Thu, Dec 14, 2006 - Page 14 News List

Classical DVD Reivew

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

The new set of Der Ring Des Nibelungen, staged by Staatsoper Stuttgart in 2002.

PHOTO COURTESY OF JINGO

DAS RHEINGOLD

Directed by Joachim Schlomer

Probst, Schuster, Indridadottir

JINGO JDV 311062

DIE WALKURE

Directed by Christoph Nel

Behle, Rootering, Denoke

JINGO JDV 311063

SIEGFRIED

Directed by Wieler and Morabito

West, Schone, Gasteen

JINGO JDV 311064

GOTTERDAMMERUNG
Directed by Peter Konwitschny

De Vol, Bonnema, Bracht

JINGO JDV 311065

I won't spend the whole of this review bemoaning the shortcomings of modern versions of Wagner's operas. This new set of Der Ring Des Nibelungen, staged by Staatsoper Stuttgart in 2002, certainly comes into this category, with Mime shaking out packet soups at the opening of Siegfried (Wagner had him trying to forge a sword), Siegfried rolling a cannabis spliff, and numerous other incongruities. I will simply repeat that I find more traditional versions, such as those conducted by Levine and Boulez, more satisfying because they better accord with the grandeur of the music and assist the subliminal power of the archetypal myths that are these operas' subject matter.

That said, how does this new version, distributed in Taiwan by Jingo, square up? As far as innovative productions go, it has some strong points. Musically it's magnificently played and often finely sung, even though few of the soloists are international celebrities. This is arguably the best DVD Ring available as far as the orchestral sound is concerned. Though each of the four operas has a different director and stage designer, and a different cast, the conductor, Lothar Zagrosek, remains in place throughout.

But it's the eccentric stagings that will strike viewers first. Das Rheingold is set in what looks like a 1930s hotel lobby. A gallery runs the width of the stage, while in the foreground stands a circular fountain bowl in which various characters are able to splash around. The gallery (with an elevator at one side) allows for the differences in level between the abode of the gods, the Rhine, and subterranean Nibelheim, while the fountain basin allows the Rhinemaidens to swim about, and various other characters to come to grief as the action proceeds.

The most successful opera — with its kitchen, frontier-fence and bedroom settings — is Siegfried. Jon Fredric West as Siegfried and Lisa Gasteen as Brunnhilde are both vocally magnificent. But it's nonetheless one of the features of this kind of production that we marvel when the occasional detail happens to accord with what's described in the text. Wotan, for instance, whose hat is so often mentioned, here at least wears a baseball cap (in a recent production in Canada he was bare-headed). But by and large such matches are incidental, chance plusses where you could have had 100 percent fidelity had the director so opted.

Once you've accepted these unfaithful readings, though, there are some pleasures to be had. The two giants in Rheingold are memorably presented as yobbish con men. The South Korean bass Attila Jun is outstanding as Hunding in Walkure (he's also Fafner in the third opera). Mime's dead body in Siegfried is dramatically seen propped up against wire-mesh netting, like a corpse in a concentration camp. The Woodbird looks like a contemporary urchin, Wotan sports a grotesquely protruding glass eye, while the drug-smoking Siegfried is offered as an overweight teenager in a T-shirt proclaiming "Sieg Fried."

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