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The Ring Cycle: Götterdämmerung
For more about Wagner: Götterdämmerung and the Wagner: Götterdämmerung Blu-ray release, see Wagner: Götterdämmerung Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on March 14, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 5.0 out of 5.
Starring: Lance Ryan, Matti Salminen, Franz-Josef Kapellmann, Jennifer Wilson
Director: Tiziano Mancini
» See full cast & crew
Wagner: Götterdämmerung Blu-ray Review
This amazing new Ring cycle goes out with a fiery flourish in La Fura dels Baus' astounding Götterdämmerung.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, March 14, 2010
Depending on how intent any particular conductor might be to get home to, say, Dancing with the Stars and/or a nice sized vodka gimlet, getting through the entirety of Richard Wagner's Ring cycle can easily take close to twenty hours. With that overwhelming length to sit through, it may seem odd to lament coming to the end of the ordeal, but that is in fact the very feeling I'm experiencing as I reach the finale of this astounding new production staged by the Catalan acrobatic troupe La Fura Dels Baus. I came to this production a couple of months ago with something akin to rather intense trepidation; reviewing as many operas as I do means I've been exposed to one dunderheaded directorial "update" after another, and I frankly feared this would be the latest in a long series of blunders. Instead, I've been repeatedly amazed by stage director Carlus Padrissa's faithfulness to both Wagner's intent, both libretto- and score-wise, even while he pushes the stagecraft envelope to heretofore unexpected dimensions. Götterdämmerung continues the fine tradition that this Ring's three previous offerings established, with brilliantly conceived projections augmenting an often audacious, but always appropriate, scenic and costume design.
I mean no disrespect when I say that had Richard Wagner been alive in contemporary times, I have no doubt he would have made one hell of a soap opera writer. Though most, if not all, of the elements of his Ring came from previously established mythic and folklore sources, Wagner weaved these elements so fancifully together, and then of course added his often overpowering music to the mix, that the Ring can rightfully be seen as almost a sui generis creative endeavor. Götterdämmerung both reminds us of what has gone on in the previous three nights' "entertainments," courtesy of the Prologue, but also pushes these characters we've come to know into new and unexpected directions. The fact is Götterdämmerung is rife with elements that seem tailor-made for the tabloid society which comprises a lot of daily television soap opera fare: adultery, greed, murder, amnesia—you name it, and Wagner will most likely deliver it, along with soaring vocal lines and bombastic brass pronouncements.
Padrissa continues his rather amazingly intelligent reexamination of Wagner's intentions throughout this Götterdämmerung. If Siegfried seemed to be a screed lamenting the horrors of technology, Götterdämmerung becomes a counterpoint piece showing what happens when Man is left Godless, both individually and collectively. We are therefore greeted by a "bizarre" world turned topsy-turvy where even Siegfried is consumed by the worldly and literally loses his identity. Padrissa also gives us a Gunther and Hagen transmogrified into something akin to stockbrokers, with faces and suits emblazoned with banners and flags, a suitable symbol of nationalism and a "new world order" economy replacing Divinity. It's heady stuff, and often fairly subliminal, at least in the long term, even as it assaults the viewer's senses as it unfolds over the close to five hours of this production.
Once again this production is a virtual riot of scenic wonderment. As the Norns desperately attempt to spin the rope of fate into something cohesive, the backdrop reveals tattered strands of the cord that ultimately break down into weird, almost Rorsach-esque patterns. This same motif recurs much later in the drama, when these same lines simultaneously evoke both Norn and the branches of Yggdrasil. The whole world of the Gibichungs is a sort of seedy Las Vegas cum Wall Street setting, where façade and image are all that matters, along with, of course, copious amounts of cash. Both sinister watery elements (as with the return of the Rhinemaidens, who reclaim their treasure with an almost nefarious glee) and explosive fiery elements (as with the self-sacrifice of Brünnhilde with the corpse of Siegfried) erupt over this production with alacrity. Padrissa gives us a twilight world of the Gods which exists in some sort of alternate reality, seemingly swirling above molten planets in the voids of space. Down below, the human element toils in an equally swirling array of colors and patterns, many of which seem to be self-imposed jail bars.
