Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Wagner - Das Rheingold / Zagrosek Probst Schuster Indridadottir Ruuttunen Stuttgart|
Actors: Wagner, Wolfgang Probst, Kaston, Schneider, Lothar Zagrosek
Genres: Musicals & Performing Arts
Ambitious RING gets off to a shaky start
Yuval Sharon | Brooklyn, NY | 03/12/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"For the courage to release an experimental production of the Ring for American distribution in a time of lackluster caution in the recording industry, EuroArts and TDK deserve the appreciation of Wagnerians nationwide. Stuttgart's innovative Ring-the initiative of Intendant Klaus Zehelein-divided the cycle among four different production teams, cumulatively offering a kind of cubist perspective on the whole. The goal, in Zehelein's words, was not only to consider each opera in the series its own individually "self-fulfilling story" but to precipitate a "Collapse of Totality." From the "ruins" of that collapse comes an unprecedented freedom not only for the artists involved but for the audience: each viewer has the chance to more or less build their own Ring from the different accents in the cycle. With this DVD release, a much wider audience is offered that freedom to discover the Ring from four new angles, and Wagner lovers everywhere should rejoice at the opportunity.Unfortunately, this first installment-under the direction of Joachim Schlömer and designed by Jens Kilian-does not get this ambitious project off to the most successful start. Schlömer is Stuttgart's house choreographer, and Zehelein chose him to kick off the cycle because of the varying physicalities among Rheingold's population-giants, dwarves, gods, monsters, etc. It is disappointing, then, to see the physical dimensions of the characters so undernourished: not only in the sloppy pratfalls and aimless, unmotivated movement about the stage that make up the general choreography of the opera, but the individual characterizations betray little choreographic specificity. Alberich, Fricka, and Freia take on superficial postures with little physical insight, while Wotan, the giants, and the Rheinmaidens have no physical presence larger than their costume and make-up. Loge, the slipperiest character in the piece, is even left sitting or standing stationary for most of the opera, as if physicality was never even discussed with the performer. It feels like a choreographer's project in proving he is "more than just a choreographer," even more so because the overall concept involves stripping away all the mythology in place of a highly political and contemporary chamber drama-"Rheingold: an everyday tragedy," as the DVD's accompanying notes states. That means: no change of scenery, everyday-looking costumes, no illusion, and nothing in the way of Rheingold's traditional "stage magic" or special effects. What this dramaturgical stringency implies is a drama carried purely by the personal interplay of the characters with the music, and this is where Schlömer fails most. Aside from an exciting performance by Eberhard Francesco Lorenz as Mime, the characterizations range from one-dimensional to entirely unbelievable. Wolfgang Probst's hollow Wotan is the biggest problem; Probst does not register anything resembling the character's journey from sovereignty to insecurity, and major moments like the "Big Idea" near the end-with the orchestra blazing with the sword motif-don't have any apparent physical, musical, or emotional impact on him. Esa Ruuttunen's Alberich is equally homogenous in a different direction: his broad histrionics make him a caricature for most of the production, and like his colleagues, he shows little in the way of subtlety. No one, however, is less subtle than Michaela Schuster as Fricka, who obnoxiously overemphasizes the production's facile take on gender politics. In a production that claims to focus on this personal status interaction-and, importantly, with the extreme close-ups of a taped performance-this shortcoming is the most damaging to the production. There are still several interesting details in the production that reward a second viewing. The bland unit set will disappoint those who most look forward to Wagner's transitions, but the characters' relationship to the different levels and recesses of the room offered a few interesting thoughts. The vaulted balcony level accessible by elevator and hidden staircase becomes a type of office/throne alternately occupied by Wotan and Alberich; Alberich first ventures on it upon seeing the gold, and the stage picture shows the first illusion of grandeur sprouting in his mind (made more powerful by Wotan dreaming of Valhalla behind him). An enormous marble fountain dominates the stage, and the water inside evaporates once the gold has been stolen from it. Among the multileveled set, the strongest moment is the very beginning, when the entire cast is spread out on the main level and stares into the audience. The pure E-flat major cascade of the prelude is often interpreted as the depiction of an as-yet-unspoiled nature; in this production, the prelude describes another kind of idealism: a classless world. The movement from human unity to political polarization is the tragedy of this production-a concept completely in line with Wagner's ideology at the time of Rheingold, certainly the most overtly political part of the Ring.The best reason to buy this DVD is its immaculate sound quality: state-of-the-art recording technology and Lothar Zagrosek's meticulous account of the score make this one of the most vivid Rheingold recordings available. Every layer of the Staatsorchester Stuttgart is captured perfectly, and the precision of their playing-particularly the brass and wind instrumentalists-is astonishing. You would have to stand at the conductor's podium to beat the incredible clarity and balance of this recording. But while every moment is beautifully accomplished individually, Zagrosek's ability to link them together into a musical and dramatic whole was not evident. His interpretation climaxes too early and too often, and by Wotan's "Big Idea" I was already tired of an approach which, rather like the stage interpretation, began to feel monotonously bombastic. And while the brisk tempi worked well throughout the piece, there was little sense of a shape to the four scenes nor to the opera as a whole. Zagrosek should all the same be commended for eliciting such scrupulous performances from his instrumentalists and singers. Special mention must be made of Mette Ejsing's Erda, an electrifying and rich vocal performance which single-handedly justifies purchasing the DVD. While the first installment of the Stuttgart Ring may have its shortcomings, it displays a theatrical ambition and a musical prowess that make it well worth buying. I for one will certainly be among the first in line to purchase Die Walküre as soon as it's released."
