This DVD recording of the first installment of the 1991/1992 Kupfer/Barenboim production of Wagner's Ring Cycle, previously available on VHS, was recorded at the famous Bayreuth opera house built by Richard Wagner himself.
Mark Bixler | Glen Ellen, CA United States | 12/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"To my taste the 1993 Barenboim/Bayreuth Ring is the best of the current commercial video recordings of The Ring, which include as well: 1) the 1985 Bayreuth (Philips DVD), 2) the 1989 Bavarian State Opera (EMI-Toshiba DVD), 3) the 1990 Metropolitan Opera (DG DVD), 4) the 2002 Stuttgart Staatsoper (TDK DVD), and 5) the 2004 Teatre del Liceu (Opus Arte DVD). Most of the versions have significant strong points. The 1985 Bayreuth has very good singing and acting in a satisfying modern production. For me, though, the sound and video quality have always been disappointing. The 1989 production has very good audio and video quality and a good, satisfying performance in a fairly interesting production. However, this Japanese set is extremely expensive and hard to buy. The 1990 Met performance is, amazingly, the only traditional staging available. It is definitely a very good performance, but I find the less traditional performances more stimulating. The audio and video quality are only good. The 2002 Stuttgart performance is well sung and the orchestra plays well. The sound is very good, video is OK. This version has been roundly criticized, but mostly for its stage design. It is pretty strange in parts (the Dragon in Siegfried, for example), but I enjoyed many parts of it. The 2004 Barcelona performance has been acclaimed by many reviewers, largely based on the stage design by Harry Kupfer. The singing and orchestral playing are OK, the conductor's tempo is generally slow. The sound recording is good, but the video (particularly for a brand new release) is quite disappointingly grainy to me.
Now we come to the 1993 Bayreuth/Barenboim production. Always important for Wagner, the orchestral playing is excellent, Barenboim's conducting is outstanding, and the recorded sound is excellent. The singing and acting are uniformly very good. The stage design, again by Harry Kupfer is modern (supposedly set in the 30's--Siegmund's costume is rather Indiana Jones-like). The deep Bayreuth stage is effectively used. Through all four operas I find the staging interesting and enjoyable to look at, not so spare as to be boring but not so dominant as to be awkward or overwhelming to the action. This performance has finally been released on DVD by Warner Classics in both the US and Europe in NTSC. I've learned from Warner that the original recording was in analog High Definition and their first step in preparing the curent DVD was to transfer the video recording to a digital 1080 line tape. There was also ambient sound recording in the original so the DTS sountrack is real 5.1. The 16:9 anamorphic picture is a big improvement over the laser disc, much more detail; the sound is very good. An exciting reintroduction of a great performance. (The other 3 Ring operas will be releases in the next 15 months, according to Warner. Das Rheingold is being released on February 28.)"
The ultimate Die Walkure!
Claude Lanouette | Montréal QC CANADA | 01/22/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Wagnerians were probably awaiting anxiously, since many years, the DVD release of this famous Unitel NHK recording of the Kupfer's Ring, at the 1992 Bayreuth Festpielhaus, also known as the Barenboim's Ring. We should be thankful to MSM Studios GmbH, in Munchen, for this very meticulous remastering of the original analog tapes (1250 lines) to bring them into the modern digital High Definition format (1080 lines.). And now Warner Classics brings us the work of this restoration effort on DVD (480 lines). Wow!!!
According to «Le Guide des Opéras de Wagner (Fayard)», you can expect a kind of post Tchernobylian Ring carrying us, through a science fiction landscape, in the world of the falling Gods. Harry Kupfer's creative directing, combined with the uncluttered but convincing stage design of Hans Schavernoch and the uncontested cinematographer talent of the video director Horant H. Hohlfeld, really puts us there! But let's not forget the «Barenboim's way» of lifting the whole orchestra to an unprecedented dramatic climax in certain crucial moments. But what kind of experience can be improvised to put in perspective the Barenboim & Kupfer's partnership? A good friend joined me to make a walk trough in 4 different versions of the same act and the same scenes.
