Wagner: Das Rheingold / Weigle, Stensvold, Volle, Cox, Streit, Lazar, Reiter

Release Date: 1/25/2011
Label: Oehms
Catalog Number: OC 935
Composer: Richard Wagner
Conductor: Sebastian Weigle
Number of Discs: 2

Physical Format:

In Stock
Notes and Editorial Reviews

WAGNER Das Rheingold Sebastian Weigle, cond; Terje Stensvold ( Wotan ); Jochen Schmeckenbecher ( Alberich ); Kurt Streit ( Loge ); Hans-Jürgen Lazar ( Mime ); Alfred Reiter ( Fasolt ); Magnus Baldvinsson ( Fafner ); Dietrich Volle ( Donner ); Richard Cox ( Froh ); Martina Dike ( Fricka ); Barbara Zechmeister ( Freia ); Meredith Arwady ( Erda ); Britta Stallmeister ( Woglinde ); Jenny Carlstedt ( Wellgunde ); Katharina Magiera ( Flosshilde ); Frankfurt Op/Museum O OEHMS OC 935 154:34 (2 CDs) Live: Frankfurt 5–6/2010

Sebastian Weigle’s consuming interest in Richard Wagner’s operas dates back decades, to his days as an orchestral horn player. He performed the complete Ring under Daniel Barenboim several times. Weigle has since blossomed into an accomplished Wagner conductor, leading most of the dramas from Rienzi to Parsifal in the theater, including the current Bayreuth Meistersinger (reviewed elsewhere in this issue.) I wrote up his Lohengrin DVD back in Fanfare 31:2 and found Weigle’s conducting for that Barcelona production effective, even if the production itself missed the mark. Weigle has been chief conductor of the Frankfurt Opera since 2008 and this Ring is the first complete cycle he’s led from the podium. One assumes that Das Rheingold, recorded in May/June of 2010, is the first installment of yet another complete cycle on disc.

Nowadays, most new opera recordings (as opposed to historical reissues) are video releases. Christian Thielemann’s Bayreuth Ring on Opus Arte was an exception; a major reason for why it happened that way was because that production’s musical values greatly outclassed its design and stage direction. From the performance photos in Oehms’s booklet and others online, it seems that the Frankfurt Ring features the standard-these-days spare, abstract sets and modern costumes—nothing extraordinary. But musically, Weigle’s Rheingold is very much worth hearing. This isn’t Wagner on a larger-than-life, graphic-novel scale; there’s almost a chamber opera feel. This intimate sort of approach vividly represents the characters’ raw emotions—greed, humiliation, pride, rage, etc. Weigle’s pacing is superb; the first half of scene 4 is especially riveting.

The conductor has a fine cast to work with. Although he only began to register on the international opera scene when in his late-50s, Terje Stensvold has sung Wotan in several theaters away from his home base in Norway, including the Vienna State Opera, the Swedish Royal Opera, and Deutsche Oper Berlin. Stensvold is a real baritone who never has to bellow at the top of his range, but he still has an instrument with plenty of godlike substantiality. Also excellent is the American tenor Kurt Streit as Loge. Streit has impressive Mozart credentials (he’s recorded Così fan tutte with both Barenboim and Rattle) and brings an appealing lyrical sense to his part. Alberich’s curse, as rendered by Jochen Schmeckenbecher, is quite intense, and Hans-Jürgen Lazar offers an especially colorful portrayal of Mime, continually changing the timbre of his voice to add to that character’s high-strung, quasi-demented nature. Meredith Arwady, the Erda, delivers a sad yet stern warning to Wotan in her brief but dramatically charged appearance.

Sonics are a valued and carefully considered factor with this set. In his contribution to the liner notes, Weigle, who has experience in the Bayreuth pit, points out that the Festspielhaus is a unique aural environment and that he doesn’t believe “you will get very far if you try to reproduce the acoustics of Bayreuth and the special sound the orchestra makes there in a different opera house.” Speaking of the Frankfurt Opera, Weigle continues, “We have to find our own sound for Wagner and the Ring here.” To that end, Oehms employs the “Oper Frankfurt Recording System,” designed by Peter Tobiach. Acknowledging powerful psychoacoustic factors that limit the “naturalness of opera recordings,” the technology employs dozens of microphones—anathema to many audiophiles—including tiny head-mounted DPA transducers for each soloist that connect to a transmitter placed on the singer’s body. A sophisticated editing process results in a lucid, balanced, and, yes, natural presentation. Those who especially relish the orchestral contribution to a Wagner opera will not be disappointed by the wealth of detail and rich sonorities.

Oehms provides a libretto in German and English, and there’s an excellent essay on the Ring ’s genesis, sources, and its 19th-century political context. The subsequent three Ring dramas are more dependent on individual vocal excellence to succeed than is the case with Das Rheingold . But I’m nonetheless looking forward quite a bit to hear what Weigle and the Frankfurters have in store.

FANFARE: Andrew Quint
Works on This Recording
1. Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner
Performer: Richard Cox (Voice), Dietrich Volle (Baritone), Jochen Schmeckenbecher (Baritone), Barbara Zechmeister (Soprano), Hans-Jürgen Lazar (Tenor), Magnus Baldvinsson (Bass), Martina Dike (Mezzo Soprano), Terje Stensvold (Bass), Alfred Reiter (Bass), Kurt Streit (Tenor)
Conductor: Sebastian Weigle
Period: Romantic
Written: 1854 ; Germany
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