, July 2009
This 2008 production of Wagner’s Ring cycle by the German National Theater and the Weimar State Opera combined superb staging with a distinctly modern slant on the costuming. And the performances were exceptional; the two giants, Fasolt and Fafner, were particularly amusing. Both were on stilts with heavily padded features that made them look larger than life, with one in a business suit and the other looking very much like Frankenstein! And for most of the scenes involving Alberich, singer Thomas Mowes was in a trench, with a costuming effect that shortened his legs and gave him a very convincing dwarf-like appearance that was both effective and amusing. All of the performances throughout were uniformly superb, with excellent acting that was extremely well-sung. The orchestra led by Carl St. Clair was also magnificent. The DTS lossless surround provided a perfect mix of singers and orchestra.
To recap the action: the dwarf Alberich spies on the three Rhinemaidens swimming, and they unwittingly reveal the secret of the Rhinegold to him—that a ring fashioned from the gold will give him unlimited power—and he quite unthinkably and promptly steals it. Meanwhile, Wotan, the god of light, has made an arrangement with the two giants Fasolt and Fafner, who have built Valhalla—the fortress of the gods—in exchange for the goddess Freya. Freya possesses the golden apples that enable the gods’ eternal youth, and she resists being offered in payment to the giants. The demigod Loge comes up with a novel solution to everyone’s problem—why not offer the giants Alberich’s stolen gold in payment for building Valhalla? The giants take Freya hostage until Wotan and Loge can produce the golden ransom. Wotan and Loge then meet Alberich’s brother Mime, who has been enslaved. Mime has fashioned a magic helmet—the Tarnhelm—which gives the wearer invisibility and ultimate power. Although Alberich already has both the ring and the helmet, Wotan and Loge cunningly trick him and trap him. Wotan takes the ring, but not before Alberich places a curse on it. And although he has been warned not to, Wotan gives the ring to the giants, who return (with some trepidation) Freya. Although the gods are now free to enter Valhalla, the curse has begun that will shake the very foundation of the fortress of the gods forever.
The image quality of this Blu-ray disc from ArtHaus Musik was nothing short of superb. Although many of the scenes were very dark throughout, the black levels were quite deep, and the disc displayed excellent contrast that offered a highly detailed picture. Colors were accurate, bright and quite vivid. And the sound quality was also superb; I did all my listening through the DTS Master Audio 7.1 track (downsampled to 5.1), and it provided an immersive and dynamic listening experience. And the generously proportioned disc even includes trailers for not only the remaining Ring installments, but also for additional offerings from ArtHaus Musik.
This is a shockingly good intro to the Ring cycle; the combination of great visuals along with superb acting and singing [and useful super-titles for most of us…Ed.] makes this Blu-ray darn-near irresistible! You’d be hard pressed to find a better Rheingold than this one—highly recommended!