You had better be familiar with the original
F. Behrens | Keene, NH USA | 02/22/2004
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Maybe I am too picky, too traditional. One of the critics for a much-respected magazine viewed the EuroArts CD of the 2002 production by the Staatsoper Stuttgart of Wagner's "Das Rheingold" (20 5206 9 DVUS OPRDNR) and loved it. I just finished viewing it and found myself increasingly annoyed as it unfolded under a director who chose to ignore most of what the characters were singing in his modern-dress (how original!) setting of this epic from ancient Iceland and medieval Germany. The concept was to place all the action in a single set, the lobby of a sanitarium-or possibly an insane asylum, and I would vote for the latter-with a large fountain in the middle which is supposed to be the Rhine. Wotan (Wolfgang Probst) and his wife (Michaela Schuster) are dressed like CEOs, the giants (Roland Bracht and Phillip Ens) are normal-sized contractors with briefcases, the fire god Loge (Robert Kunzli) is a slightly overweight person in no particular costume at all, and the three Rhinemaidens (Catrione Smith, Maria Theresa Ulrich and Margarete Joswig) hang around the lobby dressed in attractive black blouses and slacks and join in the family doings when they should be offstage under water. Much mention is made of a helmet that is only a mirror in this production (the director unconvincingly explains why in the program notes), of a Valhalla that is nowhere in sight, of Wotan's spear that is also absent, and of piles of gold that are represented by a single sheet of chain mail. When the giants refer to poles around the goddess Freia (Helga Ros Indridadottir), there are none at all; and although she is standing in full view, they complain that she is not yet entirely hidden. It is all very silly-but the director got the audience's approval during curtain calls. Any do-it-yourselfer would have a hammer larger than the one brandished by Donner (Motti Kaston) and his powerful invocation to the clouds is considerably reduced by the commonplace costume he is given. You can look in vain for the wretched Nibelungs that Albrech is terrorizing (an economy move?) and his transformations into dragon and frog are described in the lyrics but the man remains the same. A Rheingold without magic indeed.
The singing is quite good, except for Probst's inability to control his powerful baritone. He also, I am sorry to say, is physically the least noble Wotan I have ever seen; and he does not help things with that ugly habit of singing out of the side of his mouth. The best of them all is the Alberich of Esa Ruuttunen. Theoretically the villain of the story, his sincere acting and dramatic vocalizing makes him more sympathetic than any of the other characters. That is, with the possible exception of Freia, who is directed actually to lament the death of the giant who professed to love her. This is the only really interesting concept in this production. I give credit to conductor Lothar Zagrosek for keeping the score moving at a dramatic clip. But to me the unforgivable happens yet again, as it has on so many other video opera discs and tapes. There is one spot on the actors' stage left that is acoustically dead. Sure enough, that is where they tie up Alberich after his capture, so that his lines are very hard to hear-and they are important lines too. Can't the engineers catch this and rectify it before the disc is released for sale? Is there NO quality control? This is the start of a Ring Cycle that was given over to four different directors. Maybe one of the other three will be truly imaginative and pay some attention to the text. The running time is 152 minutes, the picture is wide screen (16:9 ratio), and the subtitles are in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian."
Schlomer's Short Attention Span Rheingold!
