La Scena Musicale

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wagner: Das Rheingold

Hoff, Caves, Hansmann, Mowes, Aurich, Meszar, Tsumaya, Weissmann
Staatskapelle Weimar/Carl St. Clair
Stage Director: Michael Schulz
Arthaus Musik DVD 101 353 (166 min)
** $$$

There has been a proliferation of Ring Cycles on video in recent years. The latest entry is the Weimar Ring, this Das Rheingold being its first installment, with Die Walkure on the way. Premiered in July 2006 and taped in 2008, it features singers drawn mostly from the Weimar ensemble, none of whom is of international rank. German theatres have long abandoned traditional interpretations of the Ring in favour of concept productions. This one by director Michael Schulz underscores the strengths and weaknesses of this aesthetic. Before a single bar of music has sounded, three young girls – called Norns in the booklet – come onstage with hand puppets, reciting a few lines from Wagner’s original text on the Ring. This sets the tone, shall we say! In the first scene, the three Rhinemaidens are joined by their topless girl friends, for reasons unknown. Alberich wears fake boots and walks on his knees. The gods are a real motley crew. Visually there are some striking moments, even an occasional inspired stroke – I like the unveiling of Valhalla as a gigantic oil painting into which the gods enter at the end. But perhaps because of budget constraints, some of the sets look like they come from Wal-Mart. The singing is variable, from very good (Erda) to serviceable (Loge and the Giants) to the downright awful. There are too many unsteady voices – Fricka, Mime, and worst of all, the Alberich of Tomas Möwes, who cannot sustain a note without collapsing into a huge wobble. Problematic is the Wotan of Mario Hoff, whose high baritone, while pleasant enough, lacks the requisite authority and gravitas. One bright spot is the playing of the Staatskapelle Weimar under the knowing baton of Carl St. Clair. I’d hate to introduce anyone new to the Ring with this show. The high definition picture is exemplary – too bad the content doesn’t quite measure up.

-Joseph K. So

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