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Andrew Quint
Fanfare, November 2010

WAGNER, R.: Rheingold (Das) (Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", 2007) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 700604
WAGNER, R.: Walkure (Die) (Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", 2008) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 700804
WAGNER, R.: Siegfried (Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", 2008) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 701004
WAGNER, R.: Gotterdammerung (Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", 2009) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 701204

Essential for video-collecting Wagnerians is the Valencia Ring, available in both DVD and Blu-ray versions. This production is at once endlessly inventive—the contributions of the cutting-edge theater troupe La Fura del Baus and Franc Aleu’s mind-blowing high-definition video in particular—and still fully in keeping with the composer’s intentions, whatever that means. Zubin Mehta leads a youthful but extremely well-prepared orchestra with firm dramatic purpose.




Peter J. Rabinowitz
Fanfare, November 2010

WAGNER, R.: Rheingold (Das) (Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", 2007) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 700604
WAGNER, R.: Walkure (Die) (Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", 2008) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 700804
WAGNER, R.: Siegfried (Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", 2008) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 701004
WAGNER, R.: Gotterdammerung (Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", 2009) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 701204

Pride of place has to go to the Valencia Ring (and I guess it’s a cheat to include all four operas as a single selection), with Zubin Mehta presiding over a cast of singers that’s exceptional in the principal roles (including Jennifer Wilson as Brünnhilde, Juha Uusitalo as Wotan, and Lance Ryan as Siegfried), in what we might call the middle-rank roles (e.g., Petra Maria Schnitzer’s magnificent Sieglinde), and in the comprimario roles (if we can apply that term to Wagner) as well (I’m particularly taken with Anna Larsson’s Fricka). The production is sometimes deep, sometimes daffy, and nearly always dazzling; and for all its wrong turns (hardly avoidable in a work of this length), it’s guided, unlike so many radical re-imaginings these days, by a profound understanding of and love for Wagner’s score.



Peter J. Rabinowitz
Fanfare, July 2010

WAGNER, R.: Rheingold (Das) (Palau de les Arts “Reina Sofia”, 2007) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 700604
WAGNER, R.: Walkure (Die) (Palau de les Arts “Reina Sofia”, 2008) (Blu-ray, Full-HD)
700804

This production, directed by Carlus Padrissa, is being hailed as a “Ring for the 21st century,” and if it’s a bit too early to make claims about the zeitgeist of the century, it’s not too early to suggest that this Valencia Ring—like those by Chéreau, Schenk, and Kupfer—is a statement to be reckoned with, a production against which others will be judged. Most immediately obvious is the sheer spectacle, topped off by (but not limited to) the often acrobatic participation of the Catalan theater group La Fura dels Baus and by Franc Aleu’s video projections, rightly described as “stunning”…while some might find the production a touch hyperactive, at least there’s not a moment in the hours and hours of viewing here that’s less than visually compelling—something rarely said about even the best productions of The Ring… But the moments of sheer wonder—the grimy industrial backdrop of Niebelheim, the airborne acrobats who create Valhalla, the kaleidoscopic tree in the first act of Walküre—more than compensate, at least on Blu-ray, where they emerge with astonishing clarity.

For all the razzle-dazzle, though, this is a profoundly human Ring, and the production is even more gripping for its dramatic interpretation than for its spectacle. I use the word “interpretation”—rather than “reconception” or “vision”—advisedly… It’s possible to be radical and respectful at the same time, and the Valencia Ring proves it. Archeological rather than disruptive, these discs deepen our understanding of Wagner rather than overturn it.

Two examples can stand for many. First, the treatment of Fricka. Fricka is usually cast as an aging frump. As a consequence, her defense of marriage seems more pragmatic than principled; she seems to be insisting on marital fidelity because, sexually speaking, marriage is all that she can now depend on. Anna Larsson, looking a lot more like Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago than Christa Ludwig in the Schenk/Levine/Met Ring, is a very different kind of Fricka. She’s smart and sexy, with a voice that can stand up to her husband’s and with just a hint of the dominatrix—her principles obviously don’t stem from sexual weakness. Her relationship with Wotan thus becomes deeper, her position harder to brush off—and act II of Walküre becomes even more heartbreaking than usual.

Second, the treatment of Sieglinde. Many productions portray Sieglinde as a generous and gracious hostess—even a regal one, as Jessye Norman is in the Met version. Hunding may not be the best of husbands, but at least, it seems, he’s given her middle-class comforts. In Chéreau’s version, in fact, he’s given her something even classier than that. But is that really what’s in the score and the libretto? Let’s remember that Sieglinde was brutally kidnapped and—not to put too fine a point on it—turned into Hunding’s sex slave. That history of sexual violence is never occluded in this tough-minded probing of Walküre’s first act. When we first see her, she’s outdoors, tied up like the dog she’s been reduced to, scuttling among the bones outside the dwelling. Her initial scoping out of Siegmund involves not only sight (this production is especially sensitive to the psychology of the look, especially when characters are silent) but smell, too, as she sniffs him to come to terms with what’s happening. And we see the growing love between the twins not simply in the growing erotic charge, but—even more touchingly—in the way Sieglinde (and Siegmund too, although to a lesser extent) becomes humanized in the course of the act. It’s not just the big gestures; the small gestures, too, reinforce this strange tenderness of the previously uncivilized. Note, for instance, how she gives the prostrate Siegmund water by dipping her hair in a bowl and then transferring it to his lips.

