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Wagner: Der Ring des Nibelungen / Thielemann, Bayreuth Festival Orchestra & Chorus

Release Date: 11/17/2009 
Label:  Opus Arte   Catalog #: 9000   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Richard Wagner
Performer:  Stephen GouldFionnuala McCarthyMichelle BreedtEndrik Wottrich,   ... 
Conductor:  Christian Thielemann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival OrchestraBayreuth Festival Chorus
Number of Discs: 14 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 15 Hours 0 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAGNER Der Ring des Nibelungen Christian Thielemann, cond; Bayreuth Fest O & Ch OPUS ARTE OA CD9000B D (14 CDs: 886:53) Live: Bayreuth July-August 2008

WAGNER Das Rheingold Albert Dohman ( Wotan ); Andrew Shore ( Alberich ); Arnold Bezuyen ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Loge ); Gerhard Siegel ( Mime ); Michelle Breedt ( Fricka ); Kwangchul Youn ( Fasolt ); Hans-Peter König ( Fafner ); Christa Mayer ( Erda ); Edith Haller ( Freia ); Ralf Lukas ( Donner ); Clemens Bieber ( Froh ); Fionnuala McCarthy ( Woglinde ); Ulrike Helzel ( Wellgunde ); Simone Schröder ( Flosshilde) OPUS ARTE OA CD9000B D (2 CDs: 141:17) Live: Bayreuth July-August 2008

WAGNER Die Walküre Endrik Wottrich ( Siegmund ); Eva-Maria Westbroek ( Sieglinde ); Albert Dohman ( Wotan ); Linda Watson ( Brünnhilde ); Kwangchul Youn ( Hunding ); Michelle Breedt ( Fricka) OPUS ARTE OA CD9000B D (4 CDs: 225:33) Live: Bayreuth July-August 2008

WAGNER Siegfried Stephen Gould ( Siegfried ); Gerhard Siegel ( Mime ); Albert Dohman ( Wanderer ); Andrew Shore ( Alberich ); Hans-Peter König ( Fafner ); Linda Watson ( Brünnhilde ); Christa Mayer ( Erda ); Robin Johannsen ( Woodbird) OPUS ARTE OA CD9000B D (4 CDs: 244:37) Live: Bayreuth July-August 2008

WAGNER Götterdämmerung Stephen Gould ( Siegfried ); Linda Watson ( Brünnhilde ); Hans-Peter König ( Hagan ); Andrew Shore ( Alberich ); Ralf Lukas ( Gunther ); Edith Haller ( Gutrune ); Christa Mayer ( Waltraute ); Simone Schröder ( First Norn ); Martina Dike ( Second Norn ); Edith Haller ( Third Norn ); Fionnuala McCarthy ( Woglinde ); Ulrike Helzel ( Wellgunde ); Simone Schröder ( Flosshilde) OPUS ARTE OA CD9000B D (4 CDs: 275:26) Live: Bayreuth July-August 2008

The notes accompanying Opus Arte’s 14-CD set make absolutely no mention of the Bayreuth production that it documents, and with good reason. This Ring, conceived by the German playwright and director Tankred Dorst, met with pretty much universal critical dismissal, reviews employing words like “banal,” “vapid,” and “under-realized.” But those same reviews were effusive in their praise for conductor Christian Thielemann, who was in the pit when the Bayreuth audience first let its displeasure with Dorst be known in 2006. It’s entirely appropriate that Opus Arte—the label has established a long-term relationship with the Bayreuth Festival—has chosen this production, its 2008 incarnation, for its first-ever CD release. No DVD version is planned and, apparently, we shouldn’t mind in the least.

Christian Thielemann is indeed developing into a Wagner conductor to be reckoned with. His commercial recordings of Tristan and Parsifal have much to recommend them (and I heard Thielemann conduct an excellent Tannhäuser at Bayreuth myself in 2003) but this Ring cycle succeeds at an even more exalted level. The conductor’s command of the score, every note of it, is extraordinary and he achieves a dramatic momentum that isn’t easy to sustain over the cycle’s vast expanse. Some of this has to do with Thielemann’s tempi. His timing for Das Rheingold is two hours and 21 minutes—not the two hours that the composer once declared it could be played in, but quicker than most—and the pacing of the Walkürenritt, up to the arrival of Wotan, may leave you breathless. But Thielemann also knows when to slow things down. For instance, his deliberate pace for “Notung! Notung!” lends a kind of violence to Siegfried’s work at the hearth. More than just tempo choices, what moves this Ring forward with such coherence is the conductor’s profound grasp of musical interrelationships stretching across long time spans, even from opera to opera. Thielemann makes us feel the extraordinary unity of Wagner’s gigantic construction, and we appreciate that the work’s power arises from that as much as from any interpretation of the narrative text.

