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Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Highlights(2009-2010)
Richard Wagner's dream becomes a reality through La Fura del Baus' visual fantasy and blending of video technology, lighting and props.
For more about Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Highlights and the Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Highlights Blu-ray release, see Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Highlights Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on December 9, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Highlights Blu-ray Review
Nervous about plunking down a Benjamin-plus to pick up this entire set? This highlights disc ought to help convince you.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 9, 2010
Opera lovers who have flocked to Blu-ray know that those of us who enjoy the classics have often been treated to astoundingly wrongheaded "reinterpretations" of the some of the greatest treasures of the operatic repertoire. Regular readers of my Blu-ray.com opera reviews know that I probably err on the side of staunch traditionalism, though truth be told I don't mind it when directors who pay attention to what the libretto and music call for "gussy up" a production with their own "vision." I can even forgive a poorly executed idea if the motivation behind it was sound. But having been exposed to so many just plain odd operatic productions over the past couple of years I've been reviewing for Blu-ray.com has made me more convinced than ever that there are directors out there that are simply out for their own ego, and the composers and librettists be damned. I was therefore beyond thrilled when a production I was fearing turned out to be one of the best surprises of this past year, and one which instantly jumped to the front of my Top 10 list. Wagner's Ring cycle is never an easy piece for interpreters or perhaps especially for audiences. The composer-librettist, who is certainly among the most opaque to ever work this particular genre, packs so much information into the three operas (plus prelude) that make up Der Ring des Nibelungen that some audience members may feel they're drowning under the onslaught of altered dominant seventh chords and Teutonic breastplates. The fact is I had already suffered through what I perceived to be a deadly version of Wagner's Ring on Blu-ray and I wasn't exactly thrilled to be revisiting yet another director's "new, improved" version. How absolutely wonderful, then, to find that La Fura dels Baus, Zubin Mehta and Carlus Padrissa have crafted such an exceptional Ring, which this highlights disc provides a nice preview of, in case you're shy about plunking down a chunk of change for what you might expect would be a less than riveting production.
Unitel Classica and CMajor initially released this Ring cycle as four separate Blu-rays, which I reviewed in greater length here:
Recently the label has released a boxed set containing all four discs:
Der Ring des Nibelungen
No doubt some consumers are a bit hesitant to be spending well over $100, especially in this economy, on a set where they may not be convinced that the production will be worth watching or, perhaps more importantly, worthy of being in their permanent collections. To those people I can only say, take a chance, at least on this budget priced highlights disc and journey into a Ring unlike any other you've ever seen—and I mean that in a good way, for a change.
La Fura del Baus is a Spanish theatrical troupe which specializes in acrobatically themed productions a la Cirque du Soleil. Their mounting of Der Ring is astoundingly visual. Acrobatics don't really play a huge part in any of the productions (mostly in Das Rheingold), but the entire visual sweep of this Ring simply must be seen to be believed. For anyone who thinks that a Spanish group is particularly ill equipped to handle the demands of Wagner, this astounding production should quell those fears rather handily. Aided by some unbelievably evocative projections, which propel this Ring squarely into the 21st century, director Carlus Padrissa, unlike some of his contemporaries, doesn't "tart up" the proceedings, technologically or otherwise, simply to magnify his own ego. For once, and thankfully so, virtually every directorial decision in this production stems from a deep and abiding concern for what the music and libretto demand.
Musically this is an extremely assured production, again perhaps against all odds. Zubin Mehta is a surprisingly febrile conductor here, managing to bring a fair amount of bombast and vigor to his interpretation. The singing here is uniformly excellent, with particularly brilliant work from Juha Uusitalo as Wotan and Anna Larsson as Fricka. But really the entire cast shines here, all the more remarkably so in that they are surrounded by such an audacious physical production which really could have overwhelmed less capable artists.
This highlights disc contains the following pieces from each of the four operas:
Lugt, Schwestern! Die Weckerin lacht in den Grund
Auf, Loge, hinab mit mir!
Weiche, Wotan, weiche! Flieh des Ringes Fluch!
Bruder, hieher! Weise der Brücke den Weg!
Ein Schwert verhiess mir der Vater
Winterstürme wichen dem Wonnemond
Siegmund heiss' ich, und Siegmund bin ich!
Nun zäume dein Ross, reisige Maid
Walkürenritt: Hojotoho! Heiaha!
Wer meines Speeres Spitze fürchtet
Nothung! Neidliches Schwert!
Haha! Da hätte mein Lied mir was Liebes erblasen
Vorspiel zum Dritten Aufzug (Prelude to Act III)
Heil dir, Brünnhilde, prangender Stern!, Siegfrieds Rheinfahrt
Mein Erbe nun nehm' ich zu eigen
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Highlights Blu-ray, Video Quality
I refer you to the individual, in depth reviews linked above for detailed impressions of the video quality of the four discs which this Highlights disc culls its extracts from, but suffice it to say this particular AVC encoded transfer in 1080i and 1.78:1 displays both the overarching strengths, as well as a few of the very minor weaknesses, of the original release. The colors and sharpness here are often jaw droppingly beautiful, and the projections are brilliantly clear and evocative. Due to a perhaps unwise decision to use "front projection," occasionally parts of the projections spill over onto the actors' faces, and that can be temporarily distracting. Very occasionally there are some contrast and crushing issues, but they are so minor as to be virtually negligible. This is simply one of the most visually audacious productions of any opera you're ever likely to see, and this Blu-ray represents that audacity brilliantly.
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Highlights Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Again, please refer to my individual reviews for more in depth analysis of each individual opera, but this Highlights disc offers the same two lossless options, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM 2.0, as the original releases. Some Wagner lovers may have occasional, very minor, qualms about certain interpretive issues, but no one should have any complaints at all about this recording. Wagner's gargantuan orchestra is brilliantly dispersed throughout the soundfield here, and as a result the listener is "inside" this music as perhaps never before. Fidelity is simply outrageously effective, and the horn work here is especially robust and palpable. Mehta is a more measured conductor than some might want for a Wagner performance, but he has crafted an extremely nuanced performance from both the orchestra and the international cast of singers.
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Highlights Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
One of the best reasons to pick up this Highlights disc is for the two excellent, if too brief, supplements, both new to the set and grouped under the title Wagner Furioso:
Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen - Highlights Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Run, walk, or otherwise gambol to your nearest online emporium (there's a handy dandy Amazon link above) and pick up this brilliant Highlights disc whether or not you're ultimately interested in the complete Ring cycle by La Fura del Baus. For once, a reinterpretation manages to meld the modern with the traditional in an exceptional new production which will leave you astounded. Very highly recommended.
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