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Arnold Whittall
Gramophone, April 2010

Juha Uusitalo is a commanding, mellifluous Wotan and although Jennifer Wilson’s Brünnhilde is relatively un-nuanced dramatically, she sings strongly and sensitively. There are no disappointments from gods, giants or Nibelungs…The youthful Orquestra de la Communitat Valenciana obediently and expertly delivers the plushy textures and stagey rhetoric Mehta requires…The rest of this Ring will be released shortly, when an overall response will become possible.



Scott Cantrell
The Dallas Morning News, March 2010

Considering the cost of mounting a Wagner Ring cycle, and the current scarcity of singers up to its challenges, it's amazing that one new Ring after another keeps turning up on DVD. The best-sung of all may be this 2007-09 cycle from the Reina Sofia Palace of the Arts in Valencia, Spain, designed by Santiago Calatrava. (Each opera is introduced with sexy views of the building, which looks like some space-age nesting bird.)

Visually, the production mixes imagination with excess. How much must this have cost? More on that presently.

This isn't a star-studded cast. Indeed, the only names that jumped out are Matti Salminen, sonorously menacing as Fasolt, Hunding and Hagen; Peter Seiffert, a lyric Siegmund; and Stephen Milling, an imposing Fafner. But the sheer consistency of the singing is impressive.

This or that singer may not be your ideal for a given role: Juha Uusitalo's Wotan hasn't the hugely luxurious tone of James Morris in his prime. Nonetheless, this is the rare Ring that hasn't a single vocal dog. Even the Loge isn't the usual nasal character tenor, but the surprisingly mellifluous John Daszak.

I've never heard a Brünnhilde at once as vocally ample and as secure as Valencia's Jennifer Wilson, or a Siegfried who commands a kind of heroic bel canto as stirringly as Lance Ryan.

Apparently conductor Zubin Mehta suggested the Catalan theater company La Fura dels Baus, led by director Carlus Padrissa, to stage this Ring. As now seems the norm, the basic look is sci-fi. There's next to no physical scenery, but high-tech video projections keep the eyes very busy.

There are some striking gestures. The Rhinemaidens splash and dive in transparent boxes of water. The evil smith Mime is turned into a mad scientist, in a diabolical laboratory. The gods and Valkyries bob up and down on cranes visibly manipulated by stagehands. (The gods just think they're in control.)

Wotan looks like a mountain man in Masonic drag. Siegmund and Siegfried favor animal-skin attire, and in Hunding's house, a rope-bound Sieglinde creeps around on all fours. (Well, Siegmund does remember their father, Wotan in disguise, as "Wolfe.")

Emblazoned with euro and yen signs, Hagen and Gunther are portrayed as money-obsessed market manipulators, an apt current image for evildoers. Once Siegfried falls under Hagen's spell, he adopts the Gibichungs' Wall Street nerd look…Hardly a minute passes without all sorts of stuff happening on those video screens, from abstract swirls to speeding airplane views over mountains…It's sung with rare consistency, though, and it's not boring. Mehta tends to favor leisurely tempos and a low dramatic temperature…But the young-looking orchestra plays very well, and both audio and video standards are very high.



Anne Midgette
The Washington Post, March 2010

This fluid, futuristic production, filmed during a 2007 run in the new opera house in Valencia, is filled with eye-candy images (Franc Aleu did the videos), starting from the opening of the first curtain in "Das Rheingold," when sinuous shapes of streaming water arc across the back wall while the Rheinmaidens splash and sing in tanks.

Flights of birds; showers of gold; a vertiginous mountainscape; and a sinuous silvery tree, its branches illuminated with floods of changing color, form just a few of the backdrops to action carried out by gods in sci-fi costumes standing in large cranes (Loge rides around on a Segway) and humans in aboriginal garb. Sieglinde, in "Die Walküre," sports a bone corset covering her torso, and her son Siegfried, like his mother, has dreadlocks and tribal tattoos.

High-tech, in short, is the stuff of the immortals in this conception; human beings are the building blocks of the new world order. The Rhinegold is initially depicted as a giant, golden human embryo projected on the back wall; Alberich, after he steals it, uses it to create a factory in which he hatches an army of golden soldiers, hanging unceremoniously from meat hooks and later doing double duty as a tangible embodiment of the Nibelung horde.

Valhalla is first presented as a projection of a metallic mesh in human form, and then embodied by a curtain of live bodies suspended from above, linking hands and feet to form a kind of physical macrame. Clusters of bodies represent the dragon; hold the torches of Brünnhilde's magic fire; and load down a huge swinging wrecking ball over the carnage of battle during the Ride of the Valkyries, while a mammoth globe spins on the back wall.

It's seductive to look upon, despite the annoying cutaway shots of Mehta conducting the orchestra at random moments, thus breaking the narrative thread. The balance between the human and the monumental is also occasionally skewed when the director focuses too much on the big picture, leaving key moments - the unveiling of Valhalla, the death of Siegmund - to take place on an empty stage while he prepares for a big visual crescendo a few measures ahead.

The music is in generally capable hands, allowing for the tendency of live recordings to even out vocal discrepancies and make voices sound bigger. Jennifer Wilson, the Washington native, is an impressive Brünnhilde, and I finally understood what the fuss was about Juha Uusitalo, the Finnish bass-baritone whose Wotan here sounds firmer than the subsequent work of his that I've heard. Lance Ryan is, if not a discovery as Siegfried, certainly a tenor to watch; though his parents, Peter Seiffert and Petra Maria Schnitzer (Siegmund and Sieglinde), sounded slightly pushed.

You might wish for a more subtle or profound conductor than Mehta - some of the leitmotifs sound bright and bouncy rather than freighted with significance - but he conducts with an energy that matches the general tenor of the production and represents an antidote to some of the drawn-out readings favored by other conductors. And the orchestra sounds quite good. A benchmark it's not; but for "Ring" fans, this is a set worth seeing.






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1:31:39 AM, 30 July 2014
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