Das Rheingold

Pierre Boulez
Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
28 July 1980
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
WotanDonald McIntyre
DonnerMartin Egel
FrohSiegfried Jerusalem
LogeHeinz Zednik
FasoltMatti Salminen
FafnerFritz Hübner
AlberichHermann Becht
MimeHelmut Pampuch
FrickaHanna Schwarz
FreiaCarmen Reppel
ErdaOrtrun Wenkel
WoglindeNorma Sharp
WellgundeIlse Gramatzki
FloßhildeMarga Schiml

This is the opening opera of the famous 1976 “centennial” Ring, a collaboration between conductor Pierre Boulez and enfant terrible director Patrice Chéreau, filmed in 1980 at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. The first of many “high concept” Ring cycles at Bayreuth, this production moves the action to Wagner’s own lifetime and stages the work as a struggle between the oppressed working class (the Nibelungs) and the patrician Gods who are moving into their new manor house (Valhalla) among a bevy of suitcases and hat-boxes.

Donald McIntyre plays Wotan as an embodiment of Wagner himself. It’s all there: the majestic shock of grey hair, the penchant for silk dressing gowns and the tendency to destroy everything and everyone in his path. The voice is all there too, with mellow rich tones that momentarily put the listener under his sway.

Throughout, the New Zealand-born bass is a terrific actor as well as a commanding vocal presence, conveying the angst and guilt that consumes the King of the Gods as his wheelings and dealings fall apart. The moment where he takes the Ring (by literally hacking off the finger of Alberich, played by Hermann Becht) is chilling.

On this DVD (and throughout the Chéreau Ring) there is a greater emphasis on acting than vocal ability. However there are standouts. Hanna Schwarz sings the first of her many recorded outings as Fricka. Also among the Gods is future heldentenor Siegfried Jerusalem as Froh.

His performances as his namesake would become a Bayreuth staple. Heinz Zednik (who would go on to play Mime opposite Jerusalem) is an interesting choice as Loge, the “disreputable uncle” in this very dysfunctional family. His is an intelligent performance that brings much-needed panache to the goings-on. Finally, a young Matti Salminen is an excellent Fasolt, paired with the gruff Fafner of Fritz Hübner.

From the opening scene (staged with the Rhine held back by a giant hydroelectric dam), Pierre Boulez conducts a light-footed, idiosyncratic performance of the score. Boulez’ steady approach keeps a foot on the acceerator so that certain momments (the revalation of the Rhinegold, the Giants’ entrance) seem to flash by. Under his baton, some beautiful details and textures of the score reveal themselves, helped by the perfect acoustics of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. This is an essential document for Wagner lovers and one that must be seen to understand the growth of opera staging in the late 20th century.

Paul J. Pelkonen | February 28, 2010


So much has been written about Patrice Chéreau’s centenary production of the Ring cycle at Bayreuth that I approached reviewing it with some trepidation. I have decided to write about it “as is”; i.e. to write about what I see on the DVD and leave the undoubted historical significance, perhaps even revolutionary impact of the production, to others. Also, it’s apparent that what’s on the DVD, filmed in an empty house as was contemporary Bayreuth practice, must differ from what was seen on the Green Hill in certain key ways. This is a review of what;s seen and heard on the DVD.1.rhinemaidensDas Rheingold opens in what appears to be a hydro electric generating station. There’s all kinds of industrial paraphenalia, like cogwheels, around. Oddly, given that Brian Large is directing the film, we open on a sustained long shot that seems to show most of the set with the Rhine Maidens disporting merrily. Alberich’s appearance cues lots of smoke; for the first of many times. Surely they didn’t use this much smoke when there was an audience? There’s a lot going on in this scene with a very sexy trio of Rhine Maidens flirting enthusiastically with Hermann Becht’s well characterised Alberich Does the curse scene lack a little gravitas? It seems so, perhaps because Boulez’ reading of the score seems to favour transparency over heft. Also this scene is very dark to the point of being hard to watch at times. I remember a lot of productions from the period being that way!2.godsandgiantsThe abode of the gods is also 19th century bourgeois industrial. There are some fine performances here. Hanna Schwarz impresses as a dignified and sharply characterised Fricka and, when the giants appear, we get real heft from Matti Salminen’s Fasolt and Fritz Hübner’s Fafner. What also becomes apparent though is that Donald McIntyre is a bit light weight as Wotan. He’s dry of tone and just not very impressive; more manager of cost accounting than CEO. Carmen Reppel’s Freia is also not a strength. She’s a bit shrill vocally and a bit hysterical in the acting department.3.nibelheimNibelheim, unsurprisingly is also quite industrial. The Tarnhelm scene is quite cute though why Large takes the camera off Alberich during the first transformation is a bit of a mystery. It’s here we see the best of Heinz Zednik’s very fine Loge. He pretty much steals the show whenever he appears. He’s arch and insinuating without distorting the music. I think Large interpolates some non theatre footage during the ascent back to the surface and there’s really too much smoke. The final scene plays out in much the same way as the rest. There’s nothing particularly special about the Rainbow Bridge or Valhalla but it’s all serviceable enough.4.valhallaTechnically this is very much a 1980 TV production. The picture is a somewhat grainy $:3. The sound options are Dolby 5.1 (presumably reengineered from a stereo tape) and LPCM stereo. They are both decent but not thrilling. My copy has English and French subtitles but the currently available version has more options. As far as I can tell, this recording is only currently available as part of a complete Ring with bonus documentary disk but at a bargain price.

John Gilks | July 27, 2014

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
756 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 760 MByte (flac)
Broadcast from the Bayreuth festival
A production by Patrice Chéreau (1976)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.