Customer Reviews


118 Reviews
5 star:
 (67)
4 star:
 (22)
3 star:
 (8)
2 star:
 (19)
1 star:
 (2)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


394 of 405 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not about the acting
According to the liner notes that accompany this seven-DVD set of Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen," the composer had no time for critics, especially those who liked to point out a certain lack of logic in his musical dramas.
(Take that, Anna Russell! - Entire careers have been based on making fun of the Ring Cycle's plot.)
This Met version of the...
Published on February 15, 2003 by E. A. Lovitt

versus
74 of 86 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some of the Best, Some of the Worst
It's a sign of our modern temperament that a production that hovers, more or less, around what Wagner dramaturgically envisioned is the subject of so much harsh criticism, precisely for being "traditional." Whatever. Anyway, because this production is visually so not-distracting, the music is more - oh, I don't know - *available*. But by making the music more...
Published on May 1, 2005 by Stephen McLeod


‹ Previous | 1 212 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

394 of 405 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's not about the acting, February 15, 2003
This review is from: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Complete Ring Cycle (Levine, Metropolitan Opera) (DVD)
According to the liner notes that accompany this seven-DVD set of Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen," the composer had no time for critics, especially those who liked to point out a certain lack of logic in his musical dramas.
(Take that, Anna Russell! - Entire careers have been based on making fun of the Ring Cycle's plot.)
This Met version of the Ring under the direction of James Levine might be called 'traditional' by some and 'stodgy' by others. There are no Siegfrieds in space suits or Rhine Maidens cavorting in front of a hydroelectric dam. Special effects have been kept to a minimum--a rather tame dragon (although wonderfully sung by Matti Salminen who also is a great, brooding hulk of a Hagen), no goat-drawn chariots, no flying horses. In fact there are no horses at all, which makes for a slightly surreal funeral scene in 'Götterdämmerung' where Brünnhilde is supposed to sing to her horse, Grane, then ride him into the flames of Siegfried's funeral pyre.
However, the Ring isn't about special effects or acting. It's about Wagner's glorious music. I've only seen one other Ring Cycle--Patrice Chéreau's 1976 Bayreuth production (also out on DVD)--and he (incorrectly, I think) emphasized the stage drama rather than the music. He also ignored Wagner's mythical setting and tried to turn the Ring into a statement about nineteenth-century robber-barons.
Levine's version, stodgy though it may appear, emphasizes the music. This is the Ring Cycle you want to start with. It reflects the spirit of Wagner's intentions (if not quite the actual staging), and the singing is excellent. This is not the dream cast from the golden age of Wagnerian singers, but wait till you hear Jessye Norman as Sieglinde, ringing out her "Oh hehrstes Wunder!" just after her whole world comes crashing down around her. If this unearthly cry doesn't send chills down your spine, maybe Wagner isn't for you. One of the other reviewers felt that Norman was too loud for the other singers, but I think just the opposite is true. James Morris is a complex, ultimately tragic Wotan. Hildegard Behrens is a brilliant, intuitive Brünnhilde. Their final scene together in 'Die Wälküre,' as Wotan puts his daughter to sleep within a ring of fire is one of the high points of this Ring. But the one truly Wagnerian voice in this production belongs to Jessye Norman.
If you'd like to learn more about Wagner's Ring Cycle, read "Wagner's Ring: Turning the Sky Round" by Father M. Owen Lee (highly recommended) or Charles Osborne's "The World Theatre of Wagner."
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