We began with «So nimst du von Siegmund den Sieg? (Act 2, Scene 2, 28)», where Wotan loses temper and declares the end of the History (leading finally to the Götterdämmerung) by provoking a cataclysmic event, only possible with such a large stage as Bayreuth, while the orchestra sustains us creatively to live one of the most dramatic climax of the entire cycle of the Ring. In an almost surrealistic anger moment, Wotan (interpreted brilliantly by John Tomlinson) carries his singing to an unprecedented and dramatic breathless state, as anyone usually goes after talking very loud for a while in a conflict situation. It almost brings the spectator into a state of fear, quite exceptionally! We ended with «Siegmund! Sieh auf mich (Act 3, Scene 4, 34)», where Brünnhilde appears to Siegmund and Sieglind. We were impressed by the way that Siegmund acknowledges the beauty of Brünnhilde. This first encounter is played in a way that conducts the spectator to wonder if a divine creature first appears in the mind, without the need to be seen. We were amazed by this very dramatic staging, sustained by an unequaled and subtle orchestral work...
After taking our breath also, we decided to dive into the Bayreuth Boulez Chérau's version, to experience the same sequence. We were trying to remind how Wotan would go through this dramatic event... We were very far of how Kupfer Barenboim's combined talents underline such an important declaration as the end of the God's era, even if the context of the story telling is the same. Almost deceiving compared to the cataclysmic event of our first viewing. The interactions between the singers are by no means also the same.
For the third run, we chose to return to Kupfer that time, to enjoy again another end of the Gods, with the Liceu's De Billy Kupfer Version. What would happen at this crucial moment? We recognized immediately the Kupfer's direction of the singers, keeping the same intensity and drama that in his previous one. We were pleased again by an updated Schavernoch set, also reflecting the same uncluttered spirit allowing the spectator to focus on the precarious mind of Wotan, at that ultimate moment. The singers are without any doubt more glued to their dramatic situation, the interactions between them bring us almost to the level of the first reenactment of this dramatic moment we saw an hour before. We anxiously wait for the climax and then, in an incredible moment, a spectacular event, in the same order of magnitude than in our first viewing, happens in a dramatic and unexpected way. And the symbol used in this action is very clever too. We are sustained again by a music which, in contrast to Barenboim, clearly puts in the foreground the wind instruments, in a less dramatic approach.
So far, so good, enough information to vote for Barenboim Kupfer as being the most compelling, dramatic and mind bending version? A story leading us to the end of the Gods must be told in a very dramatic way, but there was a final contender : the Staatsoper Stuttgart 2003 staging, which already gets some harsh criticism, despite the fact that the richness of the Ring opens the way to so many interpretations by an international community of different artists (stage directors, set designers or orchestra conductors). Well, we were trying to keep an open mind in this fourth segment viewing and found some interesting clues about the nature of the problems shared by the human and the gods. According to the liner notes, we have here a kind of a psychoanalytic reading of the Ring, but it would not be the Ring for beginners. And not the one to taste a really dramatic story line happening in a post modern or event post Tchernobylian world.
So, Kupfer Barenboim's Ring gets our personal award of the most mind binding Ring ever made and we truly share the challenge met by Kupfer and Barenboim in Bayreuth! This rebirth, from the archives of Unitel, tells us there is always a hope that the recording industry will always take care of the master's works. In a post Tchernobylian world, don't we need only to stay away from the radiations and witness the fall of the Gods, but we need to enclose ourselves in our cocoons and taste the music that put us away, sometimes, of a harsh planetary environment! And the Barenboim & Kupfer's Ring certainly does it pretty well!"
