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Wagner: Das Rheingold / De Nederlandse Opera

Wagner / Brocheler / Haenchen
Release Date: 08/26/2008 
Label:  Kultur Video   Catalog #: 946  
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Albert BonnemaReinhild RunkelGraham ClarkJohn Bröcheler,   ... 
Conductor:  Hartmut Haenchen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hague Residentie Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 29 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

John Bröcheler, Henk Smit, Graham Clark, Reinhild Runkel, Chris Merritt, Jurgen Freier
Residentie Orkest, Hartmut Haenchen
Stage Director Pierre Audi

Running time: 198 mins
Region Code: All regions
Picture format: 16:9 Anamorphic
Sound format: DTS Surround I LPCM Stereo
Menu languages: English
Subtitles: English/French/German/Spanish/Italian



WAGNER Das Rheingold & Hartmut Haenchen, cond; John Bröcheler ( Wotan ); Henk Smit ( Alberich ); Chris Merritt ( Loge ); Graham Clark ( Mime ); Reinhild Runkel ( Fricka ); Carola Höhn ( Freia ); Anne Gjevang ( Erda ); Peter Mikulás ( Fasolt ); Carsten Stabell ( Fafner ); Jürgen Freier ( Donner ); Albert Bonnema ( Froh ); Gabriele Fontana ( Woglinde ); Hanna Schaer ( Wellgunde ); Catherine Keen ( Flosshilde ); Residentie O, The Hague BBC/OPUS ARTE OA 0946 D (2 DVDs: 148:47) Live: Amsterdam 1999

& `Documentary: The Forging of the Ring

This Rheingold from The Netherlands Opera initiates yet another video Ring , joining other available DVD cycles conducted by Levine, Boulez, Barenboim, de Billy, and Zagrosek. Apart from the issue of artistic success, this Ring— taped live at Amsterdam’s Het Musiektheater in 1999—impresses for the sheer effort expended in its conception and execution. Conductor Hartmut Haenchen assiduously incorporated textural revisions of the Neue Richard-Wagner-Gesamtausgabe, with particular attention to the notes taken by Wagner’s assistants, reportedly including “several thousand . . . additions, explanations, and alterations.” Tantalizingly, Haenchen notes that for a more recent Ring in 2005, “we have been able to proceed further along the same path and to bring out remarkable details in the use of the wind and thunder machines in particular.”

Haenchen parallels these heroic efforts to recreate the Ring ’s urtext (if there actually is such a thing) with an equally strong desire to break free of tradition. In the absorbing 49-minute documentary, The Forging of the Ring, included as an extra feature on disc 2 of this release, stage director Pierre Audi observes that, when it comes to sets for Wagner’s tetralogy, “everything has been done”—so his conception has no set. This, of course, has been done too, not least by the folks at Bayreuth for two decades after the Festival reopened in the 1950s. But Audi and Haenchen’s production manifests a kind of “maximal minimalism.” There’s little that’s overtly representational—it’s odd to see Wotan without a spear in his hand all the time, a given with even the most abstract Ring s, but the staging is awesome in scale and the use of special effects—there’s plenty of smoke, fire, and explosions. The costumes for Rheingold have a comic-book look to them, the Rhinemaidens’ get-up strongly suggesting Spiderman (not a good thing for the zaftig Flosshilde), and Fasolt and Fafner, in rubberized suits of the kind you’d see on a movie set, appear to be made of stone. Alberich’s subterranean slaves resemble the aliens regularly pictured in The National Enquirer. The tarnhelm is a marvelous contraption, a broad-brimmed conical affair that looks like a traditional Chinese farmer’s horn hat, and pulls down over the user’s face—a nice change from the usual chain mail.

The most radical aspect of this Ring , however, is that—to varying degrees in the four operas—the conductor and orchestra are on stage with the singers. The space for the actors extends around the instrumentalists who are very much in view of the audience: the exact opposite effect of the Bayreuth experience, with its invisible orchestra pit. In the documentary, at least one of the singers expresses some ambivalence about this aspect of the production, but the Residentie Orchestra is certainly up to this kind of public scrutiny, having rehearsed for weeks before the performances.

Thankfully, first-rate Wagner singers were recruited for this ambitious undertaking. In scene 1, Henk Smit’s Alberich looks and sounds like something that crawled out from under a rock and Wotan (John Bröcheler, in a red cape with a crimson plastic coiffure to match) is regal and vocally commanding. Reinhild Runkel as Fricka, looking like a sumo wrestler, is quite imposing and Freia (Carola Höhn), for once, represents a more dignified form of victimhood, without wailing and flailing.

Chris Merritt, for some, will have a bit too hefty a voice for Loge. He’s a terrific singer, but his instrument prevents him from fully illuminating the weaselly side of his character. Graham Clark, always welcome in any Wagner opera, can do a great Loge himself, but here he’s a rodent-like Mime, expressive as ever both vocally and physically, hanging from chains and running all over the elaborate stage apparatus. Sometimes, in fact, there’s too much movement on stage. The scene 4 confrontation between Alberich and Wotan, when the latter brutally relieves the Nibelung of his prized possession, loses some dramatic intensity because of the hyperkinetic blocking. And when Erda appears, I’d rather she stand still, in oracular fashion, to deliver her thoughts on the future. But these are minor cavils with a theatrical edifice that has clearly been deeply considered.

The orchestra sounds very good indeed. The anvils delight—it’s apparent that many different sizes have been employed, as specified by the composer. Voices can get a little dim when characters move upstage, but that’s a perfectly natural effect. The surround-sound option adds some spaciousness but, as usual, the level of sonic resolution (DTS) is lower than the PCM stereo program, and I’d suggest that you stick with two-channel. In addition to The Forging of the Ring , there’s also a brief plot synopsis, the same one that Opus Arte included with their de Billy Rheingold . Subtitles are available in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and Japanese.

Next issue, Die Walküre. I’m looking forward to it.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
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Works on This Recording

Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Albert Bonnema (Tenor), Reinhild Runkel (Mezzo Soprano), Graham Clark (Tenor),
John Bröcheler (Baritone), Henk Smit (Bass)
Conductor:  Hartmut Haenchen
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Hague Residentie Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854; Germany 

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