215 of 222 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Best production for Wager newcomers, December 3, 2002
This review is from: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Complete Ring Cycle (Levine, Metropolitan Opera) (DVD)
"Ring" cycles are almost sure to inspire controversy. The outrageous scenic demands, the fantasy elements, the horrific demands on the singers make it almost impossible to fully realize Wagner's vision. And everyone who has tried to stage the operas has had to make compromises, gloss over difficulties, and make due with what they have at their disposal. The Met Ring represents the neo-romantic approach to the operas, which for most casual viewers or opera "newbies" will probably make this the first choice for watching the cycle at home. Granted, many critics and opera affecianatos have hated this production. They have called it "too lush," "too old fashioned" or "too easy." But it is these elements which will make the opera comprehensible to the newcomer. Some of the more modern productions have been visually interesting, and indeed made the viewer rethink the story and its meaning to contemporary audiences. But too often they zero in on one aspect or meaning to the expense of others. Chereau's Industrial Ring was a fascinating production, but after awhile I couldn't get past some jarring inconsistencies, especially the clash between the fantasy elements and the gritty "real world" in which it was set. Why would Alberich want to control a magic ring, when he could organize a union or lead a workers' revolt? How is it that the world could progress into the Industrial Age but not understand the concept of money? Does taking an elevator really convey the descent into the underground caverns of the dwarves? And so on -- a mechanical dragon, the forging scene all seem even more silly when forced into "reality." Other staged productions fare no better... watching the laser show of another production brings to mind a late night stoner session watching Pink Floyd. Others have twisted the story so much that characters show up at inappropriate (and unscripted) times, new endings are tacked on, and so forth... all in the name of making the operas "relevant." Herein lies the strength of the Met's production - it tries to bring Wagner's vision to life, not that of some ambitious director. Set in a fantasy world of gods, heroes, and magic, the story flows more naturally and the elements have broader resonance. The sets, lighting, and presentation of the opera are particular strengths of this DVD. I doubt if the Rhineland has ever come to life in such a brilliant, visually stunning way, and those who fell under the spell of the recent "Lord of the Rings" movies should find many similarities here. The singing is not quite the caliber of the "golden age" but is generally fine. Levine and the orchestra are in tip-top form here... rarely do opera's sound this good! The acting is not this production's greatest strength, but several performers do quite well. Ludwig, Morris, Beherns are quite good, an Jerusalem is one of the better Siegfrieds around. Sure, viewers can ultimately move on to more complex productions, but this is the best place to start for those hoping to make that first plunge into Wagner's Ring.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


130 of 135 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Made me the opera nut that I am!, June 17, 2003
By 
sensibility25 (Lancaster, Pennsylvania) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Complete Ring Cycle (Levine, Metropolitan Opera) (DVD)
I can't begin to say how much this production of Der Ring des Nibelungen has meant to me. I first saw it when it aired on TV back in 1990. I was eight years old, and was hooked. My parents were somewhat surprised that I was so into it - and although it's certainly an impressive thing to be interested in at eight, I wasn't allowed to stay up late to watch the endings! The whole collection of operas, the beautiful music and the magical stories had me completely captivated. It started my whole love of opera, and made me a Wagner fan for life.
I was so glad that they finally released this version on DVD. Frankly, I didn't want to see any other - it was this one that meant so much to me. Hildegard Behrens has a voice from the heavens, and I for one was not surprised when she was acclaimed "The greatest living Brunnhilde." She deserves it. Apart from an amazing voice, she has the face and figure to carry off the role, and does a beautiful job. However the one who stole the show for me was Siegfried Jerusalem. He takes on two roles here: Loge and Siegfried, and brings such a youthful energy to the part - he IS Siegfried. I can't imagine anyone doing a better job.
Some reviewers have commented on this bogging down at times and being slow-paced. Remember folks, we're talking about 15 hours of Wagner. You'd have to be crazy to try and watch it all at once. But if it could keep an eight-year-old perfectly still for four nights in a row - that definately says something. Lavine's conducting is respectful to the music, and doesn't rush it. The first American-born conductor at the Met to tackle Wagner's Ring does a first-class job. True, there are parts that tend to drag - but that's unavoidable. They are few and far between. The stories of the operas and the fabulous music is top-notch. I can't recommend this set more.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cinematic Wagner, June 20, 2007
By 
C. Boerger (Columbus, OH USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Complete Ring Cycle (Levine, Metropolitan Opera) (DVD)
Wagner's Ring is perhaps the greatest work of art ever, certainly the most brilliant accomplishment in the field of musical drama. I found this Met broadcast to be an entirely satisfying interpretation. I understand that some "Ringies" are disappointed with the straightforward approach, the lack of symbolism, but there is already enough symbolism in the story, the characters and the music for a month of Sundays. Don't get me wrong, I like abstract interpretations of the Ring(see my review of the Barcelona production), but sometimes you just want to sit back and enjoy the Ring on its own terms, without any frills, just be immersed in the mythological images and, most of all, the glorious music, and this Met production is perfect for that type of Ring experience. Otto Schenk's vision is appropriately cinematic, literally capturing Wagner's mythological world as the composer probably envisioned it, uncluttered by any modernist touches. And the results are often stunning. The gods' introduction to Valhalla at the end of Das Rheingold is one example, Wotan and company standing in the foreground, with a gorgeous rainbow spanning the gorge between them and their new home, a castle as grim and foreboding as it is beautiful. The conclusion of Gotterdammerung is equally impressive, with Schenck taking the term twilight of the gods quite literally as the whole stage crumbles to ruin against the backdrop of the Rhinemaidens retrieving their lost gold just before humanity arrives on the scene to look on in awe at the dethroned immortals. Only a few scenes are visually disappointing, including a pedestrian Ride of the Valkyries(sans horses) and uminspiring special effects to back up Wagner's very inspiring Magic Fire Music.

