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.