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Wagner: Das Rheingold [DVD Video]
Wagner Das Rheingold
DVD Video
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Music Video & Concerts, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Musicals & Performing Arts
NR     2008     2hr 44min

This 1978 studio production of Das Rheingold, the prologue to The Ring, is the only segment of the famous Salzburg Festival/Metropolitan Opera productions, first seen in the 1960s, that made it to film. For this production...  more »


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Movie Details

Creators: Herbert von Karajan, Jeannine Altmeyer; Brigitte Fassbaender; Peter Schre
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Music Video & Concerts, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Musicals & Performing Arts
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Music Video & Concerts, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Classical
Studio: Deutsche Grammophon
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 04/08/2008
Original Release Date: 01/01/2008
Theatrical Release Date: 01/01/2008
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 2hr 44min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 1
Edition: Classical
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: German
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, German

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Movie Reviews

Slightly disappointing, but still worth getting
Doug Urquhart | Southport, CT USA | 04/15/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This is a studio production - not a televised stage performance. Well, actually it's a mixture of filmed and staged sections. Several of the characters are played by actors, miming to the singers. This approach is acceptable (I suppose) for minor characters like the Rheinmädchen, much less so when applied to the Giants, but extremely jarring when used for Donner or Erda. Even the main characters seem slightly out of synch, which is a shame.

Star of the show is Peter Schierer - his Loge is superb - closely followed by Brigitte Fassbänder's Fricka. Either performance would justify buying this DVD. To hear both is simply glorious.

In contrast, Thomas Stewart's Wotan is merely adequate; his voice is superb, though lacking emotion, but his acting skills are limited to posing in profile. It gets old very quickly. Let's blame the director.

Freia is a singularly thankless role, but Jeannine Altmeyer played it well, giving us hints of her excellent Sieglinde in Chereau's production.

The production is the traditional pantomime, with giants, dragon and gold. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Technically, the visual side is fine - not too many artifacts, and perfectly acceptable for 1978. The sound is OK, but describing it as DTS 5.1 is pushing the envelope. Yes, there is a synthesised back-channel, giving some computer-generated ambience, but it isn't the same as a stage performance.

Karajan? Now here's where the disappointment lies; of all combinations, Wagner plus Karajan should equal dynamite. Unfortunately, it's all rather staid. Yes, the tempo is a bit faster than Levine's, but there's none of the emotion/bombast/fun (delete where applicable) one would normally associate with Karajan. I wonder why.

To sum up: plenty to recommend this fragment (the rest of the Karajan's Ring never made it to Video), but if you haven't yet bought a copy of der Ring, buy the others first - there are at least three superb versions.
At last Karajan's "Rheingold" comes to DVD....
J. Taylor | Cambridgeshie, UK | 05/13/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Herbert von Karajan's studio film of his Salzburg Festival production was lambasted by critics and flopped at the box-office which resulted in Unitel cancelling the filming of the rest of the cycle, a project they were not enthusiastic about to begin with anyway, having to contend with spiralling costs and Karajan's ego, but the loss is truly all ours. Studio-bound though it is, this is nonetheless a great 'Rheingold', thrilling conducted and sung (even better than Karajan's 1968 audio recording in fact!) and a valuable record of the production itself.

If it looks similar to the Met Opera production also available on DVD, this is because it was co-designed by the Gunther-Schneider Siemssen who directed the Met's production, but with Karajan's input this is the version to see rather than the stodgy, uninspired museum piece seen in New York. Thomas Stewart's Wotan and Peter Schreier's Loge dominate the work throughout. Indeed Schreier is barely recognisable, with his shaved head and red outfit, capturing Loge's wily mannerisms and cunning to perfection, it's a powerhouse performance. Stewart too is on excellent form as Wotan, even if Karajan (who also directed the film incidetally) too often cuts to reaction shots - the fact that Stewart can muster quite a variety of reactions in close-up to the various events depicted is truly a testament to his acting ability as well as his singing! In smaller roles, Brigitte Fassbender is an acceptable if unmemorable Fricka and Jeanine Altmeyer a stunning Freya, beautfiul to look at and singing with the right touch of terror and sympathy when confronted by the lumberig giants. Matha Modl appears (but does not sing) as Erda in the film's only weak spot; a crucial moment in the story which doesn't quite come off, added to the fact the ghostly appearence of Erda has clearly been superimposed over a still photo of Wotan and the rest of the Gods! Indeed the special effects themselves look more like something from a Doctor Who episode of the seventies, but are good enough and achieve their purpose without looking too clumsy.

Overall, perhaps the best Rhinegold on DVD and certainly the closest to Wagner's conception of the work without coming across as too reactionary or insipid. Karajan's mastery of staging and conducting is seen here at it's best."
Intriguing Representational RHEINGOLD
F. P. Walter | Albuquerque, NM | 05/16/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Karajan is still a polarizing figure. This item, one of the earliest tries at filming a Wagner opera, has earned wildly mixed notices: "They don't get any better than this," exults one reviewer. "Best left at the bottom of the Rhine," sneers another. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between.