Musically, this is a grand performance. There are too many singers involved in the Ring to mention everyone, so I'll focus on the majors. James Morris is Wotan, and his experience in the role is invaluable to this performance. His deep and haunting voice conveys both introspection and compassion, and anger when necessary, although the viewer gets the feeling that with this Wotan, anger is seldom more than an affectation, he is more of a noble and thoughtful character than a god of fury. His scene with Brunnhilde at the end of Die Walkure is earthshattering. The appropriately named Siegfried Jerusalem is an ideal Siegfriend, dashing, energetic, brash, immature and passionate, with a voice capable of being both stentorian and lyrical. Hildegard Behrens' Brunnhilde didn't overwhelm me initially, but by the Immolation Scene in Gotterdammerung I was completely sold. Though she sings beautifully, and with a lot of passion, she isn't the most strong-voiced Brunnhilde you will ever hear, and if this were merely a sound recording it might have bothered me. But she is as much a physical actress as a vocal one, and you aren't likely to see anyone get into the character of Wotan's valiant lovechild as deeply as she does. Finally, Matti Salminen is Matti Salminen. Among contemporary basses, he owns the character of the half-Nibelung half-human Hagen, possibly my favorite character in the whole cycle, a fascinating study of a personality bred toward evil. No one else's voice, or face, is so perfect for projecting Hagen's unique form of tortured menace. It makes we want to see him as King Phillip in Don Carlo, so someone please get around to releasing one of those productions on DVD!

Finally, the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra under James Levine is outstanding. I sometimes find Levine's conducting of Wagner(as well as Puccini) to be too slow, but here there are very few moments where I felt he was dwelling on the profundity of the music at the expense of the drama, he achieves a nearly perfect balance of these two qualities. All the motifs are explored to the fullest extent, and the result is a soundworld unlike any other.