J P Falcon | Fords, New Jersey United States | 02/22/2004
(2 out of 5 stars)
"This version of Das Rheingold is an example of a director who has no faith in Wagner's music or libretto and thus transforms the work into his own creation..I am generally open minded about a director's intervention in an opera, but Schlomer carries his vision to absurd directions which causes one to become distracted. If you are too busy scoffing at the nonsence you are witnessing, and trying to untie the visual knot that Schlomer thrusts upon you, rather than basking in the glorious music of Wagner, then the director has failed his charge. Schlomer has no faith that an audience can enjoy Das Rhiengold on its' own terms, and needlessly clutters the stage with unnecessary actions and worthless contrivances. I will admit that there were moments that I thought were well handled, such as Alberich's humiliation by the Rheinmaidens, Fasolt's devotion to Freia, and the wresting of the ring from Alberich. But these moments are far and few between. Schlomer apparantly believes that a 21st century audience for Wagner's Ring suffers from a short attention span, as he forces all the characters to remain on stage and perform useless and distracting actions while others are performing the opera. For example, Wotan is wondering where Loge is while all the time, the shlub is flitting all about in view...Loge is shown receiving a golden apple from Freia and eating it, despite the fact that he will eventually sing that Freia has been stingy giving him the apples. So we cut back to him from time to time eating his apple while the main action is occuring elsewhere. During Alberich's curse, a centerpiece in the opera, we need to see Wotan wash the ring in a sink and the camera shifts between Alberich and Wotan repeatedly during this crucial moment. Scenes of Fricka reading and tearing out pages in a ledger book, and Mime, running about like Radar O'Reilly from MASH, just tends to thwart what little dramatic tension this production has.Regarding the actual musical value of Das Rheingold, I found the performances adequate but nothing that will leave you wanting to hear more from these artists. They lack any personality in their roles, though this may be the fault of Schlomer's sterile direction rather than a lack of ability. I think Probst would make for an effective Alberich, rather than his current role as Wotan. Kunzli's Loge is devoid of character while Kaston and Schneider are rather non-descript as Donner and Froh. On the positive side there is Esa Ruuttunen strong portrayal as Alberich. He manages to overcome the silliness of the production and one wonders what he could acheive if he was in a more competant production. The three Rheinmadens were very good, though they overstayed their welcome by always lurking about throughout the opera. Mette Ejsing's Erda was the one true dramatic moments in this opera and she conveyed the warning effectively. Lothar Zagrosek conducted a spirited account of the work which belied what we were seeing on stage. I believe that this performance would have been served well as a concert performance, shorn of the visual tripe that was on stage.
In the final scene, before crossing the rainbow bridge (which, by the way, was conveyed by going underground through a [get this] subway grating) each performer washed their hands before leaving. I guess this was a symbolic gesture that they were "washing their hands" of guilt by what happened. I took it to mean, as artists, they were washing their hands of the production they had to endure. On the positive side, the following three operas will have different directors so we can only hope they do better than Schlomer. It is also worth noting that many of the artists who sang in Rheingold, such as Probst's Wotan, will not appear in the ensuing operas. They will not be missed.If you want to see a version of Wagner's opera which the director puts his own mark on the work, but remains faithful to the operas, then I strongly urge you to seek out the Boulez/Chereau Bayreuth production. There you will find a more humanistic version of the Ring which will hold your attention and not distract from Wagner's music or design.I cannot recommend the Staatsoper version of Das Rheingold as a stand alone purchase. Perhaps completists, who will eventually want the entire Staatsoper Ring will want this DVD. However if you are purchasing your first DVD of Wagner's Ring, and want to sample Das Rheingold, I urge you to pass this by and check out the Boulez or more traditional Levine versions."
EXPENDABLE IS NOT THE WORD!
F. FUNES | WHITE PLAINS,NEW YORK | 07/11/2004
(1 out of 5 stars)
"EXPENDABLE IS NOT THE WORD!Calixto Bieito with his recent DIE ENTFUHRUNG AUS DEM SERAIL among prostitutes which scandalized Berlin...Hans Neuenfeld...
with the most idiotic conception of DIE FLEDERMAUS that caused a riot in 2002 Vienna.
The list of buffooneries continues,fellows,with this new "RING"(I don't even know if I should call it that in spite of Wagner's immortal music and text)that comes from the beautiful german city of Stuttgart.
in an effort to bring something "radically different" to us in terms of Wagner's larger than life tetralogy.
Ergo,each piece was conceived as independent fromn the rest of the cycle,something completely against the composer's will
and given hence to four different directors,if we can call them that.
