Das Rheingold

Zubin Mehta
Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana
April/May 2007
Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia Valencia
Recording Type
  live   studio
  live compilation   live and studio
Wotan Juha Uusitalo
Donner Ilya Bannik
Froh Germán Villar
Loge John Daszak
Fasolt Matti Salminen
Fafner Stephen Milling
Alberich Franz-Joseph Kappellmann
Mime Gerhard Siegel
Fricka Anna Larsson
Freia Sabina von Walther
Erda Christa Mayer
Woglinde Silvia Vázquez
Wellgunde Ann-Katrin Naidu
Floßhilde Hanna Esther Minutillo
Stage director Carlus Padrissa (2007)
Set designer La Fura dels Baus
TV director Tiziano Mancini

Suggesting that the theatrical wizard Richard Wagner anticipated contemporary cinematic techniques is like claiming that his music prefigured modernism and atonality: there can be no definitive proof either way. What remains beyond argument is that Wagner needs compelling performers: singer-actors who convince even under unsparing camera close-ups, and conductors who can shape huge unbroken spans persuasively, without awkward shifts of tempo or mood.

By these criteria, the Valencia Ring, first staged in 2007 when these recordings were made, has mixed fortunes. Juha Uusitalo is a commanding, mellifluous Wotan and although Jennifer Wilson’s Brünnhilde is relatively un-nuanced dramatically, she sings strongly and sensitively. There are no disappointments from gods, giants or Nibelungs. Only with Siegmund and Sieglinde, real-life partners Peter Seiffert and Petra Maria Schnitzer, does fussy camera-work give such focus to silent-film clutch-and-stagger semaphoring that any musical virtues in their performances are difficult to evaluate.

One reason for the positive effect of Uusitalo’s Wotan is that he can cope with – and maybe even enjoy – the exaggerations endemic to Zubin Mehta’s approach. The most painful example is his dragging-out of the final phrases of Die Walküre, but there are other places where reining back the tempo, far from bringing telling dramatic emphasis, creates melodramatic stagnation. The youthful Orquestra de la Communitat Valenciana obediently and expertly delivers the plushy textures and stagey rhetoric Mehta requires, but the prevailing musical manner enhances the sense of divergence between essential aspects of interpretation – to innovate or to conserve – which are no less prominent in the setting and production.

In the accompanying “bonus” commentaries Mehta makes much of his insistence that this Ring should be staged by La Fura dels Baus, a street theatre/mime collective which he admires. But a work as elaborate and demanding as The Ring needs much more than occasionally striking acrobatic tableaux, like the representation of the entrance to Valhalla as a “portal” of dead heroes, suspended in space. Other uses of the silent actors’ ensemble, as embodiments of the Nibelung gold or as recumbent carriers of flaming torches at the end of Die Walküre, seem much more contrived, at least when seen close-to on a small screen. The production as a whole is an uneasy combination of quasi-high-tech effects (individual water tanks for the Rhinemaidens, mobile platforms with visible human manipulators for gods and Valkyries) and a largely bare stage with projections: these soon become distracting through being overly repetitive.

Arnold Whittall | issue 4/2010


The production itself is a fanciful blend of innovative stagecraft and visual projections that works well to respect the traditional libretto and simultaneously explore the contemporary technology. With a bow to the athleticism of the Cirque du Soleil, the set makes use of spatiality that is not always possible in all of the houses that take on this opera. At the same time, the visual medium brings together the visual elements effortlessly, with a fine mixture of close-ups, full-stage views, and cross-cuts that call attention to the effects of stage designer Roland Olbeter.

At the core of this video is a solid musical execution led by Zubin Mehta. The True HD 7.1 sound offers a crisp and clear audio track, which captures the details of the orchestra effectively. At times the mix favors the orchestra sound at the expense of some of the stage sounds, as with the splashes of the Rhine Maidens in the first scene. Here the women perform from individual water tanks, which eventually suspend over the stage, and in this milieu they sometimes splash water at Alberich as they taunt him or spray water across the stage in gestures that accompany the fluid, mercury-like projects. This is quite effective, and works well in conveying the sense of the score. One detail distract, though, with the projection of an infant, at the presentation of the sword-motif resembling the free-floating space child depicted in the latter part of Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey and anticipating too soon the conception of the redeemer in Siegmund’s son Siegfried — at this point in the opera, Alberich has not yet actually stolen the gold to set these events into motion. This image soon gives way to a more appropriate project of the color of gold that almost overwhelms the staging, and the crisp, sharply defined visuals bring this out well for the viewer, perhaps more effectively than in a live performance. At the end of the first scene, though, Alberich drains the tanks of the Rhine maidens, and in doing so, leaves them gasping like fish out of an aquarium. This is an intriguing concept in that the dwarf has just robbed the Rhine maidens of the gold that was the focus of their existence, and this offers a good parallel. Yet when some men come to tie up the impaired Rhine maidens and carry them away trussed like quarry, the gesture is disturbing.