FINALLY ON DVD AND I'M VERY GLAD
GEORGE RANNIE | DENVER, COLORADO United States | 01/10/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For sometime now, I've owned this 1993 production of Wagner's Die Walkure on Laser Disc. This Bayreuth production has always been my favorite of the ones that are currently available visually. Therefore, I'm thrilled that it is now on DVD. In this presentation of Die Walkure the orchestra under Barenboim is excellent (as expected) and the singers are wonderful.
Of the singers I particularly like Tomlinson as Wotan and Finnie as Fricka, Tomlinson sings with a rich, round and full bass/baritone voice imparting his role with sentimentality (expressed to Brünnhilde) fierce pride and fatherly concern expressed to Fricka and Brünnhilde. He exhibits a spectacular voice and is very appealing physically really looking and sounding the part of the "Head God".! Finnie, to me, is great as that old nag of nags Fricka. She certainly shows Wotan who is boss. (I do feel that after her aria no one could say "no" to her!) She also displays a marvelous full rich voice-no shrieking!) Evans offers a small voiced but very feminine Brünnhilde. The Siegmund and Sieglinde are sung and acted marvelously by Secunde and Holle-you really, for once, get the impression they just might be twins and most of all you DO get the impression that they are in love.
This production is one I still call a modern production. It uses laser-lights and a almost bare stage to great effect. The sound quality and picture quality are superb-see the previous review for particulars regarding sound and picture; I agree completely with the reviewers analysis. "
Powerful stuff, utterly compelling ...
Pater Ecstaticus | Norway | 10/08/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"As I have written in other reviews for this production of Der Ring des Nibelungen in both its CD/audio-only and DVD formats, I must here say again that I am truly captivated and ultimately quite bowled over by this production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, making me believe that this must be one of the greatest musical monuments in existence (as created by Wagner and as performed by Barenboim et al). This production of Die Walkure has really won me over to thinking this opera maybe the most intensely emotional of all of the operas in the Ring. This has to do - beside the intense drama of the story - with the very good and often exceptionally beautiful singing. Certainly, there is not one weak link in the whole cast, but then I must admit I am quite biased towards this Ring, singing-wise, as well as concerning stage-design and especially the music as conducted by maestro Barenboim. Daniel Barenboim hits it just right every time to my feeling, broodingly dark or glowingly extatic or bitingly agressive or soaringly melodic when needed, but to my feeling always completely in touch with the finer points of the drama that is playing out on stage. Some people have expressed a dislike for some of the slow tempi of maestro Barenboim, or the way that he sometimes does not take the singers into account enough, drowning them out. I have never really understood this, especially when the playing is as transparent and as clearly articulated as it is here. Whenever maestro Barenboim slows down, he always retains the necessary intensity, never surrendering to playing just for beauty's sake, ever retaining a crystal clear clarity of dramatic vision, all instrumental voices and 'registers' singing out expressively and purposely the whole time. I believe his singers are indeed all quite able to stay abreast of the sometimes thundering waves of orchestral sound. The same intensity of dramatic purpose which is expressed through the conducting is expressed in the singing and acting. Certainly, most singers combine wonderfully musical voices with fine dramatic skills. First, Poul Elming is (voice) acting out a convincing Siegmund, even if his singing cannot erase memories of the likes of for example Jon Vickers and Siegfried Jerusalem (but thankfully, the last will later join the cast of this production as one of the most powerful and characterful Siegfrieds ever recorded, IMHO). And even when Nadine Secunde's Sieglinde is not as fresh as one would like maybe, she does indeed express - in singing and acting - enough of the ardour and pain of repressed love under (and during Act II, fear for revenge by) her oppressive husband Hunding, quite effectively sung by a menacingly aggressive Matthias Holle. Where the first act is beautifully sung and played - utterly captivating from one moment to the other, but with a great sense of dramatic momentum and tension -, things get even better in the second act, I believe. Enter John Tomlinson, Anne Evans and Linda Finnie! Their