Not that the orchestral playing isn’t gorgeous from moment to moment. And not just the famous set pieces—“Siegfried’s Rhine Journey,” Götterdämmerung ’s funeral march, the gods’ entrance into Valhalla in Das Rheingold, etc.—but also briefer interstitial instrumental passages, as when the gold is first revealed by the Rhinemaidens, or when Donner summons up thunderclouds in the opening drama’s final scene. Thielemann is an absolute master of Wagnerian transition music. Listen, for example, to how a sense of oppressive darkness gives way to daylight in Götterdämmerung ’s second act, as the conductor segues from the exchange between Alberich and a soporific Hagan to the scene of (eventual) Verdian display that follows. With the canonic entrance of eight horns, we feel the mist clearing and the light changing.

The Bayreuth Festival continues to cast the seven operas presented each summer persuasively; clearly, the invitation to sing at Bayreuth remains an offer few can refuse. Albert Dohman presents his second complete Wotan/Wanderer on audio disc; the first was his contribution to a gorgeous Amsterdam Ring on Et’Cetera SACDs ( Fanfare 31:3). He’s comfortably self-satisfied at the beginning of Das Rheingold ’s second scene, and “Der Augen leuchtendes Paar,” at the end of Walküre, is very touching. Dohman finishes strong—the scene in Siegfried when Erda brushes him off—and he is quite effective in the exchange with the title character that follows. Dohman makes it evident that Wotan isn’t losing his temper but, rather, intentionally provoking the hero to assess his suitability to carry out the Battle Father’s last plan to recover the ring.

Linda Watson is an ample-voiced Brünnhilde, whose stamina is never in question. Her pleas to her father in act III of Walküre are heartrending and she awakens magnificently three acts later. Watson also brings home the bacon, as she must for any Ring to succeed, in Götterdämmerung ’s final half-hour. “Wie Sonne lauter strahit mir sein Licht” is loving and tender, and we are reminded of the Ring ’s human scale: Brünnhilde is telling us what she’s learned about the love between people, rather than about any “redemption” of humankind. It’s a perspective that wears well.

Looking at reviews of these performances when they were happening, one detects—at least subtly—the received wisdom that there’s now a critical shortage of capable Heldentenors on the planet, that truly top-notch Wagner must await the arrival of the next Melchior. This is nonsense, especially when the venue is the smallish Bayreuth Festspielhaus, where a Ben Heppner or Johann Botha isn’t required to energize the space. Stephen Gould is a more-than-satisfactory Siegfried, whether he’s forging, wooing, or getting enlightened after being run through with Hagan’s spear. Likewise, Endrik Wottrich, the Siegmund, captures wonderfully the tragic nature of his character; his finest moment is the scene with Brünnhilde when he informs her that he’s not going anywhere without his beloved—a “teachable moment” for the Valkyrie, you could say.

There are other excellent performances to mention, especially Hans-Peter König’s powerfully menacing Hagan and Eva-Maria Westbroek’s Sieglinde, the latter played with a sad vulnerability that mirrors the tragedy of her brother’s circumstances. Arnold Bezuyen sings Loge with a sonorous, lithe lyricism—the irony is there, all right, but it’s not overly obvious. Gerhard Siegel’s Mime is clearly abused but not simpering in Rheingold and manifests the perfect blend of craftiness and cluelessness in Siegfried. Some may want a more malignant-sounding Alberich, but Andrew Shore’s portrayal in all three of the operas he appears in is dramatically and musically apt.

