, May 2011
It might seem I am about to trash this issue but I am actually very impressed by the Valencia Ring so do please read on.
The DVD menu and title sequence is accompanied by music, which is to be deplored. Please can we have silence in these places on concert and opera videos. No one wants to hear the same truncated chunks over and over again whilst trying to work through the labyrinth to get DTS5.1 instead of stereo and subtitles in the right language. The sound is only in PCM stereo anyway on this section just to add to the confusion. The transitions between sections are handled by simple fade-outs; disruptive if you know the music well but what else can one do in The Ring? The length of pauses is variable from almost nothing to several seconds. Though the extracts are in dramatic order there is no indication of where you are in the operas nor is there any hint that one has changed opera, just randomly timed fades in and out. The worst example is the end of Act 1 of The Valkyrie which stops barely a couple of seconds before a chunk of Act 2. I suspect the tea-boy was in charge of post production. I am relieved to say all is well apart from these technical blots and since the music and production are so entertaining, and the sound and picture is so good, one can forgive Unitel these flaws. Do keep the booklet to hand whilst viewing and don’t even bother with this DVD if you don’t have another complete recording in your collection because you will get hopelessly lost without a plot summary.
Most opera productions are characterised by their appearance rather than by the performance. It is almost impossible to ignore what you are seeing and it often clashes with what you are hearing. To my knowledge only Bruckner managed to get through The Ring without noticing that there were costumes and scenery involved! The Valencia production is no different. It is dominated by huge video projections throughout and the DVD production often takes advantage of these to add its own layers of image for dramatic effect. Stage lighting is extremely dramatic which enhances the startling images still more. If you like to see people standing and singing against a plain background à la Bayreuth 1960s then you will hate it because this one really grasps the technical challenge and goes with it. The singing is of uniformly high quality and the conducting of Zubin Mehta is fine so long as you do not expect Solti’s fierce drive. The orchestra are excellent and even get a scene for themselves in the prelude to Act 3 of Siegfried. Since you will only buy this to check if it is to be love or hate so far as you are concerned before either ignoring it forever, or ordering the entire cycle on Blu-ray, these are some of the delights in store.
Loge has a great little motor scooter with which to run rings around the rest of the cast literally as well as figuratively. The costumes are complicated and often look very heavy which makes the little cranes used on and off through the cycle to carry characters around the stage very understandable. Act 1 of The Valkyrie has a wonderfully effective and very subtle tree which bears careful study. This creation looms over a decidedly stone-age looking Sieglinde and a very tough Siegmund. These two Walsungs look highly dangerous to me and must have posed a serious problem for Hunding. Since we don’t see him at all in these extracts we have no idea how he handles them. The Ride of the Valkyries looks fantastic and is well performed against huge and effective video backdrops. Lots of work for the cranes here! The ring of fire which Wotan places around Brunnhilde is a proper inferno as is the fire for Siegfried’s forge which looks positively dangerous. Siegfried by the way can sing well but is a patchy actor as seen here. The forge is animated by many stage hands so that Notung appears to be a product of a busy factory rather than one superman. So much for Siegfried facing down Wotan’s plans single-handed but since the helpers look like the Nibelung slaves in The Rhinegold it can be seen as logical. I wasn’t so taken by Fafner who looks more like an articulated ventilation duct than anything supernatural but some productions even leave him out, such are the challenges of staging this part. Bayreuth once had the entire stage start to writhe, an effect of such impact that all others pall. The prelude to Act 3 of Siegfried has a massive back-projection of snow-covered mountains and eventually of the whole Earth from which Erda emerges in a moment of highly consequent majesty. Siegfried travels down the Rhine on a river of plastic drinks bottles which is utterly bizarre but does actually work—just believe me! The closing scene also manages to be consequent and we see Brunnhilde, on a crane, returning the Ring to the Rhine maidens before disappearing into the conflagration. The producers use lots of gymnasts in this and other scenes to great dramatic effect and the end here is close to awe-inspiring.
The 100 minutes of opera on the DVD is joined by 30 minutes of supporting documentary material. After some preliminary tele-visual nonsense one film describes the way the directorial team worked up their ideas to fulfil Wagner’s intentions and sometimes his explicit instructions—now there’s a novel idea—to do what the composer says. Others take note! The other film is about the important lighting design. Both are worth one’s time.
A superb marketing tool for the entire cycle available on DVD and on Blu-ray. This performance and production is a great success overall and this DVD needs watching just once before you go out and buy the whole thing.