singing and acting 'ups the ante' even more, all three of them bringing an almost ideal combination of dramatic intensity and virtuosity and beauty of singing (on a practically bare stage; how beautifully evocative!). John Tomlinson must be one of the most deeply resounding and emotively expressive Wotans ever, and I truly adore him. Certainly the camera loves him ;-) Anne Evans not only sounds beautiful and refined, but her singing is also deeply sympathetic and emotionally engaged, with the necessary touch of vulnerability - her Brunnhilde is something quite different from, for example, Birgit Nilsson's. Her singing together with Poul Elming (in 'threesome' with the wonderful orchestra) in the 'death announcement' in Act II, scene 4 ('Siegmund! sieh auf mich!') is utterly compelling as well, with some of the most gorgeous singing by Anne Evans. Linda Finnie's Fricka is powerful, with a nicely steely edge to her timbre, and appropriately aggressive. But it is during the 'time alone between father and daughter' that this Die Walkure is maybe at its best, although I must again say I never ever really experience one dull moment in this whole performance at all. Nevertheless, there are many high points which do stand out, and I think the whole of Scene 2 of Act II is one of those high points of this opera/performance, the intensity often causing shivers down the spine of this particular listener. If Wotan is ultimately forced to punish his dearest daughter during the last act, it was already brought home to us during all of the foregoing that it could indeed have been no other way, but only through the long battle of wits (with Fricka) and inner conflict (Love against Law) that preceeded it, especially in the previous Act II, scenes 1 and 2. One cannot truly understand the beginnings without knowing the end ;-) One could go on and on about the many beauties of this performance and this whole 'Ring' in general, but I would now just like to end my ravings and say: please try and see this intensely dramatic Die Walkure for yourself and find out for yourself if you like (or indeed love) it. Those who already love the audio-only version of these operas need not hesitate, as the visual aspect greatly enhances the complete experience of this magnificent 'Gesamtkunstwerk' (at least, it does so for me)... Highly recommended."
Brilliant Continuation of the Tetralogy
David D. Dollinger | Pasadena, CA | 11/09/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"My initial reaction to Kupfer's Ring was based on a viewing via a VHS of the Rheingold and Walkure. To say that I was unenthusiastic was mild. Then Warner Music re-released the CD version and a friend lent it to me. First the sound: rich, emotionally involving, broad, but not ponderous tempi. Yes, Wagnerian singers are not what they used to be: light, not exactly heroic, but in this case I found Evans to be more listenable than Behrens or Jones, even though the latter's bona fides as a Wagnerian Soprano were unassailable even though voice could let her down. No, the revelation for me was John Tomlinson. I bought the first two operas and one Saturday night I was transfixed. What had seemed so-so was now something quite different. I am reluctant to say that viewing it as DVD rather than a VHS made the difference, but I am certain that that had something to do with it. Obviously the sound on a DVD is not going to sound as good as my stereo equipment, but there is an improvement with the DVD. Essentially I found myself gripped by the dramatic committment of all the major singers. Kupfer asks for a great deal and the singers delivered both physically and dramatically. I eagerly awaited the release of Siegfried. It was devastating when Warner released the wrong region in the US. However all good things come to he who waits and I was rewarded. Even more than the first operas, Siegfried has been staged in some sort of apolyptic future, a kind of "mad max" setting. Siegfried wears a mechanics blue jump suit. Red hair, of course, in view of the gene pool. It was a far more engrossing performance than the one he did for Levine, far more involving. Graham Clark is a superb Mime, oily, devious, pathetic and ultimately evil. Kupfer's Wotan has been criticized as being more of a manipulator than he should be. This didn't bother me as there are so many interpretations available. Brunhilde's awakening again will upset or irritate: Heil der Sonne. Well there is no sun but there is passion, involvement and again committment. She is somewhat overparted since this Brunhilde's vocal line lies higher than Walkure but she manages the high C at the end if without the power of a Nilsson, Flagstad or Varnay it is truly sung, not screamed. I await the release of the Gotterdammerung with increasing impatience."