John P McKelvey
American Record Guide
, February 2010
In Wagner, one absolute requirement is a good orchestra and conductor. That is what makes Wagner tick…It is unreasonable to expect a really minimal staging of the Ring on the smallish stage in Weimar to survive comparison with the great performances of the 20th Century, and in some ways it surely does not. It clearly fails to offer the visual spectacle. In fact, the visual matter is often brutally repulsive—unsuitable for children and sensitive young adults. So this stuff is purely for adult viewers. I found it deeply disturbing, though often powerfully effective.
Fortunately, the Weimar theater has a large orchestra pit, which accommodates 90 or more players with ease, and it is filled to the brim with the excellent players of the Staatskapelle Weimar. This orchestra is very good, quite up to anything Wagner requires. Its brass players in particular are flawless, and all the horn calls and other critical brass passages are performed essentially to perfection. Mr St Clair, an American, is tiny in physical dimensions, but of high stature musically, and his performances are powerful and grandly effective. In the case of Götterdämmerung, his tempos are often markedly slower than the norm, but they are never slack or flaccid. It is not easy to hold Wagner together at these tempos, but he makes it work.
The singing cast also has its high points…Catherine Foster is fine as Brünnhilde, vocally opulent and with a vibrato better controlled than most of today’s heavy hitters…Renatus Meszar is a splendid Hagen, in visual as well as vocal aspects of the role. His Act II summons and instructing the vassals is absolutely first-rate, despite the fact that they are a disheveled crew of field hands, artisans, and factory workers. Tomas Möwes does well as Alberich…Mario Hoff and Marietta Zumbült are effective as Gunther and Gutrune…The real strength in the singing cast resides in Nadine Weissmannn, who sings Waltraute, the second Norn and Flosshilde. I was favorably impressed by her singing as Erda in Rheingold and Siegfried. Her rich and smooth contralto was never marred by the usual excessive, wobbly vibrato. In Götterdämmerung, her delivery of Waltraute’s narrative is exceptionally fine—a virtuoso performance, as strong and as effective as it gets…Her appearance and dramatic persona are also quite outstanding. Unless I’m mistaken, she is destined for greatness.
Finally, there is Grane, Brünnhilde’s noble horse. In this performance his role is taken by Erika Krämer, a short woman of late middle age with long gray blond hair. She neither sings nor utters a single word, but merely follows Siegfried and Brünnhilde around, carrying their belongings. Her impersonation of their horse is not only effective, but oddly touching. It adds a strong touch of pathos and sympathy to an otherwise dark, brutal, subversive, and dispiriting visual experience.
The stage production is minimal to a fault. A single square platform suffices for most of the action. The only props are a few chairs and other such mundane objects. Lighting is predominantly dark blue. There is no fire nor flood in the immolation scene. Nor does Hagen ever leap into the Rhine singing “zurück vom Ringe!”. Instead he simply hangs around enjoying the scenery, a survivor. At the very end rain falls, dousing the actors onstage. The Rhinemaidens emerge from underneath the platform for a moment to receive the Ring from Brünnhilde. There is nothing to suggest the Rhine at any point—no fire, no flood, no flaming Valhalla. If you are after a Ring that depicts the action Wagner suggests in any realistic sense, this is not for you. But I must nevertheless confess that I found this performance fascinating— and deeply dispiriting. It left me profoundly unhappy, and not for a short time. If you are strong enough to stand its determined subversiveness and its psychological trials, it is firmly recommended…The video is clear and sharp, the camera work fairly conventional. Colors are rich and saturated. The sound, via two-channel PCM stereo, is clear, detailed, and undistorted. A five-channel surround audio option can also be summoned. There are excellent subtitles, useful notes and plot summaries.
The Weimar Ring started with a wacky and silly Rheingold, followed by a Walküre that I have not seen, but Mr Moses seemed to find it somewhat stronger. Siegfried then came on a seriously strong and convincing performance despite some strange scenes. Finally we have this potent though predictably weird Götterdämmerung. The production seems to gather strength as it goes along, and to amount to more than the sum of its parts.