of the very best Siegfried's, but he looks like Homer Simpson in a Cupid's wig. 'Nuff said. Though to be fair his short stature and unflattering costume do not add up to a failure or a major blot on the whole. It's a pity his performance was not preserved on the audio cd version of this production released a few years later, and Stig Andersen (the audio cd Siegfried) was not used in the filmed version. The stand out voice in the entire cast is the Fafner of Carsten Stabell. Audi achieves a major coup-de-théatre by having Fafner reel back onto the stage in Das Rheingold, doing an ecstatic dance, the newly acquired Ring glistening on his finger. It is balletic and beautiful. And Stabell sings brilliantly as well. His brother, Fasolt, is almost as good vocally. The giants stand out in excellence in this large cast.
Kurt Rydl's wobble is far less apparent than it has lately become. His Hunding and Hagen are powerfully sung and acted and he is a great asset to this show. Nadine Secunde and John Keyes are excellent as the incestuous twins. They are gritty, earthy, horny and more than a bit dangerous; compulsive and wild in their actions. They are far beyond being farouche woodland creatures. Both sing very well, if not with the most beautiful voices I've heard in these parts. I liked John Bröcheler's Wotan. It's not one of the great Wotan voices, like James Morris, Hans Hotter or Falk Struckmann but he acquits himself very well and he too is a fine actor. I also enjoyed Reinhild Runkel's funny, harridan of a Fricka and, even more, Anne Gjevang's grave and beautifully sung Erda and Waltraute. She was at the end of a fine career and her voice has loosened but not to the point of an annoying wobble. Her scene in Götterdämmerung is very moving.
The Rhinemaidens are excellent, 3 of the best I've heard (though Floßhilde is a bit too roly-poly for her form-fitting costume). I liked the costuming over all, especially the black-winged valkyries. They looked Japanese-influenced mated to a haute-couture modernism. The tarn-helm is a bit silly looking I have to admit. Froh and Donner are acceptable which is not always the case in these small parts, though, like Siegfried, the other 'tough' guy in the Ring, the Donner is the shortest person on stage and looks like a hair dresser from 'La cage aux folles' Gunther, a very, very weak character here, and his sister (and lover?) Gutrune (an annoying kvetch) are decently sung; but I have to admit I enjoyed Hagen throttling Gutrune at the end instead of just letting her wander away as she usually does before the all-devouring conflagration. I liked Carola Höhn's Freia very much. She is beautiful, slim and at all times poised, like a classic Greek statue, and she does not resort to hysterical screaming as do most sopranos who take on this thankless role.
The most controversial aspect of the cast was hiring a boy soprano to sing the Woodbird. Actually, Wagner specifies a boy soprano in his score but this part is almost always given to a light, high soprano. The boy soprano here is a very talented kid named Stefan Pangratz from the Tölzer Knabenchor in Munich. He is visible during his scenes with Siegfried, perched on beams and jumping around, like a baby Papageno. He wears a charming, adorable costume with a beak-hat. And he can sing! I've never enjoyed listening (and watching) the Woodbird so much as I have in this film. Even Joan Sutherland (vocally) cannot compete with this sort of inspired magic.
The one cliché Audi uses is bald Norns. Ho-hum. But they sing very well and the bare stage setting is very evocative of the three fates sitting above the world like Mayas.
It took awhile to adjust to Chris Merritt's Loge. The acting, generally, is closely directed and highly stylized and Loge's behavior is extremely eccentric and bizarre. Audi uses a great deal of hand movement and Loge's borders on the absolutely weird, but then, this is a weird character, especially in this show. Merritt sings well if a little unsteadily once in awhile. He is not the buffoonish manipulator, ala Graham Clark and others, but a very dangerous eminence gris who is not afraid to tell Wotan to back off. He resembles a priest of Satan in his black robe and bald head. Altogether a rather frightening personage.
I can't emphasize enough how fascinating and visually beautiful this production is, and lovers of this monumental cycle should not hesitate to purchase it, unless you nurse an undying allergic reaction to ultra-modern opera productions. If you fall into that last group then stick with the Levine/Schenk version.
There are a couple of rough and ready moments in the stage action, but these minor slips, like Loge's tossing the tarnhelm onto the floor with a clatter instead of onto the top of the pile of gold, add to the already palpable tension of this exciting, innovative theatrical event on the hoof. There is nothing sanitized or Hollywoodized to smooth out the wrinkles. This is how the audience witnessed the Ring on those memorable nights in Amsterdam and they go nuts with enthusiasm after each performance. So, forgive the questionable headgear and the chubby Rhine Maiden and the clumsy murder of Fasolt and the rather dreadful wig poor Brünnhilde has to wear, and sink into this unique operatic experience.
