Valencia Ring: Das Rheingold

production itself is a fanciful blend of innovative stagecraft and visual
projections that works well to respect the traditional libretto and
simultaneously explore the contemporary technology. With a bow to the
athleticism of the Cirque du Soleil, the set makes use of spatiality that is
not always possible in all of the houses that take on this opera. At the same
time, the visual medium brings together the visual elements effortlessly, with
a fine mixture of close-ups, full-stage views, and cross-cuts that call
attention to the effects of stage designer Roland Olbeter.

At the core of this video is a solid musical execution led by Zubin Mehta.
The True HD 7.1 sound offers a crisp and clear audio track, which captures the
details of the orchestra effectively. At times the mix favors the orchestra
sound at the expense of some of the stage sounds, as with the splashes of the
Rhine Maidens in the first scene. Here the women perform from individual water
tanks, which eventually suspend over the stage, and in this milieu they
sometimes splash water at Alberich as they taunt him or spray water across the
stage in gestures that accompany the fluid, mercury-like projects. This is
quite effective, and works well in conveying the sense of the score. One detail
distract, though, with the projection of an infant, at the presentation of the
sword-motif resembling the free-floating space child depicted in the latter
part of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey and
anticipating too soon the conception of the redeemer in Siegmund’s
son Siegfried — at this point in the opera, Alberich has not yet actually
stolen the gold to set these events into motion. This image soon gives way to a
more appropriate project of the color of gold that almost overwhelms the
staging, and the crisp, sharply defined visuals bring this out well for the
viewer, perhaps more effectively than in a live performance. At the end of the
first scene, though, Alberich drains the tanks of the Rhine maidens, and in
doing so, leaves them gasping like fish out of an aquarium. This is an
intriguing concept in that the dwarf has just robbed the Rhine maidens of the
gold that was the focus of their existence, and this offers a good parallel.
Yet when some men come to tie up the impaired Rhine maidens and carry them away
trussed like quarry, the gesture is disturbing.

With the second scene, the graphic element makes use of projects of plans,
which enhance the text of scene, with its focus on the exchange between Fricka
and Wotan about the construction of Valhalla. Here Juha Uusitalo is impressive
with his sonorous and lyrical bass voice in creating a sonic image of the god
positing the world he has put into motion. Fricka, as portrayed by Anna
Larsson, is solicitous and engaging, as she prompts Wotan for her validly
deeper concerns. Larsson is nicely lyrical in this role, as she shapes the
phrases and thus supports the text convincingly. The use of movable
construction lifts is effective in a scene which some directors envision
statically, with Wotan and Fricka merely pointing to a painted flat of
Valhalla. The constant motion might also challenge the principals, and as such,
they meet the demands well, without being affected by the sometimes swift
movement. Later in this scene, though, the image of child, now suggesting a
kind of Buddha, dominates Wotan’s monologue.

The third scene is also provocative in its use of human bodies suspended
from meathooks, like carcasses to be processed at a factory. Here Alberich,
depicted by Franz-Joseph Kapellmann, gives a fine point to the role and Mehta
revels in the music of Nibelheim scene. The staging conveys a sense the cinema
with its use of multiple layers of details and appropriate colors. The
close-ups are useful in offering a human side to the scene, while also putting
the mechanistic elements into the background, akin to the way this was
presented in the film version of Tolkien’s Lord of the
, especially when Alberich displays the oversize ring. The only image
that is sometimes out of place is the placement of Loge on a Segue, which
conveys mobility, but also seems easily datable. Yet the scene also contains an
over-the-top evocation of the dragon with torches in the hands of each of the
actors who are part of the contrivance that represents the beast. Similarly the
visual effects at the end of the scene in the contest with Alberich as the
toad, works wonderfully well in the film medium of the DVD.

The projections likewise move the viewer well from the end of the third
scene to the fourth in ways that are not always so convincing. In contrast, the
present production deserves attention for its effective combination of images
with music. Even the spinning of the globe fits well into the tempos of the
orchestral interlude which sometimes occurs in a darkened house. This sets the
stage for the concluding scene in which the action sets into motion the
destinies that will be worked out in the three operas that follow. Elements
from this passage are also part of the scene with Erda, sung well by Christa
Mayer, in a touching staging. Mayer has a silvery sound that works well in
conveying the text, rather than some of the darker voices used for her role.
Another effective performer is Stephen Milling, who brings fine shape to the
role of Fafner in his distinctive approach to the role. Likewise, the elements
of the opera come together well in the final part of the scene, as the dealings
with the giants conclude and Donner’s solemn declarations allow the
gods to complete their long-await entrance into Valhalla. The use of lifts,
again, works well, with Ilya Bannik as Donner given the center of the stage and
then moved away effortlessly, as the other characters are moved into the
staging. The construct of Valhalla as a pyramid of figures ingeniously
intertwined allows a human element to enter into this sometimes technologically
dominated production.

All in all, this is a production of Das Rheingold that deserves
attention for its solid conception of the work. If it is sometimes excessive,
that aspect of the production fits well into the nature of Wagner’s
work. The entire production shows a fine sense of imagination in terms of the
imagery, visual space, colors, motion, and costume, which La Fura dels Baus
delivers with excellent style. At times it the production of this famous opera
remains something to enjoy visually, while also savoring the fine performances
of a well-chosen cast, both of which are served well by the clear images and
full sound of the Blu-ray medium. The clearly articulated text emerges nicely
in the sound mix, and those who wish to use subtitles have access to the
libretto in German, along with translations in English, French, and Spanish.
More than that, those interested in the conception of this Ring cycle
can pursue it on the documentary, which offers details about the production.

With its finely rehearsed orchestra, well-matched principals, and excellent
sound, the DVD has much to offer. Those who are intrigued by this production
may find it useful to return to various parts of the work, which are
thoughtfully banded for easy reference. Ingenious in execution, it is musically
satisfying, as Zubin Mehta contributes a fine video to the discography of
Wagner’s Ring der Nibelungen.

James L. Zychowicz

image_description=Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold
product_title=Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold
product_by=Juha Uusitalo (Wotan), Ilya Bannik (Donner), Germ·n Villar (Froh), John Daszak (Loge), Franz-Joseph Kappellmann (Alberich), Gerhard Siegel (Mime), Matti Salminen (Fasolt), Stephen Milling (Fafner), Anna Larsson (Fricka), Sabina von Walther (Freia), Christa Mayer (Erda), Silvia V·squez (Woglinde), Ann-Katrin Naidu (Wellgunde), Hanna Esther Minutillo (Floflhilde), Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, Zubin Mehta, conductor,
product_id=Unitel Classica 10064 [Blu-Ray DVD]