Buying a complete Ring Cycle is a big investment, so it really depends on what you're looking for. I'm a huge fan of these Met releases, so I may be a bit prejudiced, but I would recommend this one over others(bearing in mind that the only other one I've seen is the Barcelong Ring which is also quite good, though totally different). For me, this one is a perfect fusion of image and music. The Ring is a long listening and viewing experience, sometimes even in the best hands this can lead to some awkward and, let's face it, tiresome stretches, but especially if the music and visuals aren't on track. Here, though, Levine and Schenk and company have achieved something magical, appropriately enough, more than that they have created a Ring that FLOWS, logically, dramatically, from beginning to end. My praise couldn't be any higher.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The difinitive recording of the ring on DVD, November 13, 2002
By 
Eugene Merrett (London, London United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Complete Ring Cycle (Levine, Metropolitan Opera) (DVD)
Many Wagner snobs may decry the traditional staging - but what use is modern new wave stagings unless you have seen the orginal first. is it helpful for a first time Ring viewer to see Valkyries on bicycles for example. As most people will not have seen the ring on stage this traditional version must be welcome.
I loved Levines thoughtful reflective reading on the music score. The singer is as good as it can be - all the big Wagner stars were in this production. It may not compare with the great cast ensembled for Solti landmark audio recording but what can?
For those of us who cannot understand German the subtitle is a godsend). My understanding of Wagner has made a quantum leap! The importance of subtitles cannot be underestimated for this work because the total integration of words and music. In fact even if you can follow German I think that you would understand it better with the subtitles (in German).
The sound is superb esp in DTS - better then the CDs of either Barenboim or Solti. One other great thing about DVD and Wagner is that only two DVD are needed for each opera. So you can listen to your favorite bits without the hassle of changing DVD
After the release of this DVD I do not think I will ever listen to my CDs again. I probably want even bother seeing the Ring again on stage!
Highly recommened
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Taken on a whole, a valuable addition to your library..., November 30, 2002
By 
J P Falcon (Fords, New Jersey United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Complete Ring Cycle (Levine, Metropolitan Opera) (DVD)
First and foremost the question must be asked if you could live with this performance of the Ring on DVD. Most assuredly yes, for though the production is not without its flaws, it is an entertaining evening, or evenings, well spent. Since these are live broadcasts and not studio bound, you will have some vocal frailties come forth. Jerusalem is vocally spent by the third act of Siegfried but admirably holds his own agianst a fresh voiced Behrens. Morris is a noble Wotan and was starting to get the full measure of the role, from the youthful power hungry god in Rheingold to the world weary wanderer in Siegfried. Heinz Zednik and Ekkehard Waschiha play the villinous Mime and Alberic perfectly, Zednik relying less on his usual comic camp than in previous productions. Finally kudos must be given to Matti Salminen who is evil incarnate in the role of Hagan. His black bass and imposing characterization are a pleasure to hear and watch. On the negative there is Jessye Norman who possesses a voice which is simply too powerful for the role of Seglinde. Also her acting ability, along with Gary Lakes as Sigmund, leaves much to be desired...you felt no passion between the two which is essential in understanding their parts. While James Levine does not take the quick tempos of Bohm's justly praised Bayreuth performance, he is not as dull as many believe,and the pacing and drama in the second act of Gotterdammerung is the highlight of this Ring. The costumes (no space suits or tuxedoes here) and sets are not a distraction, and that's a compliment, considering so many produtions rely on visual eye candy to hide other inadequecies in the performance. It was no small fact that many Europeans came to the MET to see this Ring because they were tired of the pseudo new age productions that proliferated in their homelands.
So, since there will not be a truckload of alternate Ring cycle's flooding the market, I suggest you not hesitate in purchasing this fine adaption. Recommended, with minor reservations.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fabulous "traditional" Ring for beginners and veterans alike, May 11, 2007
By 
Phyllis Neumann (San Francisco Bay Area) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Complete Ring Cycle (Levine, Metropolitan Opera) (DVD)
I have been to several Rings -- 2 in San Francisco, 4 in Seattle and even the 1990 Met production on this DVD. I have also seen several versions of the Ring on DVD, including Stuttgard and Bayreuth productions. Of all the Rings I have seen this Met production is the only one that meets Wagner's standard as he wrote it -- with the visuals true to his directions. It is this version of the Ring that I show to my local opera group, and the only one I recommend as an introduction to the greatness and immensity of the Ring itself. The other versions, though excellent productions in themselves, are not produced the way Wagner wrote it, as Nordic mythology, but as a contemporary interpretation of this amazing work.