With the second scene, the graphic element makes use of projects of plans, which enhance the text of scene, with its focus on the exchange between Fricka and Wotan about the construction of Valhalla. Here Juha Uusitalo is impressive with his sonorous and lyrical bass voice in creating a sonic image of the god positing the world he has put into motion. Fricka, as portrayed by Anna Larsson, is solicitous and engaging, as she prompts Wotan for her validly deeper concerns. Larsson is nicely lyrical in this role, as she shapes the phrases and thus supports the text convincingly. The use of movable construction lifts is effective in a scene which some directors envision statically, with Wotan and Fricka merely pointing to a painted flat of Valhalla. The constant motion might also challenge the principals, and as such, they meet the demands well, without being affected by the sometimes swift movement. Later in this scene, though, the image of child, now suggesting a kind of Buddha, dominates Wotan’s monologue.

The third scene is also provocative in its use of human bodies suspended from meathooks, like carcasses to be processed at a factory. Here Alberich, depicted by Franz-Joseph Kapellmann, gives a fine point to the role and Mehta revels in the music of Nibelheim scene. The staging conveys a sense the cinema with its use of multiple layers of details and appropriate colors. The close-ups are useful in offering a human side to the scene, while also putting the mechanistic elements into the background, akin to the way this was presented in the film version of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, especially when Alberich displays the oversize ring. The only image that is sometimes out of place is the placement of Loge on a Segue, which conveys mobility, but also seems easily datable. Yet the scene also contains an over-the-top evocation of the dragon with torches in the hands of each of the actors who are part of the contrivance that represents the beast. Similarly the visual effects at the end of the scene in the contest with Alberich as the toad, works wonderfully well in the film medium of the DVD.

The projections likewise move the viewer well from the end of the third scene to the fourth in ways that are not always so convincing. In contrast, the present production deserves attention for its effective combination of images with music. Even the spinning of the globe fits well into the tempos of the orchestral interlude which sometimes occurs in a darkened house. This sets the stage for the concluding scene in which the action sets into motion the destinies that will be worked out in the three operas that follow. Elements from this passage are also part of the scene with Erda, sung well by Christa Mayer, in a touching staging. Mayer has a silvery sound that works well in conveying the text, rather than some of the darker voices used for her role. Another effective performer is Stephen Milling, who brings fine shape to the role of Fafner in his distinctive approach to the role. Likewise, the elements of the opera come together well in the final part of the scene, as the dealings with the giants conclude and Donner’s solemn declarations allow the gods to complete their long-await entrance into Valhalla. The use of lifts, again, works well, with Ilya Bannik as Donner given the center of the stage and then moved away effortlessly, as the other characters are moved into the staging. The construct of Valhalla as a pyramid of figures ingeniously intertwined allows a human element to enter into this sometimes technologically dominated production.

All in all, this is a production of Das Rheingold that deserves attention for its solid conception of the work. If it is sometimes excessive, that aspect of the production fits well into the nature of Wagner’s work. The entire production shows a fine sense of imagination in terms of the imagery, visual space, colors, motion, and costume, which La Fura dels Baus delivers with excellent style. At times it the production of this famous opera remains something to enjoy visually, while also savoring the fine performances of a well-chosen cast, both of which are served well by the clear images and full sound of the Blu-ray medium. The clearly articulated text emerges nicely in the sound mix, and those who wish to use subtitles have access to the libretto in German, along with translations in English, French, and Spanish. More than that, those interested in the conception of this Ring cycle can pursue it on the documentary, which offers details about the production.

With its finely rehearsed orchestra, well-matched principals, and excellent sound, the DVD has much to offer. Those who are intrigued by this production may find it useful to return to various parts of the work, which are thoughtfully banded for easy reference. Ingenious in execution, it is musically satisfying, as Zubin Mehta contributes a fine video to the discography of Wagner’s Ring der Nibelungen.

James L. Zychowicz | May 2010


Voici un spectacle d’une originalité stupéfiante dans lequel notre attention est constamment captivée non seulement par la puissance de la partition, par des chanteurs plus talentueux les uns que les autres mais aussi par une mise en scène et des décors qui nous transportent véritablement…

Valence est certainement aujourd’hui l’endroit le plus inventif d’Europe où l’opéra est roi et où tout concours à son succès. L’art total se trouve au royaume de l’originalité, de la compétence et de l’excellence, tant par la présence de Lorin Maazel (directeur musical de l’institution) ou encore pour ce Ring, de celle de Zubin Mehta, ici chef invité.

