March 21 and 24, 2010
Valencia (Spain) HD
HD at Camera 7 Pruneyard, Campbell, CA

 the   R I N G.

Is there any other word that can provoke so much controversy among opera lovers?  There are some to whom Bayreuth is Mecca; and there are others who “would equally be willing for a dentist to be drilling as to ever let the RING into their life.”  Me, I’m somewhere in between.  If an evil genii forced me to choose between never again hearing Wagner and never again hearing Verdi or Puccini, I would certainly choose to forswear Herr W.  But I’m very glad that I don’t have to make that choice and that I can enjoy both the German and the Italians.

The thing is, I want everything in opera.  I want music, I want action, I want drama, tragedy, and/or comedy.  And Wagner does sometimes get a bit static.  I understand that in 1940 when Helen Traubel and Lauritz Melchior sang the love duet at the end of the last act they would plant their feet firmly to support their ample bodies and sing their hearts out for almost half an hour.  I never saw them, but in 1990, on four successive evenings, PBS televised the then new Met production of the entire ring cycle with numerous stars including Siegfried Jerusalem (SJ) and Hildegarde Behrens (HB).  In addition to their superb voices, they showed plenty of motion and emotion leading up to a wild clinch at the end.  Thoroughly satisfactory.

In the Valencia production, Leonid Zakhozhaev (LZ) made a fine Siegfried, but it would have taken two of him to balance Jennifer Wilson’s (JW) Brunhilde on a seesaw.  She had a sweet smile which made credible her being in love, but if she had thrown herself at Zakhozhaev the way HB did at SJ, she probably would have knocked him down.

The striking difference in the two productions is in the sets.  The opening scene in Reingold (which I saw last year) takes place at the bottom of the Rhine.  The Met did a wonderful job of suggestion with coloring, lights, wavy things, moss-covered crags, and light ballet-type movements by the filmy-clad Rhine maidens.  Valencia eschewed realistic suggestion for surreal super-realism.  The stage contained three tanks filled with real water and swimsuit-clad Rhine maidens who frequently disappeared under water only to pop up singing in perfect harmony.

For the finale of Siegfried, the Met shows a basically flat rocky surface which could well be at a mountain-top.  It’s appropriate and unobtrusive and does not change throughout the entire scene.  Valencia starts the final scene with I-max type flight views over and through snow-covered mountains interspersed with shots of nothing but flames and not showing any human (or god) figures.  The flight ends in what might be a large featureless studio.  The only furnishing is a slightly raised sort of apple-shaped horizontal platform surrounded by a few dozen Noh-type supernumeries each holding a burning torch.  Siegfried materializes with back to the audience, steps forward (i.e. away from the audience) on the “studio” floor, passes through the torches without noticing them, steps up on the platform, and approaches the sleeping Brunhilde.  The “studio” walls are featureless at the start, but as the singing becomes more passionate random gray bubbles appear to rise and fall on them.  As the passion increased, became blacker, assumed a variety of different shapes and motions.  I can’t possibly begin to describe the resulting effect except to say that in some undefinable way it symbolized the increasing passion on stage.

In the scene where Siegfried remakes the magic sword the Met setting is a realistic depiction of a blacksmith’s forge in an isolated forest glade.  Valencia’s scene could be a modern industrial laboratory with lab-coated supernumeries occasionally bringing on new pieces of mysterious equipment.

Two productions 20 years and an ocean apart.  Totally different and yet both with the same glorious music and with epic-style acting.  Isn’t it wonderful that I don’t have to choose?  I can see both.  Indeed, I had no hesitation in going to the Encore presentation from Valencia and one way or another I plan to see the DVD’s now available of the 1980’s Met production.  AND,  the recently announced Met HD schedule for next year includes their New productions of the first two Ring operas.



PS  I don’t know why I struggled so to try and convey the Valencia effects when the blurb from the website already said it. – – ph

In the words of the prestigious German weekly “Die Zeit,” the stage production of Wagner’s “Rheingold” and “Walké¼re” 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 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 Walké¼re” – are on a par with productions from historically more prestigious opera houses. Part Three, “Siegfried,” was performed last June, and Part Four, “Gé¶tterdé¤mmerung,” is set 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 (Bré¼nnhilde), 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.

Siegfried (Ring Cycle) (Wagner) — Palau de les Arts “Reina Sofia”, Valencia, Spain

Running time:
Video director:


5 hrs, 30 mins (3 acts)
Zubin Mehta
Carlus Padrissa
Franc Aleu
Roland Olbeter
Chu Uroz
Peter van Praet
Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana (Lorin Maazel, musical director)
Leonid Zakhozhaev (Siegfried), Jennifer Wilson (Brunhilde), Juha Uusitalo (The Wanderer), Gerhard Siegel, Ulrich Ress, Niklas Bjé¶rling Rygert, Franz-Josef Kapellmann (Alberich), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Erda), Stephen Milling (Fafner), Olga Peretiatko (The forest bird)

PPS.  If you’re still with me after all this, you deserve a break.  Here is Anna Russell’s irreverent analysis of the Ring in three parts. – – ph

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