WAGNER: Das Rheingold

Even when video tape and laser discs
ventured into operatic fare, Ring
cycles didn’t exactly crowd the market. Not so today. The classic Boulez/Chereau set is in its second DVD
incarnation, and lovers of the traditional have had the Metropolitan Opera’s
versions on silver disc for a while. The Barenboim cycle is emerging, and the
last couple years have seen a controversial Stuttgart set and a recent
Barcelona production. Now OpusArte offers on DVD a Pierre Audi-directed Ring, with sets by George Tsypin, which De
Nederlandse Opera staged in 1999. At this rate, avid Wagner lovers will soon
have so much of their master’s work on DVD to contemplate that they may need
social services to drop by and remind them to eat, bathe, change their

Das Rheingold, the so-called
prologue to the three-opera Ring,
can fit onto one DVD disc, but Opus Arte has included a worthy bonus feature
of 50 minutes length, covering the production of the entire cycle, requiring
an additional disc. Most remarkable for its candid interviews, this bonus has
glowing remarks from the Wotan, John Brˆcheler, on the rewards of
participating in the production, and somewhat more ambivalent comments from
Jeannine Altmeyer (who appears as Brunhilde, and therefore is otherwise not
to be seen here). The soprano found one of the key features of some of the
stagings – having the orchestra basically on stage with the performers –
necessitated less detailed singing than she would like to have offered. That
cannot be judged on the basis of this Rheingold, but she also suggests that the
direction had her lost between very specific blocking and otherwise
ambiguous, undefined instructions.

Perhaps that last attribute explains why the opera as filmed, while quite
impressive in its individual elements, fails to achieve the grander, deeper
impact that a fine production of Rheingold can. Some broader integral
vision might have pulled together the striking moments into an impressive
whole. Instead, this intermissionless opera feels episodic, rambling.

The staging is dominated by a huge platform of metallic scaffolding with a
Plexiglass surface. This tilts at various angles, rising and lowering
(sometimes alarmingly so, with respect to the singers’ safety). A secondary
structure intersects at times to suggests different planes, or locales. On
the one hand, each different setting does have its own design, in a way. At
the same time, the set never really looks all that different, just shifted
around, and no real sense of “scene” develops – with the exception of
Alberich’s underworld, with its amazing explosions of fire and the slaves,
looking like chubby versions of the aliens from Close Encounters, scurrying about.

Eiko Ishioka’s costumes manage to be striking without assisting in developing
character. The gods wear brightly colored robes of vaguely Greek design, and
also rather silly looking rubber headpieces where hair should be. The giants
appear to be made of stone, with something of an Aztec warrior look. Loge
wears black, and Chris Merritt has been directed to strike vogue-ish poses,
for no discernible reason. The trolls have misshapen, bald heads, and their
gold-tinted clothing sprouts unruly hair. Of course, the various populations
of Wagner’s world must be differentiated, but whatever alchemy that makes
them all part of a larger, coherent universe remains absent here.

The performers make valiant efforts. Graham Clark, a stellar Loge in the
Barcelona cycle, offers his trademark energy as Mine. Henk Smit’s Alberich
lacks that edge of pathos which makes the character come alive. Merritt seems
constricted by the odd directorial vision of Loge, but sings more than
capably. Impressive vocally, Reinhild Runkel has no glamour as Fricka, but
still manages to impress more than John Brˆcheler does as Wotan. He lacks
both the character’s seedy grandeur and an attractive, powerful voice.
Smaller roles are aptly done, and Hartmut Haenchen conducts with authority if
not imagination.

Later releases of this cycle may offer more than the Rheingold. For many, the Boulez/Chereau
staging will remain the benchmark for this “prologue.”

Chris Mullins
Los Angeles Unified School District, Secondary Literacy

image_description=Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold
product_title=Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold
product_by=John Brˆcheler, Henk Smit, Graham Clark, Reinhild Runkel, Chris Merritt, Jurgen Freier, Residentie Orkest, Hartmut Haenchen (cond.)
product_id=Opus Arte OA0946D [2DVDs]