This production is as good as any opera you would expect from the Met. Because the Met has all the latest equipment and technology available to them to really put on an incredible show you should expect nothing less but breathtaking -- and all the special effects are there (no horses, however). The most disappointing character, however, was the dragon. It was pitiful! (We call it a crab or Dungeness dragon at our house!) Shame on the Met for not having more imagination and giving us a truly awesome dragon. They certainly have the talent to pull it off much better than they did. Seattle's dragon was the best I have ever seen -- and they were able to keep it a secret from the audience up until its amazing debut. Kudos to them! The Fire Music at the end of Die Walkure is breathtaking, and you are left with the feeling you have truly seen the best there is. Siegfried was a lot of fun to watch. Mime was fabulous and with all his antics it was hard to remember that he is a good tenor in his own right. The only frustrating thing was in the third act, Siegfried's ring kept mysteriously switching from one hand to the other and it became distracting. I actually counted eight times the ring switched hands -- my suspicion was that it was two takes that were spliced together. But why Siegfried can't remember which hand he had originally put the ring is beyond me.

I was at the 1990 Met production and got to see the Immolation Scene at the end of Gotterdammerung from the back of the orchestra section. It was truly stupendous! I kept poking my mother saying, "They really pulled it off! Wow!" The DVD version was less spectacular, however, with the camera intent on getting close-ups instead of just backing up to a full stage and letting the special effects run their course. You lost the continuity of the staging, suddenly finding yourself underwater with the Rhinemaidens, and not knowing how you got there. It's a shame that they didn't duplicate the experience I saw being in the audience. It's hard to describe to anyone watching the DVD.

The singing, though not really spectacular except for the brilliance of James Morris, Matti Salminen and perhaps Jessye Norman, was more than adequate. Although the singing took a back seat to the "Dream Team" of Kirsten Flagstad, Lauritz Melchior and Frederich Schorr, the singers were always on key and certainly gave it their best professional performance. Hildegarde Behrens will never be another Birgit Nilsson, but she certainly made up for it in her exquisite acting ability, her loveliness and her physical agility. She was a believable Brunnhilde, and that's hard to find in today's buxom bunch. The close-ups of her facial expressions and body language were truly hypnotic. Siegfried Jerusalem was also very believable as his name-sake, superbly pulling off his role, though you could see how increasingly tired he was getting by the end of Gotterdammerung. He acted the true teenage brat and jumped over logs in the forest with ease. Matti Salminen was a sinister Hagen. Not only was his deep voice magnificent, but his acting was also wonderful. In the dream sequence with Alberich he did not blink once, but just stared straight ahead. It was riveting.

James Levine is still the master of conducting The Ring. His orchestra was in top form and was rich and exciting. In the Solti recording, however, they used real alpen horns in Gotterdammerung, making the vassal scene a bit more realistic.

In general, other than some minor criticisms, this is a superb "traditional" production and should be shown before you see any other contemporary interpretation. As they said in Seattle, "Sometimes you just want to see 'it' and not an interpretation of 'it.'" This is really a wonderful production and Wagner himself would have been proud. My opera group loved it and couldn't stop talking about it, and I guess that's the real proof.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You just cannot go wrong!, May 26, 2003
By 
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Complete Ring Cycle (Levine, Metropolitan Opera) (DVD)
TO BUY OR NOT TO BUY Der Ring des Nibelungen, and which one to buy: Met or Bayreuth? Der Ring des Nibelungen is arguably the greatest work of art ever created by a single individual. If you know about and love music enough to be reading this, then you have no choice but to buy one. Like other reviewers, I recommend the Met version to start, because it is most faithful to Wagner's stage directions, so you get a better idea about the work's original conceptualization. However, I would expect that you would want to follow up later with the purchase of the Bayreuth Chéreau Ring :o) I own and have listened to both many times.

