Der Ring des Nibelungen

Jeffrey Tate
Choeur du Châtelet
Orchestre National de France
8 November (R), 9 November 1994 (W)
11 November (S), 13 November 1994 (G)
Théâtre du Châtelet Paris
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio

Das Rheingold

Die Walküre


New York Times

In a heroic effort to reverse Wagner’s mostly painful relationship with Paris, the Théâtre du Châtelet and Radio France have embarked on a staging of the complete “Ring des Nibelungen” tetralogy that by mid-November will have encompassed five complete cycles. It is under the musical direction of Jeffrey Tate, with the Orchestre National de France, of which he is the principal guest conductor, and with stage direction and designs by Pierre Strosser.

This would not be such a big deal in London or some Central European cities where the “Ring” is more or less an annual event. But the complete cycle has not been done by the Paris Opéra since 1957, although the Nice Opéra brought its production to town in 1988, and there have been recent cycles in concert form.

With the opening “Das Rheingold” on Saturday and “Die Walküre” Sunday the musical fulfillment has been high indeed, with the Orchestre National (despite some slips in the wind sections on the first night) and Tate covering themselves with distinction. The orchestra’s sound is warm and transparent and Tate’s phrasing of a natural and unforced dramatic eloquence, resisting all temptation to bombast. Nor is there any serious weak point in the casting, even though many singers are taking their roles for the first time.

TATE, at 51, is tackling the full cycle for the first time, but as a répétiteur, he worked on many cycles at Covent Garden, and he assisted Pierre Boulez on the now-historic centennial Bayreuth “Ring” of 1976-80. There is a big difference between conducting something for the first time, and conducting for the first time something one has lived with for years.

Strosser’s lean and austere staging will probably not get unanimous approval, but it is thought out and consistent, calling on the imagination of the audience and relying on the score to fill in the blanks.

Patrice Cauchetier’s costumes put the action in the 19th century and the characters in their appropriate social conditions. Symbols are in short supply, but there is a luminous ball representing the treasure from the Rhine, small in the opening scene, large when it comes time to ransom Freia. The tree stands like a large objet d’art in Hunding’s comfortable parlor.

The single playing area is a steeply raked lead-black stage serving equally for the nightie- clad maidens at the bottom of the Rhine and for Wotan and family on their heights. Valhalla is no shining castle, but a stark wall that rises from the stage floor. No rainbow bridge, but a narrow door gives sinister access to Valhalla for the gods at the end of “Rheingold,” and in “Walküre” the same opening admits only a hint of spring.

But Strosser has his singers move a lot, and most of the time to dramatic purpose. Erotic tension is high at the end of “Walküre” Act 1, although Siegmund and Sieglinde never come close to one another. At the beginning of Act 2, Wotan and Brunnhilde approvingly watch the flight of the sibling-lovers. At the end, Brunnhilde consoles a demoralized Wotan, rather than the reverse, then she disappears totally in a magic fire represented by a huge red windblown drapery.

Robert Hale’s Wotan was the solid pillar around which this first half of the “Ring” revolved, vocally strong and supple (despite an announced bronchitis), and with an energetic physical presence that wilts as life’s setbacks pile up. Karen Huffstodt as Sieglinde, Jyrki Niskanen as Siegmund and Sabine Hass as Brunnhilde took their roles with an assurance that belied the information that they were role debuts. Sergej Koptchak was a Hunding black of voice and heart, and Nadine Denize the implacable but maternal Fricka.

In “Rheingold,” Peter Straka’s cynical and sumptuously sung Loge was a real dramatic counterweight to Wotan. Elisabeth Meyer-Topsoe was a radiant Freia, and Erda’s ominous warnings were delivered by Kirsten Dolberg, no less convincing for her appearance as a kind of female vagrant. Franz Josef Kapellmann and Peter Keller were the Alberich and Mime duo, Csaba Airizer and Zelotes Edmund Tolliver the giants, Wolfgang Koch and Louis Gentile the Donner and Froh.

David Stevens | June 29, 1994

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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 2.0 GByte (MP3)
Rheingold: There is a gap from the beginning of the fourth scene to Fricka’s “Bringst du gute Kunde”. And there is another 30′ gap in the first act of Siegfried from Mime’s “Da stürmt er hin!” to Wotan’s “Heil dir, weiser Schmied!”. Both breaks are due to a signal loss from the radio station.
Broadcast (France Musique)
A production by Pierre Strosser (1994)