This 2006 Copenhagen production of Wagner’s Ring has been written about a lot. It’s been dubbed “the feminist Ring” and a lot has been made of the frequent camera cuts and odd angles. Actually what struck me most about it was the comparative goriness. The video direction (by Uffe Borgwandt) didn’t strike me as particularly unusual. I’d say it was better edited than a typical Halvorson Met broadcast but not so terribly different in spirit. The main difference is that this is very much presented as a film rather than a documentary record of a live performance. Oddly it begins very much in live performance mode with footage of the Queen of Denmark taking her seat and of the conductor (Michael Schønwandt) complete with miniatures of his decorations on his tail coat going to the pit. From then on though we get anything but what the audience in the house saw.
The main conceit in Kaspar Bech Holten’s production is that the story is told from Brünnhilde’s point of view. In the opening scene we see her in the Wotan family library researching the story and finding bits and pieces thast we suspect we will see later on. There’s even a legend as we transition to the story proper “Fifty years ago”. We see Brünnhilde again during the various orchestral interludes. We are offered a screen split horizontally into three. Top and bottom we get fuzzy close-ups of the orchestra but the middle band shows Brünnhilde’s researches and their results; often looking like 8mm movies of snippets of the action. I have no idea what the house audience saw here.
The main stage action is set in the 1920s with flapper Rhinemaidens, a night club drunk Alberich and bourgeois gods. The giants are sort of steampunkish. There are some very effective, if bloody, moments. The Rheingold is actually a naked boy swimming in a tank. Alberich’s violent seizure of the gold is achieved by ripping out his heart which is then triumphantly displayed for all to see. This comes back symmetrically when Wotan seizes the Ring by hacking off Alberich’s arm with a knife. There are a few other nice period touches like Loge playing back the Rhinemaidens’ lament at the end on a wire recorder.
The performances are consistently good, especially considering this is the Royal Danish Opera house ensemble plus a few guest Scandawegians. There are no big international stars at all. I particularly liked Michael Kristensen’s Loge which was cleverly characterised and well sung. Johan Reuter’s Wotan was a really good performance too. I didn’t notice any obvious weak links in a strong ensemble performance. Tight and incisive conducting to from Schønwandt who was very well supported by the Royal Danish Orchestra.
Technically this isn’t bad though I found myself really wanting Blu-ray sound and picture because this DVD transfer doesn’t quite do it. I switched between DTS and LPCM sound a few times because neither was quite up to the density of the orchestral writing. A true HD picture would have helped in the darker scenes too. I’m really hoping that a musically and dramatically first rate Ring will appear on Blu-ray before too long. The documentation is decent with a good essay from Holten about the production. There are no extras and there are English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Danish subtitles.