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In the words of the prestigious German weekly 'Die Zeit,' the stage production of Wagner's 'Rheingold' and 'Walküre' by La Fura dels Baus 'quite possibly shows us the path that musical theater will be taking in the future.' There's no doubt about it: the Catalan city of Valencia is setting new accents in 21st-century opera not only with its spectacular new theater designed by Santiago Calatrava, but also with its visually transfixing production of Wagner's 'Ring' staged by Carlos Padrissa and his theater group La Fura dels Baus. The Barcelona-based Fura blends music, dance, acrobatics and technology into unforgettable stage events of sometimes raw but always captivating power. The Fura made its breakthrough in the classical establishment with its production of Berlioz's 'La damnation de Faust' at the 1999 Salzburg Festival. The Fura's fertile visual fantasy and endless combinations of savvy video technology, lighting and props (often formed of human beings) are predestined for Wagner's visionary expressive world. Wagner's dream of a Gesamtkunstwerk becomes reality as this shape-shifting sequence of tableaux unfolds before our eyes: 3D computer projections that evoke computer games, organic structures built of athletic performers that recall the 'Cirque du soleil,' and much more. In this production, 'the visual codes of the digital era become elemental and dazzlingly employed means of narration' (Opernwelt). Musically, the first two parts of Wagner's tetralogy 'Das Rheingold' and 'Die Walküre' are on a par with productions from historically more prestigious opera houses. Part Three, 'Siegfried,' is scheduled for June 2008, and Part Four, 'Götterdämmerung,' for June 2009. Legendary conductor Zubin Mehta leads world-class Wagner singers such as Peter Seiffert, Petra-Maria Schnitzer and Matti Salminen, and promising young talents that include Jennifer Wilson (Brünnhilde), John Daszak (Loge) and Juha Uusitalo (Wotan), whom the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung hailed as a new 'Number One among the opera gods.' Equally outstanding is the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana, an ensemble of top musicians hand-picked by Music Director Lorin Maazel.
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The use of high quality projected backdrops to create scenarios or to imply long journeys, such as the descent from and return to the world of the Gods, are also very impressive and surely an advance in technology that would appeal to Wagner himself. This sense of realism would be hard to match in any `normal' stage production without using this modern technology.
The use of mechanical hoists to move the Gods about on raised platforms by on-stage scenery movers during the singing and as mentioned at the beginning of this review are, for me, the most invasive parts to my enjoyment of this production. However, I have found that upon repeated viewing, one adjusts and accepts the concept given the wealth of virtues otherwise present.
The camera work and imaging are both of a very high standard as one would expect from an HD recording and the same can be said of the sound which is frequently spectacular. The sound is presented in DTS 7.1 and stereo. There is also a 27 minute bonus feature that focuses on the making of this episode of the Ring.
A most enjoyable production overall therefore, but not, in my opinion, sufficient to entirely replace the Barenboim/Kupfer version on DVD complete with bleeding colours at all points of fast movement (and there are many)which still reigns supreme. Buy both if you can. The differences between the two are such that this is musically justifiable even if financially stretching!
Despite my preference for the earlier Barenboim version therefore, I still feel that this is well-worth the full 5 stars as such a preference may be more of a personal response. Both versions are equally worthy of 5 stars on any even-handed basis and we can be grateful that such a high quality choice has been put before us.
But we remained impressed by the brilliant singing of the part of Wotan by Juha Uusitalo and the good effort of Lance Ryan in the very long and exhausting role of Siegfried. Then there is Jennifer Wilson who thankfully took off the ugly enormous breast plate early in the piece. Her singing is rivetting and very powerful although it was hard to see how she appeared so sexy to Siegfried but I'm getting picky. The singing and acting is what opera is about and she performed the Wagnerian role brilliantly.
Overall no, it was not as enjoyable for me as the first two in the cycle and there remain puzzlement at the symbolism of shadowy bods sweeping the floor and writhing on the floor with some of the background confusing and distracting. So do I recommend it? I guess the answer is yes if you want a consistent set of all the ring operas, but no if you expect "Siegfied" to be as good as the first two.
Viewing the final Ring opera will have to wait quite a few weeks until we can get together again. But at least we are at home in comfortable lounge chairs where we can enjoy the superb audio & video of Blu Ray at our leisure. No doubt attending live performances of The Ring would be unique experiences but I'll opt for home viewing when dealing with operas as long as these.
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I was there, in Valencia. I attended to the performance. I went twice. I could see Lance Ryan live.Read more