Audio quality is superb, the two-channel sound remarkably redolent of the Festspielhaus’s like-nowhere-else acoustic. Voices register as if inserted into Wagner’s rich orchestral fabric, as they do in Bayreuth. Are the sonics as good as a properly executed multichannel recording might offer? No, but they are very, very good, and another selling point for this set. Opus Arte gives each opera its own box, and these four are tidily housed in a larger one. Each opera has its own booklet containing a three-language libretto, a plot synopsis, and an essay on the work’s meaning, plus a paean to the conductor (“On the Victor’s Podium”). This can be considered a bargain mid-price release—$139 for the 14-CD set. Wagnerians should find this Ring essential. But it’s recommendable as well to a neophyte looking for his or her first version of the timeless tetralogy.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
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Works on This Recording

Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Stephen Gould (Tenor), Fionnuala McCarthy (Soprano), Michelle Breedt (Mezzo Soprano),
Endrik Wottrich (Tenor), Gerhard Siegel (Tenor), Ralf Lukas (Bass),
Alberto Dohmen (Baritone), Simone Schröder (Alto), Hans-Peter König (Baritone),
Andrew Shore (Baritone), Linda Watson (Soprano), Ulrike Helzel (Alto),
Eva-Maria Westbroek (Soprano), Clemens Bieber (Tenor), Christa Mayer (Mezzo Soprano),
Anna Gabler (Soprano), Arnold Bezuyen (Tenor), Sonja Mühleck (Soprano),
Edith Haller (Soprano), Kwangchul Youn (Bass), Martina Dike (Mezzo Soprano),
Wilke te Brummelstroete (Alto), Annette Küttenbaum (Mezzo Soprano), Manuela Bress (Mezzo Soprano),
Robin Johannsen (Soprano)
Conductor:  Christian Thielemann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,  Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1853-1874; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2008 
Venue:  Bayreuth Festival, Germany 
Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Ralf Lukas (Bass), Arnold Bezuyen (Tenor), Alberto Dohmen (Baritone),
Hans-Peter König (Baritone), Andrew Shore (Baritone), Clemens Bieber (Tenor),
Gerhard Siegel (Tenor), Michelle Breedt (Mezzo Soprano), Kwangchul Youn (Bass),
Edith Haller (Soprano), Christa Mayer (Mezzo Soprano), Fionnuala McCarthy (Soprano),
Ulrike Helzel (Alto), Simone Schröder (Alto)
Conductor:  Christian Thielemann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,  Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1854; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2008 
Venue:  Bayreuth Festival, Germany 
Die Walküre by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Annette Küttenbaum (Mezzo Soprano), Wilke te Brummelstroete (Alto), Kwangchul Youn (Bass),
Anna Gabler (Soprano), Sonja Mühleck (Soprano), Manuela Bress (Mezzo Soprano),
Alberto Dohmen (Baritone), Endrik Wottrich (Tenor), Edith Haller (Soprano),
Simone Schröder (Alto), Eva-Maria Westbroek (Soprano), Linda Watson (Soprano),
Martina Dike (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Christian Thielemann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,  Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1856; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2008 
Venue:  Bayreuth Festival, Germany 
Siegfried by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Robin Johannsen (Soprano), Linda Watson (Soprano), Christa Mayer (Mezzo Soprano),
Hans-Peter König (Baritone), Andrew Shore (Baritone), Gerhard Siegel (Tenor),
Stephen Gould (Tenor), Alberto Dohmen (Baritone)
Conductor:  Christian Thielemann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,  Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1871; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2008 
Venue:  Bayreuth Festival, Germany 
Götterdämmerung by Richard Wagner
Performer:  Ulrike Helzel (Alto), Fionnuala McCarthy (Soprano), Edith Haller (Soprano),
Martina Dike (Mezzo Soprano), Christa Mayer (Mezzo Soprano), Stephen Gould (Tenor),
Hans-Peter König (Baritone), Simone Schröder (Alto), Ralf Lukas (Bass),
Andrew Shore (Baritone), Linda Watson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Christian Thielemann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bayreuth Festival Orchestra,  Bayreuth Festival Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1871-1874; Germany 
Date of Recording: 2008 
Venue:  Bayreuth Festival, Germany 

