Top positive review
91 people found this helpful
Perfect for DVD
on November 6, 2001
No sound recording of the Ring is perfect, and with filmed recordings, there is even more to object to or defend. For a first ever release of any complete Ring on DVD, this is probably the best compromise of staging, filming, singing, and acting that one could hope for. First some technicalities.
There are seven disks across a four volume set. The sound quality is superb. It was recorded digitally and remastered for surround sound. I played it on 2-channel, and it sounded fantastic. The balance of voices and orchestra was truly ideal. The picture quality varies. The original was filmed on video, not on 'film', and it was done in 1980 or 81, so the quality of the video is not very high in some places - especially the beginning of Rheingold - but in 85% of the time, the picture quality is very good, though the colour definition could be better. If you buy the whole Ring as a set it's cheaper overall, and you get a nice cardboard sleeve that the four DVD packs all fit into.
The singing on this Ring is as good as it gets.
Gwyneth Jones sings Brunnhilde wonderfully - one of the half dozen or so singers of the century who could actually sing the role with 100% of the power it needs, and in my opinion the best (and only real) Brunnhilde since Birgit Nilsson; nor does she lack in subtlety and musicality. She is fine to watch as well and seems to take her stage performance as seriously and with as much energy as her singing. It's a wonderful thing to have her Brunnhilde in this DVD format.
Donald McIntyre sings Wotan. He has such an incredibly powerful voice, and is an excellent match to Jones's Brunnhilde, though he has moments which are rather unmusical. His acting is pretty good, but not a highlight. All things considered, he does not disappoint at all.
Siegfried is sung by Manfred Jung, who both looks and sounds the part to a T. Some of his singing now and then is a bit strident, especially in the prologue to Gotterdammerung where he has to 'match' the HUGE voice of G Jones, but especially in the opera Siegfried (part three of the Ring) he is truly magical. Some people take the opposite of this view and find him a bit silly to watch. Siegfried is a sort of non-character, and what characteristics he does have (of bravery, spontaneity, and imbecilic charm) are portrayed by Jung in such a natural and engaging manner. His singing is no less impressive, and he is one of the few Siegfrieds I've heard who really sings all of the notes well. Siegfieds tend to wail and harp a bit, but Jung is very musical.
Peter Hoffmann sings Siegmund with very good voice and tacky 'dramatic' acting which is actually not as irritating as it should be. His Sieglinde is Jeanine Altmayer (of the Janowski Ring) who gives very little of interest as a visual performer, and just manages to do the minimum in terms of singing. Her presence is not a selling point, but it doesn't give too much to object to either.
Heinz Zednik sings both Loge and the Mime in Siegfried. This is a stage animal who, especially in Rheingold, always does something good and appropriate to the character, whether he is singing or not. He is fantastic in Rheingold as the clever and disaffected Loge, and some of the time he tends to over-act in Siegfried, a contrast which is stark especially because in the latter he shares the stage with the incredibly naturalistic Manfred Jung.
Other roles, such as Fricka, Erda, Hunding, Gunther and Waltraute are all sung by people with great voices and above average acting skill, many of whom were to become famous singers in major roles: Hannah Schwarz, Otrun Wenkl, Matti Salminen among them. Franz Mazura as Gunther is perhaps a little soft of voice (he's a bit old) but it fits the role perfectly, and his wonderful acting of the part shines to create a vibrant portrayal of this key 'minor' character.
The orchestral playing is wonderful. Boulez's conducting is full-paced though never lacking in beauty of detail. It never feels rushed, never feels too slow, and he builds climaxes with an exceptionally natural energy. This is conducting of supreme competence.
The staging is by the French designer /director Patrice Chereau. It is tied to the industrial revolution. The sets on the whole are very good, the movement of characters about the stage can be rather weak and confusing. The transitions from scene to scene which are supposed to be seamless are done with the curtain dropping and rising again to show a different set. In my opinion this doesn't really work, and there are certain moments in the staging (the funeral march for example) which are just plain embarrassing. However, for a modern production, this one makes more sense than any other I've seen. I'd rather see a traditional production if given the choice, but in broad terms, and in many many details as well, the staging 'works'. You will probably 'have' to admit that, but whether you like it is up to you.
All in all, a better first DVD Ring could not be imagined.