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Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, December 2010

I choose this as a symbol for the whole of the Valencia Ring, the best DVD cycle to come our way since Copenhagen. It’s a production that skilfully combines 21st Century video technology with the ancient myths that inspired the composer. With first rate singing and outstanding orchestral playing, it’s a Ring to treasure, marred only by some infuriatingly fragmented camera work at times.



Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, May 2010



Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, May 2010

The Valencia Ring reaches its triumphant conclusion. While I have praised this cycle throughout I was beginning to fear that Padrissa and his team had peaked in Rheingold as it had produced a more dramatically involving experience than either Walküre or Siegfried. However they have pulled out all the dramatic stops to provide a thrilling culmination to the cycle where music and visuals work together to provide a hugely satisfying conclusion.

The huge video screens that have dominated the whole conception behind this Ring are put to outstanding use in Götterdämmerung, again providing visual leitmotifs that comment on the musical. Many of them are satisfyingly familiar: Brünnhilde’s rock is largely the same and the organic picture of the gold as a child is back again. Furthermore the Rhinemaidens return in their watery pods, swimming, singing and demonstrating their phenomenal lung power. The film screens effectively convey the journeys in the opera: Siegfried comes down the mountain and rides along down the Rhine and his Act 3 narrative repeats his journey up the mountain to Brünnhilde’s rock. Waltraute’s arrival is especially atmospheric. This time, however, the world of men that we are shown is distancing and decaying. The Rhine is cluttered with discarded plastic bottles and Act 2 takes place before a bleak futuristic cityscape that reminded me of Blade Runner. The motif of the revolving globe returns, but this time it rotates in perpetual darkness rather than shimmering light. A vortex of life runs through the branches of the World-Ash and Waltraute’s narrative, but it is gone when we enter the world of the Gibichungs whose hall looks disturbingly similar to Mime’s forge. Their obsession with wealth and materialism is underlined by their costumes which are covered in symbols of every currency, something which is explored in detail in the very informative Making Of extra. In the Prologue Siegfried is still dressed as the Wälsung son of the forest, but when he arrives at the Gibichung Hall he is sterilised and dressed as one of them even before he takes the potion.

The simple scene painting works very well: the Rhine flows beautifully and we see lots of water-life that swims around next to the Rhinemaidens. Furthermore the final conflagration looks great: the screens lick with flame and we see the living Valhalla of Rheingold return and slowly disintegrate. However the most powerful image for me was the blood-letting of the sacrifices to the gods that accompanies Hagen’s call to the Vassals and the arrival of Gunther in Act 2. As well as being a fantastically compelling image it provided an apt commentary on the barbarism of the scene being enacted below. The edgy, restless camerawork that had so irked me in Walküre and Siegfried is still present but this time I found it less annoying—maybe I’m just used to it, or maybe the action and pace made it seem less irritating.

Happily the musical performance matches the visual feast. Jennifer Wilson’s Brünnhilde, one of the great strengths of this cycle, is as impressive as ever. She seems more human and vulnerable for the exchanges in Act 1 but she takes on eviscerating power in Act 2, even managing some biting sarcasm for the oath on the spear. The immolation is powerful and compelling, rising to a fully assured peak and a beautiful climax. Lance Ryan’s Siegfried suffers from none of the insecurity that he has shown in Act 1 of Siegfried. In fact he seems to enjoy the challenge of this opera even more, sounding thrillingly heroic in Acts 1 and 2 but movingly vulnerable for the death scene in Act 3. He even manages an extended (and very exciting) high Hoihe as he calls to the vassals after the Rhinemaidens have departed. Salminen’s Hagen dominates every scene in which he appears, black and menacing, conveying years of experience in this role and proving even more compelling than he had been for Janowski (RCA) or Levine (DG). His acting makes a virtue out of stillness, underlining Hagen’s role as the malevolent puppet-master at the heart of the story. Gunther and Gutrune are sung well but with an element of distance that conveys their victimhood, and Wyn-Rogers’ Waltraute is both beautiful and exciting. Norns and Rhinemaidens make a lot out of their scenes and Kapellmann’s Alberich continues to impress, albeit briefly.

However, the real stars of this Ring have been the outstanding players of the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana and this is, in many ways, their finest performance. Their virtuosity can by now be taken as read and their power in the climaxes is astounding, but it was their fantastic attention to detail that continually impressed me here. Listen, for example, to the flutes at the moment at the end of Act 1 when the flames rise up again, or the sleeked clarinet that accompanies the breaking of dawn in Act 2. The fantastic Dolby sound makes this all the easier to pick up and only adds to the virtues of this performance. Mehta, who had provided such distinctive thrust in earlier performances, continues to provide a strong hand but his conducting here lacks the nth degree of excitement that would push him into the superleague. The transitions are well directed and there is nothing at all wrong with the climaxes or long views, but there is nothing especially distinctive about them either. Still, in the presence of such fantastic playing this is little to complain about.

So now that the Valencia Ring has come to its conclusion here are a few reflections on the cycle as a whole: The idea of using the vast HD film screens to convey Wagner’s world was, to me, very successful and highly convincing. It works better in some areas than others, and it is finest when commenting on the action rather than simply accompanying it—which it does best in Rheingold and Götterdämmerung—but it allows the performers to evoke the mythic and extra-human elements of the story that were so important to Wagner himself and so they raise this cycle above the suggestive and sometimes reductive efforts of Harry Kupfer or Patrice Chéreau—to me now very dated, however great its long-term significance has been. However it also goes beyond the mythical, thus setting it apart from the Met Ring which is fine but at times just looks daft and a tad dull. Copenhagen sets itself apart as a humanitarian, perhaps even feminist cycle, and I think that it sits well alongside this one as an entirely different interpretation that is still effective. The singing, playing and dramatic conception of the Valencia Ring works for me on almost every level and, while the camera direction is undoubtedly annoying at times, this is a Ring on DVD to live with and to return to again and again.



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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9:49:45 AM, 31 August 2015
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