Barenboim & Kupfer Ring Cycle dvd
Friday December 21, 2007
2564 62317-2 7 DVD
Whether worthwhile or not, Ring cycles continue to proliferate on DVD, but this release is one of the more significant ones. Together with the hugely influential centenary Ring directed by Patrice Chéreau and conducted by Boulez at Bayreuth in 1976, the cycle staged by Harry Kupfer and first seen in 1988 was arguably the most successful to have been presented at the Wagner shrine since Wieland Wagner's production of the 1950s.
Unlike Chéreau's rigorous translation of the tetralogy into a parable of 19th-century industrialisation, Kupfer's approach was more eclectic. It's a postmodern mixing of stylistic references that retains the helmets, swords and spears of traditional Wagner mythologising, yet juxtaposes them with symbols of a modern technological society. Lasers strafing the stage represent the Rhine during the prelude to Das Rheingold, there's a neon-lit Valhalla, and industrial debris littering the set for both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung suggests perhaps that Kupfer's vision is that of a world remaking itself after a nuclear holocaust.
Through the four operas, Kupfer is at pains to vary the dramatic tone, playing Rheingold as a satire on power and responsibility, Die Walküre as a grander, more detached drama, and Siegfried and Götterdämmerung as allegorical. What gives his production real power, though, is the subtle psychological delineation of characters and relationships, creating a complex network of emotions to bind everything together. Some of the directorial additions also make telling dramatic points; having the Wanderer reappear during Siegfried's funeral march to join Brünnhilde in bidding farewell to his last best hope for a future is powerfully poignant.
To Wagnerites in this country (*), this Ring has extra appeal because British singers figure prominently in the cast. Anne Evans, at the height of her powers, is Brünnhilde - radiant and lyrical, profoundly touching and vulnerable; John Tomlinson is a suaver, less ruggedly dominant Wotan here than in his London Ring cycles (**), but still totally compelling; while Graham Clark's Mime and Linda Finnie's Fricka respond wonderfully to the fine detail of Kupfer's direction. Siegfried Jerusalem was arguably the finest Siegfried of the last 30 years and is in wonderful voice throughout, and Günter von Kannen's Alberich is a near-definitive performance, too. It was in this cycle that Daniel Barenboim established himself as one of the great Wagner conductors of our age; his performances, expressively pliable and intensely theatrical, remain as good as anything he has done on disc. Those who have already heard this cycle in CD form (***) will be well aware of the musical strengths of the performance, but seeing what was happening on stage as well only enhances the experience.
(**) performed three times in London in October/November 2007
(***) Warner Classics 2564 62091-2 (14 CD + bonus DVD)