Slow and stately, abstract and modern, a hybrid Wagner
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 09/12/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"As the world of the Gods comes crashing down at the end of Wagner's tetralogy, one should feel as if something has been lost with the end of the age of divinity and the advent of the human era. Certainly something momentous has occurred. While I was watching Deborah Polaski as Brunnhilde negotiate this 4 1/2 hour opera in the biggest pair of pants I've ever seen, reminding me of the Talking Head's David Byrne and his "Big Suit", I couldn't help thinking what a sense of relief she felt because the new human era meant a change of clothing. Her big pants are a hoot: she wears several different pair, and if they are meant as a symbol, all that I can think of is that they symbolize an amazingly successful diet. Like much set and costume design coming out of Europe these days, this stage production features abstract geometrical shapes in an austere, minimalist set and strange costumes suggestive of a sharp break with the past (their function, presumably, given the controversial past of this composer and this opera).
Gotterdammerung features some of Wagner's most glorious music. I am happy to report that, although Levine conducts the Bayreuther Festspiele using exceptionally slow tempi, the musical performance is splendid. Levine imparts a Furtwangler like grandeur to the opera. It is truly monumental in scope. He carefully articulates Wagner's lengthy melodic lines, making them even more stately and emphasizes the opera's profundity. This is a titanic Gotterdammerung, worthy of the Gods. But such monumentality is frequently undercut by Alfred Kirchner's totally abstract staging and set/costume designer Rosalie's (Gudrun Muller) slightly bizarre sartorial choices. Levine's musical conception, though grand, is traditional. The staging most definitely is not. That makes for an uncomfortable hybrid, at times. I was certainly conscious of it when my attention should have been focused on the opera itself.
Bayreuth's beautiful and unique acoustics were splendidly recorded for this 1997 performance. Listening in the crystalline multispeaker DTS 5.1 format, there is a wonderful "you-are-there" feel to the recording. On a good system it sounds great. Levine's musical conception strikes me, at least, as better than the Met performance recorded a decade earlier. He plumbs the depths of Wagner's lofty conception, revealing some of the musical profundity that is not always brought out in lesser and shallower performances. Levine imparts a "lived-in" feeling to this score: he knows it well and has obviously thought about it deeply and for a long time. He has something to communicate and he does so without dawdling or noodling around, despite the length of the performance.
The singing is very good, helped by Bayreuth's glorious acoustics. The aforementioned Polaski is excellent, as are Hanna Schwarz as Waltraute, Wolfgang Schmidt as Siegfried, Falk Struckmann as Gunther, Eric Halfvarson as Hagen and Ekkehard Wlaschihaas as Alberich. The combination of Levine's more traditional musical conception, Bayreuth's uniquely 19th Century musical and acoustic atributes and some exceptional singing almost completely offsets the occasionally pointless (if not silly) abstractions that a tradition-denying Europe seems wedded to at this moment in history. The opera runs a lengthy 275 minutes (see what I mean by grand and stately?) spread across 2 discs. It is recorded in 16:9 widescreen, digitally remastered on region code 0 (worldwide) DVDs. The usual menus and languages as well as DGG previews are here.
Whatever shortcomings I found in the production design, dwindle in the face of such glorious music. This DVD release is a good investment for all Wagnerians. Not indispensible but certainly desirable. Recommended.
Wretched stereo sound
SBeckmesser | New York City | 10/11/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The DTS surround sound, which is pretty good, is nonetheless SYNTHESIZED, as the remastering credits on the last page of the booklet make perfectly clear. On the other hand, the PCM stereo soundtrack, which presumably served as the basis of the of the multichannel synthesis, sounds like it derived from a low-bitrate webcast (like MP3 or WMA running at 44 kbps) and is disgracefully bad from such a prestigious company and such a modern recording. The Barenboim ring (Warners) sounds better in stereo and has true surround sound. Besides the DG technical quality, I enjoyed the performance, the minimalist, non-Eurotrash staging and the unobtrusive video direction. The opening Norn scene, which has been tough to bring off on video, I thought particularly well handled. The shark-fin shape shown on the cover derives from the Wieland Wagner's 2nd Bayreuth staging (1962) of Tristan Act III. It also serves as a handy reflector for the voices standing in front of it."
AN IMAGINATIVE TWILIGHT THAT'S WORTH A VIEWING
R. Olsavicky | Butler, Pa. USA | 01/20/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When this production of Wagner's RING was introduced at the Bayreuth Festival it caused quite a stir. People really discussed it and debated it at every intermission and end of performance. Rosalie's sets and costumes were the main topic of discussion. People were not sure how to take them. Today, they don't seem all that controversial to me; in fact they seem tame compared to some of today's Euro Trash Abominations. In my humble opinion they are not my favorite but, they work. I've seen a lot worse. This would not be my first recommendation; yet, I don't find the concepts offensive at all. A creative mind has definitely done some real thinking and applied it to solving some of the Ring's challenges. Many of her solutions really work. I would be interested in seeing the rest of this production; but that has not been recorded or filmed.
Now to the music and artists. With James Levine all matters orchestral and musical are in a well seasoned MAESTRO'S hands. He is excellent with a slow, broad interpretation; almost a Furtwangler or a Knappertbusch. Deborah Polaski is a rich voiced Brunnhilde with plenty of stamina and rich focused tone. She leaves all current Wagnerian Sopranos in the dust. She is just the best we had then in 1997. I didn't expect to enjoy Wolfgang Schmidt's Siegfried. I heard him do a disastrous performance of both Siegfrieds in San Francisco and it was horrible. He pleasantly surprised me with a much better performance here; not one of the greats but, more than just acceptable. In fact, he does some lovely mezza voce singing.
In conclusion, this is not one of those ESSENTIAL recordings or interpretations yet, I am very glad I watched it and will return to view it again.