Les créateurs de la production, l’équipe de La Fura dels Baus dirigée par Carlus Padrissa, osent et réussissent du jamais vu, alliant le tableau à l’image, à l’audiovisuel ou à la haute technologie, tout en conservant au drame wagnérien son essence originelle. C’est un tour de force. ll s’avère plus que réussi et volatilise véritablement les frontières dans lesquelles l’art lyrique – même avec Bob Wilson et Bill Viola – se trouve encore à l’étroit. C’est une autre lecture sans doute que nous offrent les caméras de cette production filmée, car nous ne sommes pas dans la salle… Une lecture plus intime, plus proche des artistes et qui tire sa propre vision de ce qui se déroule sur scène et dans la salle. Comment pourrait-il du reste en être autrement ? Mais à ce degré de restitution d’un tel spectacle, cette vision recueille toute notre confiance de n’en pas trahir la folle impertinence et la stupéfiante beauté. Avec ses images de synthèse et ses vues sur l’univers, bien présentes dans Wagner, l’imagination est ici débridée et le résultat spectaculaire.

Dès la première page de cet Or du Rhin, nous sommes transportés dans un monde onirique. Les filles du Rhin sont réellement des habitantes de l’univers liquide et portent en elles la richesse du monde, cet or tant convoité. La fraîcheur que donne l’élément liquide qui se répand volontiers sur le plateau apporte à la scène une authenticité pour le moins troublante.

L’univers des dieux qui suit est génialement matérialisé par ces plateformes mobiles qui leur permettent de s’élever dans l’air et de ne pas exister dans le monde des hommes. Loge, dieu du feu, s’agite constamment et ne cesse d’arpenter le plateau sur un véhicule dernier cri au déplacement rapide. La descente au monde du Nibelung qu’il effectue avec Wotan afin d’en reconquérir l’or est rendue à proprement parler fantastique, et digne des images inouïes du Brazil de Terrri Gilliam, film hallucinant de 1985. Les deux géants, mastodontes de fer brutalement articulés, traduisent à merveille leur posture, comme ceux de Chéreau à Bayreuth en 1976. C’est d’ailleurs le même Matti Salminen à la voix de stentor qui incarne Fasolt. À leur retour, la progression des dieux vers le Walhalla, est signalée par le fameux marteau de Donner et donne lieu ici à un véritable feu d’artifice visuel et musical.

On l’aura compris, pas un instant de répit dans ce prologue du Ring qui n’est pas le plus disert des chapitres de la tétralogie. Pourtant, ici, on ne perd pas une seconde du drame, et cette lecture est une des plus riches qu’il nous ait été donné de voir et d’entendre. Décidément le Palau de les Arts de Valencia sait comment réussir pleinement une distribution ! Celle de cet Or du Rhin est particulièrement homogène, et réunit les meilleurs interprètes wagnériens du moment. Partant, le dialogue entre les différents rôles en sort renforcé et fluidifie de façon fort efficace la narration.

Les trois filles du Rhin de fort belle homogénéité vocale doublent leurs exploits d’une véritable prouesse scénique, dans leur élément liquide. L’Alberich de Franz-Joseph Kapellmann est remarquablement noir, d’une voix pleine et puissante, sa diction est un modèle du genre. Le Wotan de Juah Uusitalo est doté d’un timbre de toute beauté et offre un duo d’anthologie avec la glaciale Fricka (magnifique Anna Larsson). Freia est toute en fragilité évanescente. L’Italienne Sabina von Walther en possède parfaitement la tessiture et lutte avec la même énergie contre les géants que contre un orchestre parfois surpuissant à ses côtés. Mention toute spéciale pour le Froh de Germán Villar – superbement chantant – et comme on s’y attendait, pour l’extraordinaire Fafner de Matti Salminen, inépuisable, intarissable source de musicalité et de mordant dramatique.

Pour ce Ring, Mehta est royal. Il ne l’a hélas jamais produit au disque, ni dirigé à Bayreuth, mais nous dit pourtant, dans le documentaire proposé en bonus de l’opéra, s’y préparer depuis 1954 ! Son art du ciselé orchestral, de la clarté des différents plans sonores est un pur bonheur. Rien n’est forcé, ni exacerbé, ni froid ou distant. Le chef tire le meilleur parti d’un orchestre d’opéra de premier plan, un des meilleurs d’Europe sans doute, et l’on retrouve avec une immense satisfaction le meilleur mahlérien, straussien qu’il est, doublé du chef d’opéra qui, depuis toujours, réalise des triomphes au Met, à la Scala et à Covent Garden.

Au tomber du rideau sur ce prologue, on est déjà impatient de découvrir la première journée de ce Ring : La Walkyrie. Avec le spectacle introductif auquel on vient d’assister, la promesse est telle qu’on s’attend à un singulier voyage onirique. Les jalons de sa réussite sur le plan musical et lyrique sont d’ores et déjà posés…

Gilles Delatronchette

User Rating
Media Type/Label
C Major
C Major
Technical Specifications
1920×1080, 14.3 Mbit/s, 16.7 GByte (MPEG-4)
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.