It doesn’t hurt that Peter Seiffert and Petra Maria Schnitzer as Siegmund and Sieglinde are both in exceptional voice. Especially powerful, to my ears, is Schnitzer’s mad scene in act II, where her sense of grief threatens to undo all her progress and return her to an animal existence. But then again, nearly everyone sings and acts well in this production… Juha Uusitalo is as poignant a Wotan as any around today—and Jennifer Wilson manages to convey Brünnhilde’s growing wisdom with remarkable sensitivity. Matti Salminen is such a sympathetic Fasolt that it’s something of a shock to see how raw his Hunding is.

Zubin Mehta’s conducting is slightly on the broad side, rarely pushing the tempos, and concentrating on the long lines. He occasionally slights details (I’d like more bite on the trip down to Niebelheim), but he never loses his grip on the larger architecture. The youthful orchestra plays with tremendous heft and panache, clearly enjoying every minute (something you can’t always say for Boulez’s Bayreuth crew). As far as audio goes, the 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is suitably overwhelming and enveloping. Enthusiastically endorsed.



Stephen Habington
La Scena Musicale, April 2010

WAGNER, R.: Rheingold (Das) (Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", 2007) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 700604
WAGNER, R.: Walkure (Die) (Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", 2008) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 700804
WAGNER, R.: Siegfried (Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", 2008) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 701004
WAGNER, R.: Gotterdammerung (Palau de les Arts "Reina Sofia", 2009) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) 701204

Dedicated Wagnerians with inquiring minds have a tough decision to make. Are they to rush out and purchase the individual issues of the latest video Ring cycle or gamble on saving a few bucks on the fall release of complete boxed sets (Blu-ray or conventional DVD)? These Valencia productions are terrific and certainly fine enough to justify acting in haste.

La Fura dels Baus is a versatile (and acrobatic) Catalan theatre company. Zubin Mehta caught them in performance at the Salzburg Festival and suggested their participation in staging the Valencia Ring. In this, and his stipulation that the new opera house recruit a world class Wagner orchestra (“Because a Wagner orchestra can play anything.”), house intendant Helga Schmidt fulfilled his wishes and also assembled a remarkable singing cast. La Fura’s stated intention was to show “the suicidal degradation of nature by technological man.” To achieve this goal,a great deal of high technology and gadgetry is employed. Stage scenery was largely replaced by giant screen 3-D animation designed and operated by Franc Aleu. The costumes by Chu Uroz make the gods look godly and evoke the development of primitive man to the decadence of the Gibichungs. Carlus Padrissa binds all of this together to produce something that reflects Wagner’s original (and until now impossible to realize) stage directions. There is a single, but psychologically apt, self-indulgence and scarcely an awkward pause in the entire marathon. Above all, Padrissa succeeds on the level of pure storytelling.

Maestro Mehta’s direction of the score can stand comparison with the best. A musician who has pondered the scores for a half-century gives us the performance of a lifetime. Mehta makes the music into a major protagonist in the drama. At the final curtain, he leads the entire orchestra onto the stage to take a well-deserved bow. The vocal cast is outstanding in the quality of singing and the ability to portray the characters. Juha Uusitalo (Wotan/Wanderer), John Daszak (Loge), Franz-Josef Kapellmann (Alberich) Gerhard Siegel (Mime), Peter Seiffert (Siegmund) and Petra Maria Schnitzer (Sieglinde) render landmark performances. The steadfastWagner veteran, Matti Salminen, takes on the roles of Fasolt, Hunding and Hagen with great distinction. But perhaps the greatest discovery of cycle is the pairing of Jennifer Wilson and Lance Ryan as Brünnhilde and Siegfried. A perfect matchup in these roles has been hard to achieve in recent years. Hopefully the Wilson/Ryan combination will continue to grace opera stages for the foreseeable future. There is not one weak link in the cast.

Collectors who insist on traditional staging of the Ring are probably best served by the Metropolitan Opera production conducted by James Levine (DG). For those who remain mesmerized by the Bayreuth productions of Boulez/Chereau (DG) and Barenboim/Kupfer (Warner), this Valencia Ring is very much in the same league. It surpasses by a vast margin last year’s award-winning Copenhagen Ring (Decca).






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7:15:44 PM, 23 November 2014
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