But,surprise,surprise...If you were thinking something along the line of the licentious departures taken by Patrice Chereau in the late 1970's-early 1980's,Harry Kupfer in the later 1980's or even more radical,Nikolaus Lehnhof in the early 1990's,it's definitely not what you had in mind.Sorry to disappoint you,but the team responsible for this bitter farce will go even light years further into professional disappointment.
The cycle starts,of course with DAS RHEINGOLD.
The main and (only) set looks more suited for a banking company(which was the intention of "director" Joachim Schlömer)or even like the hall of a small town train station rather than appropriate for a Wagner music drama.
At the beginning,rather than the hall of a psychiatric hospital ward one has the impression of a giant spa,complete
with steambath and sauna rooms. Quite a "classy" touch the old european style elevator in which the two "giants" will arrive in the second scene...Way to go,Joachim!
I must confess that as an architectonic fragment the fountain did not look so bad...Of course if it was placed in
a public sqare or in any other convenient place.
The sheer stupidity of the Rheinnixen dressed in track suits,entering the fountain and later plunging the poor
Nibelung into the water...Where is this guy's brain???
Wait,it gets even better though...The two giants(nothing to signal that they're precisely that,mind you!),a gum-chewing
Fafner who also drinks liqueur from a bottle (bass Philip Ens)and a Krzysztof Penderecki looking Fafner from Roland Bracht,who will appear in the final day as Hagen,show up,as we've stated in an elevator.
Rather than menacing giants these two marionettes look to me more like an angry banker who has been ripped off and a pimp.Then we have a sportsman-looking Froh and Motti Kastón's Donner who brings to mind a cross between a neurotic Bronson Pinchot and Michael Myers.
Loge,not showing up at all,he's been there sitting all the time,dressed in shirt and suspenders continues sitting while
singing his narrative,until "Wotan" pulls him up.But then right after he sits again.
Where's the scenic sense of this guy,for crying out loud!!!Alberich's Tarnhelm a mirror? Mime and Wotan playing with metal mugs that look like part of the Nibelungenhort...
When the Nibelung is supposed to be transformed into a giant "Wurm" according to Wagner's own text he pulls some sort
of towel-rag from his pocket that looks like a tiny animal and tears him appart with his teeth,blood dripping from his
mouth...Can we get more retarded? Oh,yessiiirrr,we can!
In the fourh scene the captured sovereign of the Nibelungs is hanged from a wallhook by Wotan and Loge,with a piece
of something like duct tape over his eyes.Should I continue? Better not.It should suffice to say that Erda(Mette Ejsing)
looking like Kathy Bates comes through an opening in the back wall of the set,in simple skirt and jacket like Freia
but with leather gloves,and Wotan delievers his soliloquy "Abendlich strahlt der Sonne Auge" while wipping his hands in the wallfountain and cleaning them with a white cloth...He might as well have been selling newspapers in a newsstand.
Newsflash:There's no entrance of the gods to Walhall.The singing could also be colored in pathetic inks...Modest performances from Michaela Schuster and Helga Rós
Indridadóttir as Fricka and Freia respectively.
The rest of the performers who incarnate the lower representatives of the norse pantheon are not even worth mentioning.
Wolfgang Probst's uncontrolled baritone seems much more evident here than before,in spite of the long experience that
this singer has in the role.His salute to Walhall,is like the rest of the cycle;deprived of all majestuosity,delievering
it from the upper balcony of the set while taking off his jacket and putting on his robe de chambre.No comments.
Enter a psychichotic Freia dressed in normal grey skirt and jacket,wandering around in reverie like the fake Julie Holmes from John Fowles's THE MAGUS.
The only good singing(and acting!)comes from Esa Ruuttunen's Alberich taking on the best of this whole meshever,the only rescuable one.This fine finnish artist who happens to be an ordained protestant minister in real life was who created the
tile role in Kari Tikka's groundbreaking opera LUTHER in Espoo,Finland,2000.We just wonder what he could have done
with this charcater,had he the chance of appearing in a good production.
The conclussions one rational mind can draw out of all this "Wirrwarr" is either these "magnificent four" crackbrains
must hate Wagner or simply in their absolute mediocrity this is the best they can come up with.
May art be preserved and saved from this combination of monstrosity and mental retardation,which seems to work just
fine when paired with a talent to dominate the public,sell them this rubbish and make them applaud such chain of nonsense.
My advice:Waste your money,if you want,but don't waste your precious time watching through this horseplay.
Can you say expendable? Even that word is a major understatement.
I'm starting to feel frustrated because of the lack of negative stars!!!"