Sound Samples

Das Rheingold: Scene 1: Vorspiel
Das Rheingold: Scene 1: Weia! Waga! Woge, du Welle! (Woglinde, Wellgunde, Flosshilde, Alberich)
Das Rheingold: Scene 1: Garstig glatter glitschiger Glimmer! (Alberich, Woglinde, Wellgunde, Flosshilde)
Das Rheingold: Scene 1: Wallala! Lalaleia! Schame dich, Albe! (Woglinde, Wellgunde, Flosshilde, Alberich)
Das Rheingold: Scene 1: Lugt, Schwestern! Die Weckerin lacht in den Grund (Woglinde, Wellgunde, Flosshilde, Alberich)
Das Rheingold: Scene 1: Der Welt Erbe gewann' ich zu eigen durch dich? (Alberich, Woglinde, Wellgunde, Flosshilde)
Das Rheingold: Scene 1: Verwandlungsmusik
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Wotan, Gemahl, erwache! (Fricka, Wotan)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Nur Wonne schafft dir, was mich erschreckt? (Fricka, Wotan)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Hilf mir, Schwester! (Freia, Wotan, Fricka)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Sanft schloss Schlaf dein Aug'! (Fasolt, Wotan)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Was sagst du? Ha! Sinnst du Verrat? (Fasolt, Fafner, Wotan, Freia)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Zu mir, Freia! Meide sie, Frecher! (Froh, Donner, Fafner, Fasolt, Wotan, Freia, Fricka)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Endlich Loge! Eiltest du so (Wotan, Loge, Fricka, Froh, Donner, Fafner, Fasolt)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Immer ist Undank Loges Lohn! (Loge)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Nur einen sah ich, der sagte der Liebe ab (Loge, Wotan, Fasolt, Fafner)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Taugte wohl des goldnen Tandes gleissend Geschmeid (Fricka, Loge, Wotan, Donner, Froh)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Glaub mir, mehr als Freia frommt das gleissende Gold (Fafner, Wotan, Fasolt, Freia, Froh, Donner, Loge)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Was sinnt nun Wotan so wild? (Loge, Fricka, Donner, Froh)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Jetzt fand ich's: hort, was euch fehlt! (Loge)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Wotan, Gemahl, unsel'ger Mann (Fricka, Wotan, Loge, Donner, Froh)
Das Rheingold: Scene 2: Verwandlungsmusik
Das Rheingold: Scene 3: Hehe! Hehe! Hieher! Hieher! Tuckischer Zwerg! (Alberich, Mime)
Das Rheingold: Scene 3: Schau, du Schelm! (Alberich, Mime)
Das Rheingold: Scene 3: Nibelheim hier: durch bleiche Nebel (Loge, Mime, Wotan)
Das Rheingold: Scene 3: Wer halfe mir? (Mime, Loge, Wotan)
Das Rheingold: Scene 3: Nehmt euch in acht! Alberich naht (Mime, Wotan, Alberich)
Das Rheingold: Scene 3: Was wollt ihr hier? (Alberich, Wotan, Loge)
Das Rheingold: Scene 3: Auf wonnigen Hoh'n, in seligem Weben wiegt ihr (Alberich, Wotan, Loge)
Das Rheingold: Scene 3: Riesen-Wurm winde sich ringelnd! (Alberich, Loge, Wotan)
Das Rheingold: Scene 3: Luge du her! - Verwandlungsmusik (Alberich, Loge)
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: Da, Vetter, sitze du fest! (Loge, Alberich, Wotan)
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: Wohlan, die Nibelungen rief ich mir nah' (Alberich, Wotan)
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: Gezahlt hab' ich; nun lasst mich zieh'n! (Alberich, Loge, Wotan)
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: Bin ich nun frei (Alberich, Loge, Wotan)
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: Fasolt und Fafner nahen von fern (Loge, Froh, Donner, Fricka, Fasolt, Wotan)
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: Gepflanzt sind die Pfahle nach Pfandes Mass (Fafner, Wotan, Loge, Froh, Fricka, Donner)
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: Freia, die Schone, schau' ich nicht mehr (Fasolt, Fafner, Loge, Wotan, Freia, Fricka, Froh, Donner)
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: Weiche, Wotan! Weiche! (Erda, Wotan, Fricka, Froh)
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: Hort, ihr Riesen! (Donner, Freia, Wotan)
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: Halt, du Gieriger! Gonne mir auch was! (Fasolt, Fafner, Loge, Wotan, Fricka)
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: Schwules Gedunst schwebt in der Luft (Donner)
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: Zur Burg fuhrt die Brucke (Froh, Wotan, Fricka, Loge)
Das Rheingold: Scene 4: Rheingold! Rheingold! (Woglinde, Wellgunde, Flosshilde, Wotan, Loge)

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