Daniel Barenboim
Orchester der Bayreuther Festspiele
June/July 1992
Festspielhaus Bayreuth
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedSiegfried Jerusalem
MimeGraham Clark
WotanJohn Tomlinson
AlberichGünter von Kannen
FafnerPhilip Kang
ErdaBirgitta Svendén
BrünnhildeAnne Evans
WaldvogelHilde Leidland

After the Amsterdam/Haenchen Ring cycle which was very special with minimal sets and a visible orchestra centre-stage, the 14-year-old Bayreuth/Barenboim/Kupfer production is quite a different proposition. More traditional but also highly inventive and illuminating, it stands at the opposite pole. It has been perspective building to see both. I have so far missed Barenboim’s Walküre but found much to admire in Das Rheingold, though the giants were more or less ridiculous and some of the antics of the gods were a bit over-the-top. This ‘preliminary evening’ was, like the equivalent Amsterdam version, fairly abstract, while Siegfried is ‘realistic’ in fairy-tale fashion. The first act is dominated by Mime’s fanciful combined lodging and smithy, looking like a mix between a stranded submarine and the witch’s gingerbread house from Hänsel und Gretel. In act II we are in a mountainous landscape, painted by a latter-day Kaspar Friedrich David. The humour of this opera – one could almost call Siegfried the scherzo of Der Ring des Nibelungen – is also underlined. Mime’s caprices are of course rather frightening when one knows the evil character of the dwarf. There is however a great deal of playfulness throughout, most of all perhaps Wotan’s handling of the Woodbird, carried through by a visibly amused John Tomlinson. Siegfried’s killing of the dragon is a spectacular show with the reptile’s arms and claws projected with stunning realism. Kupfer-Schavernoch have clearly set out to make this, the most open-air of the Ring operas, a kind of half-dream, half-waking romantic fable.

Filmed over a lengthy period on the Bayreuth Festspiel stage, but not during actual performances, we get the best of both worlds. There’s the famed Bayreuth acoustic, slightly subdued but with enough clarity to project both orchestra and singing. There’s also the advantage of close acquaintance with the sets and direction as well as opportunities for second takes when necessary. Sometimes the close-ups reveal a lack of realism, as when Siegfried boxes Mime’s ears; the camera shows us that the blows are empty gestures. We know that Siegfried Jerusalem would never dream of hurting a hair on Graham Clark’s head, however slimy the creature he impersonates.

Graham Clark, who was also Mime on the Amsterdam set, is just as repulsively repugnant here. Still, he retains an aura of dignity and at times making the viewer feel sorry for him. Such is the identification and psychology in his portrait that he tends to steal every scene where he appears. That was even more obvious in the Amsterdam performance with Heinz Kruse’s well sung but tamely acted Siegfried. With Siegfried Jerusalem looking the Nordic hero of one’s dreams and acting the part with such nerve and conviction, the competition is more even. As a matter of fact it is hard to imagine these scenes better done, especially since Jerusalem, although past fifty in 1992, looks much younger than his years and sings with the marvellously youthful beauty of tone that so captured many of us when he first came to notice in the mid-1970s. While having the requisite power for Siegfried’s most muscular outbreaks, notably the forging of Notung, he would still be able to sing Tamino. Dressed in blue overalls he looks and acts like a man brought up in a blacksmith’s workshop, cooling himself down at the water-bin when the heat from the furnace becomes too oppressive.

By the side of these two great tenors the remaining cast makes a wholly winning impression. We meet John Tomlinson’s sturdy and sonorous Wanderer, noble and warm and good-natured with a smile on his face and his eyes glittering. It seems that the years of wandering have been good for the sometimes over-stressed head of the gods from the preceding operas. His travels have made him more relaxed, his singing as always deeply intense and his diction as perfect as Graham Clark’s. Just as in Das Rheingold, Günter von Kannen’s Alberich is also a formidable presence, his face so expressive and pouring out Wotan-like bass-baritone notes. Philip Kang’s Fafner may be a bit on the dry side but he is darkly menacing before the duel, sadly resentful after he receives the deadly blow. Hilde Leidland, who was Woglinde in Das Rheingold, is a suitably chirping Waldvogel.

In the third act the whole atmosphere changes. Here we are on an open plain shrouded in fog. During the stormy prelude Der Wanderer lurches forth and stumbles. He falls to the ground and invokes Erda, who appears from under ground, just as in Das Rheingold, still half-lowered. She has aged but she sings gloriously, arousing memories of her compatriot of an earlier generation, Kerstin Thorborg. In their dispute Wotan is no longer the good-natured, smiling god in retirement but a furious ruler of the world back in office. The ensuing confrontation between Wotan and Siegfried, where Siegfried finally breaks Wotan’s spear and thus dethrones him, is a real combat of giants. Here are two glorious singing actors spitting venom with unflinching vocal security.

