DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

WAGNER: Der Ring Des Nibelungen, (complete)

All four of Patrice Chereau's exciting Bayreuth productions, newly remastered

Published on September 26, 2005

WAGNER: Der Ring Des Nibelungen, (complete)
WAGNER: Der Ring Des Nibelungen, (complete)
WAGNER: Der Ring Des Nibelungen, (complete)
WAGNER: Der Ring Des Nibelungen, (complete)
WAGNER: Der Ring Des Nibelungen, (complete)

Gwyneth Jones, Donald McIntrye, Manfred Jung, et al.  Conducted by Pierre Boulez
Produced by Patrice Chereau
Video direction by Brian Large
Studio: Universal/DGG
Video: 1.33:1, color, newly remastered
Audio: DTS 5.1, DD 5.1, PCM stereo
Extras: 1 DVD, Der Ring des Nibelungen The Making of…
Length: 14 hours on 4 DVDs
Rating: *****

Wait a minute. Didn’t they release this Ring cycle on DVD on October
30, 2001? Yes. So why do it again? In one phrase: technological
improvement. Amazon, prepare yourself. There’ll soon be a stampede.
Scores of Wagnerians are about to unload their 2001 Chereau/Boulez Ring
DVDs. And well they should. Universal/DGG, by vastly improving its
sound and look, has brought it up to 21st century standards.

There is little I can add to describe the appeal of this now legendary
recording. It seems like every move the principals made was the right
one: Filming it in Wagner’s theatre in Bayreuth, in the absence of a
wheezing, clap-happy audience. Casting attractive and accomplished
singers who could also act. Employing wondrous effects and settings:
the slow zoom out after the Prelude of Gotterdammerung, followed by a
slow zoom in for Act I. The dark satanic mill of Alberich’s gold
miners. The lumbering giants Fasolt and Fafner in Das Rhinegold – half
men, half puppets, lasciviously pawing Freia’s breasts. The affecting
humanist funeral of Siegfried, with mourners artfully double-exposed.
Stunningly sensuous love duets in Die Walkure (Siegmund and Sieglunde)
and Siegfried (Siegfried and Brunhilde). And of course, this coup de
grâce: an edge-pushing innovation that scalded hidebound
traditionalists. Rhinemaidens as prostitutes? Whoever thought of such a
thing?

And of course there is the music. Through a technology called AMSI II,
Angelika Rudloff has converted the rather muddled stereo sound to
crystalline 5.1 surround sound. As a colleague (and owner of the
previous set) commented while watching Siegfried, “I hadn’t thought
they were very good singers.” She thinks differently now. Listen to
Alberich’s curse at the end of Das Rhinegold, with crashing chords
resounding around you. Hear the ride of the Valkyries in Die Walkure
and you’d swear they were swirling right behind you. And Brunnhilde’s
immolation? As Gwyneth Jones hurls herself into the flames, experience
the cycle’s final chords thumping through your subwoofer and rear
speakers.

Boulez conducts his orchestra and singers better than any time in his
career. Manfred Jung heroically sings the forging song in Siegfried.
His last aria in Gotterdammerung recounts Siegfried’s exploits, a blend
of delicate themes and gilded bravado. The producers of this series
have also improved the video signal. In the previous DVD, the love
scene between Sieglinde and Siegmund lacked definition and inherited
the bleeding reds of the eighties videotape. Not this version. The
engineers have sharpened the signal so that it looks great on both
flat-screen TVs and older CRTs. This improvement comes at the expense
of a slight gain in contrast, however. Chereau’s lighting was contrasty
to begin with, and some scenes have too many specular highlights. Other
scenes, like the ones with the Rhinemaidens and the Norns in
Gotterdammerung are simply too dark and nothing can change that. There
have been other worthy Ring cycles since this one. The recent one by
the Metropolitan Opera is a competent and often inspiring production.
But I still prefer this one for the boldness of its inventions and its
forward thrust. Fourteen hours long and not a single dull moment!

The set comes with a companion DVD with the awkward title of Der Ring
des Nibelungen, The Making of. An hour long, it features interviews
with Patrice Chereau, Pierre Boulez, Brian Large, and two of the stars,
Gwyneth Jones and Donald McIntrye. Containing some unnecessary and
plodding moments, the documentary is most intriguing when it shows the
history of Ring production through the ages and quotes some of Wagner’s
descendants in charge of Bayreuth. It’s a good introduction to what
you’re about to see, but don’t linger on it. What follows will take
your breath away for days–and decades.

- Peter Bates
 




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