Overall, the Met Ring is very satisfying. The first two acts of Die Walküre were the least effective of the entire set of four operas, in my opinion. Despite some great singing, I just did not feel the chemistry that must occur between Siegmund and Sieglinde. For me, these two acts in the Chéreau production (including Gwyneth Jones' Brünhilde) are worth the price of the entire Bayreuth set. However, the poignant and powerful third act farewell scene between Wotan and Brünhilde in the Met production more than makes up for the first two acts. Also notably powerful in the Met performance (besides Matti Salminen's astounding Hagen) was the scene of the swearing of the oath on the spear by Brünhilde and Siegfried in Götterdamerung, which Behrens -- as a relatively light and clear voiced Brünhilde -- sings with great dramatic intensity.

To those of you who are uncertain if you want to invest the time, money, and emotional energy in exploring this work through the available DVDs, I agree with many of the harshest critical reviews, at a technical level. However, DO NOT let any reported shortcomings of either set stop you from purchasing one or the other! The tone of most of these criticisms suggests that they come from people who are passionate about the Ring, but for whom the reality of the performances captured on DVD simply does not measure up to the Ring they have idealized.

The point is this fellow Music Lover: the Ring is worth learning about and experiencing. But guess what? There will NEVER be a flawless live performance of a complete cycle. What's more, people will never completely agree on the impact and quality of any given element of any given performance. Both the Met and Bayreuth sets have strengths that overwhelm and weaknesses that you can overlook: overlook because flawed performances, however objectively or subjectively perceived and evaluated, are simply all that can be expected from flawed human beings striving toward an ideal. "True Wagnerites" :) should appreciate this point as one the Ring itself makes overwhelmingly.

Bottom line, the Met Ring is my recommendation for starters. However, if you are new to Wagner, before laying down your money, here is a way to ease into the Ring that lets you bail out if it is just not your cup of tea:

-- FIRST read the Thomas & Kane or Russell et al. comic book version to understand the basic story.

-- SECOND, listen to the Met Opera CD set of four lectures, "Talking About the Ring," to understand how the story is represented musically.

-- FINALLY, read Bryan Magee's, "The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy," to understand why the story is what it is, and something about why it has such power to move us.

After experiencing the Met Ring, get the Bayreuth Chéreau Ring, if for no other reason, but to glory in the stunningly memorable and moving performances of the great Jeannine Altmeyer and Peter Hoffman as Sieglinde and Siegmund in Walküre!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Traditional and Glorious Ring, February 4, 2005
By 
G P Padillo "paolo" (Portland, ME United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Complete Ring Cycle (Levine, Metropolitan Opera) (DVD)
The Met's now classic Ring has been lauded to the heavens and criticized for its lack of innovation. It's a personal thing, I believe, and I believe this is a Ring to stand the test of time.

Traditional doesn't need to be a bad word, and this Ring resounds with glorious performances from the opening of Das Rheingold through the destruction of Valhalla and the flooding of the Rhine. It's a glorious, operatic adventure of a lifetime.

Some may quibble that Hildegard Behrens isn't a true dramatic soprano, but her fierce will, and often lovely voice, combined with an intensity that is electrifying make this a Brunhilde to treasure.

James Morris's Wotan, Christa Ludwig's Fricka, Matti Salminen, and the rest of the cast offer big committed performances under James Levine's baton. The production values are not stinted on here and we really get a sense of Wagner's "gesamtkunstwerk" or "total work of art."

Worth every penny!
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


74 of 86 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some of the Best, Some of the Worst, May 1, 2005
By 
Stephen McLeod (New York, NY USA) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Complete Ring Cycle (Levine, Metropolitan Opera) (DVD)
It's a sign of our modern temperament that a production that hovers, more or less, around what Wagner dramaturgically envisioned is the subject of so much harsh criticism, precisely for being "traditional." Whatever. Anyway, because this production is visually so not-distracting, the music is more - oh, I don't know - *available*. But by making the music more available, the focus of this production becomes the musicians, and here, that proves to be a mixed blessing at best.

