Perfect for DVD
Webster Forrest | London United Kingdom | 11/06/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"No sound recording of the Ring is perfect, and with filmed recordings, there is even more to object to or defend. For a first ever release of any complete Ring on DVD, this is probably the best compromise of staging, filming, singing, and acting that one could hope for. First some technicalities. There are seven disks across a four volume set. The sound quality is superb. It was recorded digitally and remastered for surround sound. I played it on 2-channel, and it sounded fantastic. The balance of voices and orchestra was truly ideal. The picture quality varies. The original was filmed on video, not on 'film', and it was done in 1980 or 81, so the quality of the video is not very high in some places - especially the beginning of Rheingold - but in 85% of the time, the picture quality is very good, though the colour definition could be better. If you buy the whole Ring as a set it's cheaper overall, and you get a nice cardboard sleeve that the four DVD packs all fit into. The singing on this Ring is as good as it gets. Gwyneth Jones sings Brunnhilde wonderfully - one of the half dozen or so singers of the century who could actually sing the role with 100% of the power it needs, and in my opinion the best (and only real) Brunnhilde since Birgit Nilsson; nor does she lack in subtlety and musicality. She is fine to watch as well and seems to take her stage performance as seriously and with as much energy as her singing. It's a wonderful thing to have her Brunnhilde in this DVD format. Donald McIntyre sings Wotan. He has such an incredibly powerful voice, and is an excellent match to Jones's Brunnhilde, though he has moments which are rather unmusical. His acting is pretty good, but not a highlight. All things considered, he does not disappoint at all. Siegfried is sung by Manfred Jung, who both looks and sounds the part to a T. Some of his singing now and then is a bit strident, especially in the prologue to Gotterdammerung where he has to 'match' the HUGE voice of G Jones, but especially in the opera Siegfried (part three of the Ring) he is truly magical. Some people take the opposite of this view and find him a bit silly to watch. Siegfried is a sort of non-character, and what characteristics he does have (of bravery, spontaneity, and imbecilic charm) are portrayed by Jung in such a natural and engaging manner. His singing is no less impressive, and he is one of the few Siegfrieds I've heard who really sings all of the notes well. Siegfieds tend to wail and harp a bit, but Jung is very musical. Peter Hoffmann sings Siegmund with very good voice and tacky 'dramatic' acting which is actually not as irritating as it should be. His Sieglinde is Jeanine Altmayer (of the Janowski Ring) who gives very little of interest as a visual performer, and just manages to do the minimum in terms of singing. Her presence is not a selling point, but it doesn't give too much to object to either. Heinz Zednik sings both Loge and the Mime in Siegfried. This is a stage animal who, especially in Rheingold, always does something good and appropriate to the character, whether he is singing or not. He is fantastic in Rheingold as the clever and disaffected Loge, and some of the time he tends to over-act in Siegfried, a contrast which is stark especially because in the latter he shares the stage with the incredibly naturalistic Manfred Jung. Other roles, such as Fricka, Erda, Hunding, Gunther and Waltraute are all sung by people with great voices and above average acting skill, many of whom were to become famous singers in major roles: Hannah Schwarz, Otrun Wenkl, Matti Salminen among them. Franz Mazura as Gunther is perhaps a little soft of voice (he's a bit old) but it fits the role perfectly, and his wonderful acting of the part shines to create a vibrant portrayal of this key 'minor' character. The orchestral playing is wonderful. Boulez's conducting is full-paced though never lacking in beauty of detail. It never feels rushed, never feels too slow, and he builds climaxes with an exceptionally natural energy. This is conducting of supreme competence. The staging is by the French designer /director Patrice Chereau. It is tied to the industrial revolution. The sets on the whole are very good, the movement of characters about the stage can be rather weak and confusing. The transitions from scene to scene which are supposed to be seamless are done with the curtain dropping and rising again to show a different set. In my opinion this doesn't really work, and there are certain moments in the staging (the funeral march for example) which are just plain embarrassing. However, for a modern production, this one makes more sense than any other I've seen. I'd rather see a traditional production if given the choice, but in broad terms, and in many many details as well, the staging 'works'. You will probably 'have' to admit that, but whether you like it is up to you. All in all, a better first DVD Ring could not be imagined."