The famous final scene, when Siegfried finds Brünnhilde and wakes her up, the uncertainty at first and the final ecstasy, comparable to the first act finale of Die Walküre for exuberant intensity, is unfolded by Barenboim in Furtwänglerian fashion. Here is a tension that never slackens and the Festival Orchestra’s strings glow with passion. Anne Evans, caught at the height of her powers, is the warm and loving Brünnhilde one has always wanted to hear, her sovereign tones radiating both determination and vulnerability. This scene has always been one of my favourite passages in the Ring since I first got to know it through a DG recording from the 1950s with Astrid Varnay and Wolfgang Windgassen. Evans and Jerusalem are in their league and seeing as well as hearing them lends an extra dimension.

When reviewing the Amsterdam Ring I was often bowled over by the freshness of approach, the timelessness of the concept, while having regrets about some of the singing. Generally Siegfried was vocally the most convincing part of that cycle and it is a version that I will gladly return to (see my review), but in overall excellence it has to yield to this Barenboim/Kupfer production. One deciding factor is Barenboim’s reading of the music, so deeply considered and so magically played. Haenchen, for all his positive qualities, feels shallower. I have always had a soft spot for the Barenboim in its sound-only incarnation and with the added impact of the visual it becomes even more impressive. Newcomers to the Ring will more easily be won over by this Bayreuth set and understand the complexity of the text. Once they have been hooked they should also try Haenchen as a refreshing alternative. In both cases they will have Graham Clark’s hard-to-beat Mime.

Göran Forsling | 6 August 2006

La production vidéo de cette version du grand cycle wagnérien est déjà entrée dans l’histoire. C’est un monument vidéo à voir et revoir absolument pour la qualité exceptionnelle des images de Horant H. Hohlfeld.

Après Pierre Boulez et Patrice Chéreau, Daniel Barenboim et Harry Kupfer ont escaladé à leur tour la « montagne verte » de Bayreuth pour mettre au point leur conception du Ring. C’est l’homme avec toutes ses contradictions et ses tendances destructrices qui est au centre de cette interprétation du cycle wagnérien. Sous le signe de l’apocalypse, en dehors de tout temps, ce Ring est au carrefour de l’histoire et de la légende, là où se croisent dieux, géants, gnomes et petits êtres humains. Les décors sont impressionnants de force, de perspective et de profondeur apocalyptique. Le premier acte de Siegfried s’ouvre sur un énorme conduit, vestige technologique d’une époque révolue, qui sert de refuge à Mime et à Siegfried, son pupille. Mime y exploite une forge depuis que la tyrannie de son frère Alberich sur Nibelheim a connu une fin brutale avec la perte de l’anneau. Wotan et Alberich épient ses faits et gestes. Les deuxième et troisième actes se déroulent sur un tronçon dévasté de la route de l’Histoire.

La mise en scène d’Harry Kupfer réussit à traduire la poésie qui illumine ce Siegfried sublimé par une distribution d’une grande homogénéité. Dans le rôle-titre, Siegfried Jerusalem est éblouissant d’émotion et de splendeur vocale.Le Mime de Graham Clark impressionne par sa profondeur vocale et théâtrale. Anne Evans est une bouleversante et vibrante Brünnhilde. Quant à John Tomlinson qui chante Wotan, il est remarquable. Günter von Kannen (Alberich) et Philip Kang (Fafner) sont parfaits.

Daniel Barenboïm trouve ici toute son aisance. Il mène les chanteurs et l’orchestre du Festival de Bayreuth aux sommets de l’œuvre, surmontant toutes les difficultés, traduisant les moindres nuances de la partition, en suivant toujours de très près la mise en scène de Harry Kupfer qui s’affirme plus que jamais fasciné par le monde de Wagner avec ses figures, ses passions et ses drames. Une mise en scène remarquablement filmée, presque entièrement de face pour restituer la véritable vision humaine, qui entraîne le public au-delà du réel, de la logique, de l’histoire. La réalisation filmée de Horant Hohlfeld au plus près du drame et des chanteurs est à la hauteur des enjeux du mythique Festival de Bayreuth. La production de Kupfer, recréée tout spécialement pour la vidéo haute définition, et qui n’hésite pas à utiliser le mythe et l’allégorie pour franchir les frontières du temps et de l’espace s’inscrit dans l’apocalypse.

Pour l’histoire : En 1875, le Festspielhaus de Bayreuth construit à la demande de Wagner et grâce à la générosité de Louis II de Bavière est achevé. L’anneau du Nibelungen, livret et musique de Richard Wagner, y est présenté en août 1876. Les quatre opéras qui le composent sont totalement indissociables. Ils ont été écrits dans l’ordre inverse. En 1848, c’est d’abord une esquisse dramatique du mythe du Nibelung et en 1850 l’écriture de « La mort de Siegfried » qui deviendra Le Crépuscule des Dieux. Wagner décide de relier l’œuvre à un autre drame de la mythologie allemande : « Le jeune Siegfried » et cela donne Siegfried. Insatisfait, il y ajoute La Walkyrie et L’or du Rhin.

André Delacroix | 9 juillet 2006

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Teldec, Warner
Technical Specifications
648 kbit/s VBR, 44.1 kHz, 1.1 GByte (flac)
Also available as video recording
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.