The worst part of this DVD set is the casting. There is some fine music-making here, don't get me wrong. But by bringing the music to the forefront here, both the virtues and the faults of the musicians are more glaring. Behrens's Brynhilde and Jerusalem's Siegfried (although not his Loge) are the biggest problems and that makes for a pretty serious problem considering the importance of their respective roles - which shaved two big stars off a presumed five from this reviewer.

So, what's good about it? James Morris's Wotan justifies the almost universal critical approval that came his way, and makes even the god's boring bits near erotic with musical precision and the natural creaminess of his voice (compare Morris's weak Hans Sachs in the Met's Meistersinger now available on DVD). Matti Salminen is darker than dark as, respectively, Fafner in Rhinegold and Hagen in Gotterdammerung. In fact, Salminen completely dominates every scene he's in, most effectively in Hagen's Watch, the summoning of the regiment prior to Gunther's return with Brynilde in tow, and the Vengeance Trio in Gotterdammerung. One can't praise him enough. Christa Ludwig is noteworthy as Fricka in Rhinegold and Walkyre, and Waltraute in Gotterdammerung, although her voice had thinned out by the time this was recorded. Siegfried Jerusalem's Loge is quite satisfying, which makes his failure as Siegfried more pathetic. Jessye Norman and Gary Lakes as the doomed Sieglinde & Siegmund make lovely music but are hard to watch. Still, I count this casting as one of the stronger points of this set, if only for the voluptuous force-of-nature which is Norman's inimitable voice; Lakes is also very pleasant to listen to. The problems, of course are their physical enormity - both singers are massive - and the unfortunate fact that it takes a mighty big suspension of disbelief to imagine these two as Nordic twins.

And speaking of forces of nature the Met orchestra and James Levine's use of it to shape the musical foundation of this production is, by far, the best reason to buy these DVD's. Wagner's orchestra is a major player in all of his operas, but most demandingly here. It functions as a kind of Greek chorus, continuously commenting on the drama as it unfolds, giving us insight into the drama by it's use of big musical motif's. Such insight is doubly important here in light of this performance's awkward casting and relative dearth of dramatic ideas.

Now, all that said, we now turn to Behrens and Jerusalem. (Anthony Raffell and Hanna Lisowska's Gunther and Gutrune are terrible - perhaps appropriately terrible for their smarmy brother/sister act - but that's nothing compared to the stunning failures of this Brynhilde and Siegfried.) Behrens used to have a remarkably beautiful voice, but she's not a natural Brynhilde. The music is too big for her and she's worn out long before her almost excruciating Immolation Scene. Similarly, Siegfried Jerusalem, so fine as Loge in Das Rhinegold, is way, way, way overtaxed as Seigfried. Moreover, these two singers never found the theatrical motivations of their characters - Behrens is vague and almost embarassed, it seems, especially during the first scene she's in in Act 2 of Walkyre where she has to cavort around the stage with James Morris's dramatically stiff Wotan; Jerusalem is already barking out his lines in the first act of Siegfried and he never finds the hero's center of gravity; hence his constant, breathy overstatment of the music. By the immolation scene, Siegfried has been (gratefully) dispatched and Behrens' Brynhilde has lost so much authority (what authority it had to begin with) that the musical hugeness of her character, never having gotten off the ground in the first place here, is painfully exhausted.

In the end, the blessings of this set are mixed, as are virtually all productions of virtually everything. Great work muscially from the orchestra, Morris, Salminen and to a lesser extent Norman and Lakes (who, despite his awkward girth, would have made for a better Siegfried than Jerusalm had he the stamina - which is a big if that I don't know the answer to). Add to this the excellent music making of the Rhinemaidens, Norns, Erda and the incomperable Met chorus, and you have a Ring that's hard to dismiss, even for its glaring faults.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 212 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.