Essential Document - Wonderful Quirky Centennial Production
Stephen McLeod | New York, NY USA | 05/02/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There have probably been more words about this (in)famous production than about any other production, with the possible exception of the first in 1876. This is the centennial production at Bayreuth, which debuted in 1976. This particular version was made especially for video in 1980. It was made in the Festspielhaus but it is not a recorded live performance. Patrice Chereau had never staged an opera when he was invited to produce the centennial production at Bayreuth. Legend has it that on the opening night in '76, the production was almost booed off the stage; four years later, when the production closed, there was a 45 minute standing ovation. The best thing about this production is that it takes the drama entirely seriously, completely discarding operatic traditions including the ones that Wagner himself was explicit about. The Rhinemaidens are prostitutes, the Rhine is shown as a water processing plant. In Rhinegold, the actors are dressed in 18th century gear - powdered wigs, etc. By the time we get to Gotterdaemmerung, the characters are in early 20th century evening dress. This is an a-historical production, though. There is never any sense of moving forward in time - this is evident from the first two scenes of Rhinegold: The Rhinemaiden scenes are post-industrial; the gods have powdered wigs, while Alberich, et al. look indistinctly late 19th century. Walkure and Siegfried are similarly unanchored in time - it could be the 15th century; it could be the year your mother was born. As to the singing, it ranges from satisfactory to excellent. Without running through the whole cast, suffice it to say that the principles are satisfying. Donald McIntyre's Wotan is not as musically dominating as, say, James Morris's, but Wotan's dilema and his growing desparation are perfectly conveyed by this great singing actor. Gwyneth Jones was past her prime in 1980 (she tends to be a little wild, vocally); but what a great performance! First of all, much of her singing is very fine, and all of it is intensely moving. Peter Hofman is good and good looking, and (can't remember her name) is a soulful Sieglinde. It's a rare treat to see two slim, blond Wolsang twins and find their relationship physically credible (as opposed to the Met production which has a black Sieglinde and a white Siegmund, for example). Matti Salminen's Hunding is surpassed only by his Hagen in the Met production. What a great actor and singer he was/is. This is really an essential DVD set and it comes much cheaper than it ever did on VHS or laser disc. Every Perfect Wagnerite will want this set."
Truly a Musikdrama
Dietrich Maerz | Detroit, USA | 11/12/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I had the great fortune to attend this performance each year from 1977 to 1980 at Bayreuth. I could wittness the complete and utterly transformation of the attendees from hostile outrage in 1977 (including outburst during the performance) to universal acceptance and more than 1 1/2 hour standing ovations after the final performance of Götterdämmerung. This transformation from the most hated 'French' Ring to the production of the century comes from the achievement of staging/directing/conducting of this unique masterpiece as a truly Musikdrama, i.e. an experience wherein the music, the acting and the words are melted together into one solid piece. It is very seldom that Wagner's invention of Leitmotiv (the thought behind the action) is so clearly transformed into acting and viewing. Chereau lets the drama unfold in the Industrial Revolution, Wotan is the undisputed owner of a business empire, his counterpart Alberich represents the lower working class with high ambitions for revolution. Siegried is the nature boy who doesn't really know who he is. When stepping into the high class world of the Gibichungen in Götterdämmerung, he fails because he cannot accomodate for all the tricks and traps of this utterly immoral and selfish society. The same happens to Siegmund when he steps into the world of the well settled and powerfull landowner Hunding.
The acting of every person in this performance is brilliant and so closely tied to the deeper meaning of the whole Ring that I doubt that there will be ever a production that can capture the real message of Wagner's Ring in such clearness - the rise and fall of the ruling class and the role of love and truthfullness in creating a new and better world. This is Wagners most political work and this DVD shows it clearly. If you have seen the Ring before in a traditional performance (like the Met-DVD) you will see a completely different Ring now.
The highly transparent conducting of Boulez in conjunction with the superb acting/singing opens complete new dimensions in understanding and feeling of the Ring.
The video quality might not be the best (it is still very good) and some of the singers might not be prime (such as Gunther and Sieglinde), but - again - this recording is not an opera, it is a Musikdrama!
If you want to enjoy the Ring as a "Gesamtkunstwerk", as a perfect combination of words, music, stage setting and acting - this one is a must for you."
A classic production re-evaluated
email@example.com | 11/02/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The release on DVD of this controversial Bayreuth production (it was heavily booed during its first run in 1976 but received an ovation lasting for over 90 minutes when it bowed out in 1980) enables one to re-evaluate it afresh, both in relation to the production and the singing.After more than 20 years during which people have become accustomed to some very outrageous production style, Patrice Chereau's attempt seems almost traditional by comparison. (The production here was filmed in 1979 and 1980, when some of the original weaknesses in 1976, both as regards the direction and the sets, had already been ironed out.) Nevertheless, what matters most is that, for most of the time, Chereau's interpretation of the drama is not only workable, it's also coherent and, at times, illuminating. It works extremely well on screen, thanks to the video direction by Brian Large. Some may quibble about the hydro-electric dam in Rheingold, the dinner jackets in Goetterdaemmerung, the pendulum in Walkure and the steam-driven forging machine in Siegfried. Yet, all these have a point in Chereau's pro-Marxist, pro-environmentalist and rather pessimistic approach of the cycle. In fact, such up-dating make the drama even more readily understandable by most. While there are some minor failures in some of the scenes, these are far out-weighed by the many good points. This production indeed deserves its classic status.The quality of singing (but not the acting, which is unanimously considered to be excellent) has also been criticised by some. However, I find it acceptable. There're also some fine performances. The biggest disappointment is perhaps Manfred Jung's Siegfried. But even he isn't unbearable. Jones is vocally erratic, but her dramatic involvement plus quite an amount of simply thrilling singing (as well as her pleasant appearance) more than compensates for some passing tonal unsteadiness. McIntyre's Wotan is authoritative even though the character doesn't attract one's sympathy. (His Wotan DOES carry a spear.) Many of the singers in the other characters (especially the Siegmund, Sieglinde, Fricka, Alberich, Loge, Fasolt, Fafner, Hagen) have also made their mark, and everyone works in close colloboration with each other, making this is genuine team performance.I think this set should appeal to those who're familiar with the Ring as well as those new to Wagner. After all, when this production was serialised on TV 20 years ago, it has attracted a large number of viewers, many of whom had not even heard a note from the Ring before."