This is the only complete Ring cycle I own on dvd, and I see no signs of that situation changing in the near future. The Copenhagen 'Feminist' Ring does not appeal to me in the least because the director has gone too far in changing the mythological nature of Wagner's masterpiece into an au courant political statement, one that will probably not age well; and a naked guy in a fish tank in Rheingold and Brünnhilde giving birth to a baby (girl, no doubt), AFTER the Immolation of the world, do not add up to a great production, though the singing is mostly quite excellent.
I will skip over the mess filmed in Stuttgart. The Barcelona/Kupfer production is largely a flop, except for Struckmann's Wotan. And the upcoming Mehta/Fura del Baus production from Valencia looks more like a Cirque du Soleil extravaganza than a serious opera production. So, I'll probably be skipping that one too. And the cycle with Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic at the Orange festival looks like another ugly production, like both Kupfer's from Bayreuth and Barcelona.
I like a little visual beauty if I'm going to spend 15 hours staring at the televsion."
Filippo Secondo | 12/09/2009
(2 out of 5 stars)
"This 1999 Amsterdam 'Ring' is well directed by Pierre Audi, and features colourful Japanese-inspired costumes, but is a huge let-down as far as the singing is concerned. The worst soloist here is Altmeyer, miscast at this point of her career as Brunnhilde (naturally, no match for her 'Ring' roles under Boulez and Janowski): in addition to a more-or-less acceptable wobble, most of the top notes are simply beyond her, as when she sounds so tired towards the end of the 'Gotterdammerung' duet that she quickly runs out of breath and even chokes on the final 'Heil!', which her partner sustains superbly; other no less embarrassing moments recur throughout this opera, as well as in 'Siegfried' (to some extent tolerable, given the role's brevity) and 'Walkure', where the beginning of each of the repeated verse of the battle cry is delivered hoarsely (you'll cringe on hearing 2.54 and 4.16 on DVD 2 of the opera); when she just manages to hold a top note, her body begins to convulse (extremely painful to watch and hear); she looks rather astonished during her thunderous curtain calls at the end of the cycle, as if saying: 'I'm glad the ignorant applauding bunch didn't notice anything out of the ordinary'. (I cannot believe that these passages were left intact: the least that could have been done was to re-record them in sound to cover up the defects.) Not that the other members of the cast are on top form either: of the well-known soloists (except Clark, though still not his former self as Mime at Bayreuth), Secunde (Sieglinde), Merritt (Loge), Brocheler (Wotan), Schone (Gunther), Bundschuh (Gutrune), and Rydl (Hunding and Hagen) are frankly past their best, while (apart from Kruse's fine Siegfried and Runkel's outstanding Fricka) newcomers like Keyes (Siegmund), Gjevang (Erda and Waltraute), and Smit (Alberich) are vibrato-ridden performers, the rest (including Rhinemaidens, Valkyries and Norns) ranging from good to average. Though the close singer-audience interaction is highly successful (due to the ring-shaped stage), the fixed set begins to grow monotonous as one act follows another with almost little variation throughout the cycle, but that's a minor quibble, compared with the production's overall vocal quality, despite a superb chorus and orchestra (the supplied documentaries, though highly informative, are small consolation). The accompanying printed matter features a short article by Haenchen on the variations included in the score he used (the Woodbird is sung by a boy): only a few examples are being sampled, and the same article appears in each of the four booklets enclosed in each opera case (I had expected generous extracts from the individual operas appearing in the booklet of the work in question). Misled by the bombastic 5-star reviews, I regret having purchased this set and still don't understand how or why it deserves such a rating, unless one watches with the mute button on. Doubting that even those who are new to the cycle will find it satisfactory, I hardly think that 'Ring' fans who know the work by heart will find it worth the addition to their DVD library."
An enjoyable Ring Cycle
bruce | st. louis | 01/15/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This cycle was enjoyable to watch because of its steady, almost brisk pace, which kept the entire work from becoming dull. The setting was spare, but wonderfully evoked a sense of the traditional. The costumes were abysmal, however. The Tarnhelm looked like a big golden Hershey's kiss, the ring looked as though it were the Kaa'bah in Mecca, and the dragon Fafner looked like something out of Star Trek. Most unforgivable about the costume design was the way the costumes were egregiously unflattering to the singers, who are already rather corpulent. Siegfried had highlights in his hair, which gave the impression from a distance that he was bald.
Aside from the costume design, the singing was pretty good, though not stellar. The set design could be both infuriating and marvelous. Decide for yourself whether the immolation scene with Brunnhilde is worthy of the music or not. I personally liked it.
This was worth the 15 hour effort. I give the cycle a rather high 5 star rating to balance out a damaging review left by someone who didn't bother to watch it. There's no sense destroying the reputation of a work of art if you haven't experienced it yet."