Customer Reviews: The Golden Ring
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on October 10, 2007
After reading John Culshaw's memoir of the Ring recording, Ring Resounding, I have looked for the BBC documentary. I first found it on LaserDisc and truly enjoyed the experience of watching Gotterdammerung being recorded. After moving beyond that obsolete format, I looked for the DVD version. While it showed up as being made, it was no longer availalbe. Following the death of Birgit Nilsson, Decca (London) reissued the DVD. Thank you!

The technical aspects of the DVD are superb--the sound is clean and thrilling (even though it is in Dolby Digital Mono for the documentary portion). The Culshaw decision to require the BBC to use the sound as recorded by Decca, instead of their own sound, has stood the test of time very well. The Dolby Digital 5.1 remastering of key segments from the entire Ring recording was a great addition to the DVD that was not on the older LaserDisc format. As noted by others, it would be a joy to have a re-issued Ring on DVD in a new digital remastering. It should be noted that the remastering does not product a "movie-like" sound stage.

The real treasure is seeing talent at work. The singers were the best of their generation, and some without peer even today. The production staff's dedication to achieving what some have called 'the greatest achievement in recording history' is palpable. It reminds one how much great recorded music the world has lost due to the premature death of John Culshaw. To see the Vienna Philharmonic and Georg Solti at work is a very rare treat.

In short, this DVD is very highly recommended. It works for Wagnerites, music lovers, those interested in recording, and opera producers and directors (imagine if Wagner's, or any other composer's intentions were so closely followed in the theater).
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on December 9, 2003
This DVD consists of two separate contents.
The first is the video documentary on the Goetterdaemmerung recordings as reported by the BBC in "The Golden Ring" production. The video is in black-and-white, and the sound is in (enhanced) pro logic. I found the sound of this feature to be quite forward, lacking detail, but of good quality (i.e., low noise). The subwoofer in my home theatre system is not active during this portion of the DVD.
But then again, the real value of the documentary is in providing a snapshot of the great achievement of the Decca Ring cycle under Solti's direction and the masterful playing of the Vienna Philharmonic. Like other reviewers of this DVD, I also have the Solti ring in CD. The documentary contains sufficient detail to entertain and inform. It allowed me to get a different perspective of the true effort required to produce this magnificent work, and the vision of John Culshaw's production relative to the application of state-of-the-art technology in enhancing the listening experience.
The second content of the DVD is a set of selections from some of the Ring operas in 5.1 surround-sound. The selections span all of the operas, with the orchestral standards (from the entrance of the Gods to Valhalla to the Immollation scene) extracted from the original Solti set. It is approximately another 70 minutes of material.
The 5.1 version of these selections is nothing short of miraculous. The sound stage is full and airy. The quality is outstanding, beating my CD set hands down. It also captures the Vienna Philharmonic's sound with sufficient detail to reinforce Solti's observation of that orchestra's unique Wagnerian style.
My only quip about this DVD is that it could also have been made a complement to the Solti Ring by including an analysis of the music. When the original Decca set was released, there was an additional set of an analysis of the Ring. It was a set of 4 LP's touching upon all the leitmotifs of the opera, weaving them in a wide expanse and adding to the operatic experience. It included actual Ring portions and orchestral passages (no doubt taken from some of the rehearsals) but thoroughly exposing the melodic infrastructure of this gargantuan work. The analysis is truly worthy of inclusion in this DVD, and would have added even more value to a truly wonderful effort.
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on April 12, 2009
When PBS aired this documentary in the 1960's, I was not only fascinated by the studio recording mechanics but AWED BY THAT MUSIC! I listened to both rock n' roll and classical music in that order; but this program marked a hinge moment in my life. To answer those criticisms that one must know the foreign language to appreciate the text of a particular opera, I knew just a handful of German words and nothing about the Niebelung myth. Yet, those grand, lush, motif-laden, and passionate sounds gave my teenage hormones a transcendent experience. Translation: I was blown away.

As corny as it may sound, I was hooked on Wagner from that presentation. I have a polite personality, but I remember persistently annoying my mother for a month's advance of my $3.00 per week allowance ($12.00) to purchase the monaural recording of Gotterdammerung. (Oh, my goodness, was I becoming Wagnerian in temperament?) That opera exposed me to the entire Ring, then to the opera canon, lieder, oratorios, instrumentalists, and other classical formats. Most fans ease into classical music, and especially opera, with Carmen or Don Giovanni. I charged into opera through one of its most complex works. Happily, this wonderful session is preserved on DVD.
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This black-and-white BBC television documentary captures scenes and interviews from the making of Decca's "Götterdämmerung" by Sir Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic in Vienna in 1965 -- the final recording in Solti's Ring Cycle. The documentary does not cover any of the other operas in the Cycle, just Götterdämmerung. In addition to the original television recording, clocking in at 88 minutes, there are also 69 minutes of remastered audio highlights from the entire cycle.

I really enjoyed the documentary and its look behind the scenes at what many regard as the greatest recording ever of the complete Ring Cycle. The tremendous time and expense of making the recording are apparent. It made me wonder whether any record companies would be willing or able to put this kind of care and investment into productions today.

Solti says in an interview that the schedule called for a minimum of 15 minutes of completed recording every day. The documentary shows examples of the process of takes and retakes, honing the sound of each passage until perfect. The producers also took costly steps such as the manufacturing of new Stierhorns, which are used briefly in Acts 2 and 3 of the opera. (Presumably the same horns had already been used in Die Walküre.)