The positives first. Orchestrally and vocally this is an unsurpassed RHEINGOLD. Karajan's 1968 DG recording is often acclaimed for its color and fantasy, but it features three pieces of much-criticized casting: Fischer-Dieskau's underpowered Wotan, Manglesdorff's squally Freia, and Stolze's rasping character tenor as Loge. This DVD replaces them with Stewart, Altmeyer, and Schreier, all distinct improvements. The enclosed booklet claims that the film's soundtrack was recorded in Salzburg's Grosses Festspielhaus during the 1973 Easter Festival. But it wasn't taped during a performance or even a dress run: there are no audience noises, no stage thumpings, and the singers don't budge from their microphones. Just like the earlier DG set, this is clearly a studio effort -- and since its producer and head engineer are the same individuals who generated Karajan's EMI opera recordings, one wonders if the UK firm considered releasing it audio-only.

In any case Stewart is in bronzen voice here, a little tight at the bottom but with top notes that soar over the orchestra with an exciting spin and gleam -- he makes the best recorded case for a dramatic baritone rather than a high bass in this role, and he etches the text with imagination: his Wotan is imperious, temperamental, smugly amused, and in the end deeply shaken by Fasolt's murder. With her full lyric soprano, Altmeyer is the most sumptuous of Freias, and Schreier's supple Mozart tenor provides a fresher, more mellifluous Loge than it would for Janowski in Dresden. Otherwise Salzburg's Fassbaender, Roar, and Finnila (Fricka, Donner, and Erda) are just as adept as the earlier Veasey, Kerns, and Dominguez -- Karajan being Karajan, he normally could get the best available. The Berlin PO, needless to say, is stupendous in both 1968 and 1973; as for the recorded sound, the anvil rapping in Nibelheim is cleaner in the former, the giants' entrance music better balanced in the latter. 1973 trumps 1968 by dint of improved casting: there has never been a more gorgeously sung or grippingly paced RHEINGOLD, and on that basis alone this DVD is worth your attention.

Now the visuals. Notwithstanding contributions from members of the original design team, this isn't a document of Karajan's Salzburg production. It was shot in a Munich film studio 5½ years later -- simply a lip-synched, ad hoc staging of a preexisting recording. Yet, despite the all-purpose critical sneering that Karajan's name sometimes evokes, this video RHEINGOLD is no worse -- and sometimes far better -- than the several Italian operas (LUCIA, PAGLIACCI, TOSCA, etc.) that had previously been put on film in the same way.

Sets here are similar in style but vastly different in layout from the Easter Festival designs. Scene 1 is a representational look at the Rhine's underwater depths: aquamarine color scheme, blurry views (vasoline over the lens?) and waves undulating past. Flown from invisible wires, topless rhinemaidens wear diaphanous houri pants; Alberich is a wide-eyed yokel who takes a nasty fall down the rhinegold's pyramidal throne. Sure, it's clunky at times, yet the action is clearer and better attuned to the lines than in any other video of the piece. Scene 3, Nibelheim, smacks of the crystal cavern in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959). In Scenes 2 & 4, the realm of the gods is a lava field; back-projected on a cycloramic sky, Valhalla seems hewn out of the mountainside itself.

As for the overall cinematic effect, don't think Hollywood. Think documentary, think educational TV, think earlier BBC with THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY (1981) or Tom Baker's HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1982). This RHEINGOLD is often fun, but it never approaches big-budget filmmaking. (Nor, in fairness, do 90% of today's opera videos.) Onscreen, Stewart's Wotan looks regal and Zeus-like but frequently has to stand around with little to do -- Karajan's directorial habit is to plant the gods in statuesque tableaux as if they were at an ambassadorial reception. Only Schreier's Loge gets to gad about and lounge on the lava rocks.

But the blocking and camerawork (5-man team) improve as the show goes along. Intense close-ups track Alberich's shift from dimwit to despot: blessed with both a fine voice and a fascinating character face, Kelemen is riveting in his Scene 3 menaces and Scene 4 malediction. True, some of the special effects are cheesy: a drab, sagging rainbow, dry ice for the gods growing old, Erda's disembodied face bleeding through a still photo, even more dry ice for Donner's storm. But there are a fair number of shrewd, evocative touches: sinister highlights repeatedly glinting on the ring; the tarnhelm's various vanishing acts, going more smoothly than on any stage; a vivid descent to Nibelheim through unfurling geologic strata, with glimpses of Nibelungs at work and looking like genuine dwarves; a dragon that's an authentic hoot (as it should be -- after all, Wotan laughs at it); and finally Fasolt's murder: a brutal collage of slashing blows and gasping faces that's legitimately shocking. Despite his jack-of-all-trades imperfections, Karajan is the only recent director to honestly grapple with the effects described in RHEINGOLD's lines and stage directions.

English subtitles are from the reader-friendly modern translation by Stewart Spencer (ISBN 0500281947). Warts and all, this is an intriguing production that easily holds its own with the filmed operas of that era. What's more, it showcases the leading Wagner singers of its generation, one of the greatest orchestras in the galaxy, and a conductor who -- love him or hate him -- definitely knew how to make this music work. In short, this is much more engrossing than some would have you believe. Us American operagoers don't get many cracks at a "live" RHEINGOLD, so we don't mind a production that follows the script.
Classic Rheingold!
B. Cathey | Wendell, NC United States | 03/30/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Herbert von Karajan's Salzburg RING series is justly famous. The intent was to film the entire Ring, but unfortunately only DAS RHEINGOLD was committed to film. It is in all respects excellent. Peter Schreier is one of the finest Loge's around, and Thomas Stewart's Wotan is commanding and majestic. This performance holds up very well against more modern competition. Highly recommended."