As with the other episodes of this Ring, Götterdämmerung features stellar singing and playing. The Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana acquits itself admirably under the very able direction of Zubin Mehta. This is in some ways the most lyrical and the most forceful of all four evenings of Das Rheingold plus the Ring proper, and Mehta coaxes some brilliant ensemble playing out of these individuals. Lance Ryan really comes into his own vocally in this evening's performance, with some achingly lyrical tenor passages that show off his brilliantly burnished higher register. Jennifer Wilson matches him every step of the way, with a heartbreaking performance as Brünnhilde. Rolf Lukas' Gunther and Matti Salminen's Hagen are both hiss-worthy but also vocally extremely astute in their portrayals.
This amazing production has given me high hopes that there are indeed modern directors who are not willing to throw the baby out with the bath water, as it were, when they attempt to reimagine classic works in their own images. Padrissa and La Fura dels Baus prove that a piece can be radically redone while never jettisoning one iota of the source material. As bizarre as it may sound, given the highly technological treatment this Ring is given here, this is one of the most traditional evenings of Wagner you could experience, and I mean that in only the best way. Padrissa and his crew have hewed very closely to Wagner's original stage instructions, finally letting some of the more fanciful ideas find full flower with technologies available in the 21st century. It's like having the best of both worlds, frankly: the redoubtable, iconic era of Wagner himself and this "brave new world" in which we 21st century denizens find ourselves. Götterdämmerung may indeed be the twilight of the Gods, but I see it as the dawning of a glorious new age of opera, where the new can peacefully co-exist along with the old, both elements supporting and reinforcing each other. Maybe Siegfried didn't die for nothing, after all.
Wagner: Götterdämmerung Blu-ray, Video Quality
Götterdämmerung arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of C Major and Unitel Classics with a brillinatly sharp 1080i AVC encoded transfer in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. This final evening of the Ring provides us close to five hours of visual amazement, a lot of it bathed in gorgeously saturated tones of deep blues and greys. Detail is abundant throughout this production, from the fanciful face makeup painted on Gunther and Hagen, to the shiny metallic masks and helmuts that several characters wear, to, perhaps most viscerally, the absolutely unbelievable array of projections that augment this production. Franc Aleu deserves a special shout out for the simply mind boggling video backdrops this Ring offers, all of them beautifully rendered on all of the Blu-rays in this set. Colors are amazingly well saturated throughout this Ring, especially on these projections, and Götterdämmerung offers the viewer a beautiful array of reds, blues, golds and greens that virtually pop off the screen. Contrast and black levels are both excellent throughout this production. There is some very minor video noise on close-cropped patternwork in a couple of the costumes, but it's a very transitory issue and not very distracting.
Wagner: Götterdämmerung Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Zubin Mehta steps up to the front ranks of Wagner interpreters with this production, and his leadership of a less than internationally famous group of musicians is to be admired and applauded. Luckily, the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana does very, very well indeed throughout the four evenings of this Ring, and that effort continues unabated with this Götterdämmerung. The DTS HD-MA 7.1 soundtrack supports Wagner's glorious music with ease, delivering a sonic experience that is both overwhelming and at times quite unexpectedly emotionally gripping. Fidelity is superb throughout the close to five hours of this production, with an astoundingly wide dynamic range that captures both hushed tremolo strings and the bombast of tutti brass. All of the singing sounds marvelous, and there are no major balance issues to report. Surround channels are very smartly utilized once again to recreate both a hall ambience and to give completely lifelike directionality to the onstage voices. Occasional discrete channel effects, as in the frequent horn calls, are also very effective on this mix. A spot check of the LPCM 2.0 fold down revealed another nicely crystalline track with an obviously narrower soundfield, but those of you without a home theater surround system should be quite satisfied with it.
Wagner: Götterdämmerung Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
As with the other offerings in the series, Götterdämmerung gives us a 27 minute or so featurette on the making of this particular production. This is actually one of the better featurettes in this Ring, with some very insightful commentary from both on stage and behind the scenes personnel.
Wagner: Götterdämmerung Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Well, it may have taken me close to twenty hours to make it to the end of this complex journey, but the amazing thing about this Ring cycle is, I'm ready to start it all over again! Götterdämmerung continues the exceptional achievements of the first three installments, with simply jaw dropping stagecraft supporting a brilliantly achieved evening of music theater. Don't let the modernizing scare you off--this is Wagner, pure and simple (or not so simple, as the case may be), as the composer himself might have produced his work in our current day.
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