It is also wonderful to see some of the opera greats of the day, including Birgit Nilsson and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, performing in the studio setting and speaking about the recording process -- not to mention doing things that are unthinkable today, like smoking! In fact, it seems the whole cast, crew and orchestra was smoking most of the time -- very strange to see today. The film gives a nice picture of the personalities and processes involved in these great recordings. Highly recommended!
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VINE VOICEon March 3, 2003
This is a BBC TV documentary that takes us behind the scenes for the recording of the final opera of Wagner's Ring -- Götterdämmerung -- for Decca Records in the early 60s. The very engaging story behind the recording of the Decca Ring is presented in record producer John Culshaw's book "Ring Resounding," and this documentary is a nice complement to the book (which briefly discusses filming of the documentary). Culshaw's book made recording the Ring seem like commanding an army -- huge amounts of logistics and all manner of problems (not the least of which were tempermental singers). The documentary is hugely enjoyable as we see how several scenes in a great recording was made (and all the tension that ensued in making it). An added bonus of this DVD is that it includes a very generous (70-80 minutes) of audio highlights from the full Ring recording in Dolby Digital Surround Sound -- a bonus that really adds to the value of the DVD.
Buy it an enjoy it!
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on September 25, 2002
A real documentary with planned and spontaneous interviews with the principals of this great landmark project. Solti called the Decca recording engineers, "high priests of perfection" and viewing John Culshaw and the other engineers as they put the project together is quite a good peek into the magic. Not only that, but good behind the scenes talks with the singers and Solti himself which enables the viewer to re-live the experience. The film is great at evoking the tension, drama and finally the achievement of making a landmark recording.
In comparison to the vhs version, this new dvd release has extra film footage and a lot of music besides. High quality sound rounds out this fantastic documentary.
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on March 12, 2010
I am so glad that I bought this 1964 documentary! My audio recording of Gotterdammerung is the Solti, so to see the performers is just fantastic. Nilsson, Solti, Windgassen, Fisher-Dieskau and Culshaw and that wonderful VPO - this is such a gift. I was sorry to miss the exceptional Christa Ludwig who sang Waltrude, but most likely that portion was recorded in the first session.
The intensity, dedication, & respect demonstrated by these artists is from a bygone era, I feel. Great vignette of Solti and Culshaw discussing the tempo of Seigfried's Funeral March - Culshaw had tons of confidence and charm and smarts.
A few things from that era that we are better off without: the smoking - my goodness, how did those singers smoke and keep their voices? And only one lone woman in the orchestra, a harp player.
If you love Wagner, you will love this. If you don't know Wagner, this might be a place to start.
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on May 15, 2002
This is actual black and white footage of the recording and interviews with the principles. Many argue that these recordings were and are the greatest ever of this cycle.
This is the equivilant of footage of The Beatles working on Sgt Peppers or Elvis in the Sun Studios laying down his first sessions...How often are we allowed to see the process of the creation of a masterpiece?
I feel very lucky that this is available...what are you waiting for?
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VINE VOICEon December 6, 2011
I just got this last week and I've already watched it twice. This is a magnificent documentary from 1964. Just listening to Birgit Nilsson, as Brunnhilde, do the immolation scene makes this a bargain. It is amazing to see how much work goes into the making of this historic Ring set. Watching Solti conduct will convince you that aerobics did not just spring up in the eighties. The man was fearless in his interpretation. It is truly fascinating to see great artists at work and does give one an appreciation of the time and sweat involved in creating a masterpiece. The section on getting the horns to sound just right was very interesting. Fascinating piece of visual history that is a must-have if you are a Wagner fan or for that matter just like opera.

PS: Can anyone who has the DVD version let me know if it has subtitles especially in the part where Solti instructs the musicians? Thank you.
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VINE VOICEon November 19, 2006
How very fortuitous that John Culshaw and Gordon Parry, along with Humphrey Burton from BBC, were able to "coerce" Maurice Rosengarten to go for the recording of this documentary on the recording of "Die Gotterdammerung" from the Monumental Decca Solti Ring Cycle.

This truly was a miracle that these sessions should have been filmed and saved for posterity, showing us the love and care, and detail and effort that went into these marvelous recordings, that even today, 48 years or so later, have not been seriously rivaled by newer recordings.........simply awesome.......look at Solti, and listen to him talk about, pulling this performance out 15 minutes worth per 12 hour day at a time.......Birgit Nilsson, Wolfgang Windgassen, Gottlob Frick, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Claire Watson performing, and at Culshaw and his team sweating out at the controls, bringing it all together, little puzzle piece at a time to create the whole homogenous epic recording. Simply not to be missed.

Sadly, this dvd is out of print at the present. I luckily obtained my copy on eBay recently, still sealed, at an elevated but still reasonable price. One might contact Decca, and see if they have plans to perhaps re-release it, with a "restored" shows it's age, but does not diminish it's powerful impact to entertain, and enlighten, and show the efforts of all behind the monumental task of recording works like these in the studio....especially way back in the early 60's, before recording really came into the so-called "modern" age.


August 9, 2007 UPDATE!

The "word in the grapevine" seems to be that this is about to be re-issued again, so this will be a most fortuatous thing, and, I would expect, it will be "refurbushed" et al, so this is certainly something to be watching for!
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