So much has been written about Patrice Chéreau’s centenary production of the Ring cycle at Bayreuth that I approached reviewing it with some trepidation. I have decided to write about it “as is”; i.e. to write about what I see on the DVD and leave the undoubted historical significance, perhaps even revolutionary impact of the production, to others. Also, it’s apparent that what’s on the DVD, filmed in an empty house as was contemporary Bayreuth practice, must differ from what was seen on the Green Hill in certain key ways. This is a review of what;s seen and heard on the DVD.
Das Rheingold opens in what appears to be a hydro electric generating station. There’s all kinds of industrial paraphenalia, like cogwheels, around. Oddly, given that Brian Large is directing the film, we open on a sustained long shot that seems to show most of the set with the Rhine Maidens disporting merrily. Alberich’s appearance cues lots of smoke; for the first of many times. Surely they didn’t use this much smoke when there was an audience? There’s a lot going on in this scene with a very sexy trio of Rhine Maidens flirting enthusiastically with Hermann Becht’s well characterised Alberich Does the curse scene lack a little gravitas? It seems so, perhaps because Boulez’ reading of the score seems to favour transparency over heft. Also this scene is very dark to the point of being hard to watch at times. I remember a lot of productions from the period being that way!
The abode of the gods is also 19th century bourgeois industrial. There are some fine performances here. Hanna Schwarz impresses as a dignified and sharply characterised Fricka and, when the giants appear, we get real heft from Matti Salminen’s Fasolt and Fritz Hübner’s Fafner. What also becomes apparent though is that Donald McIntyre is a bit light weight as Wotan. He’s dry of tone and just not very impressive; more manager of cost accounting than CEO. Carmen Reppel’s Freia is also not a strength. She’s a bit shrill vocally and a bit hysterical in the acting department.
Nibelheim, unsurprisingly is also quite industrial. The Tarnhelm scene is quite cute though why Large takes the camera off Alberich during the first transformation is a bit of a mystery. It’s here we see the best of Heinz Zednik’s very fine Loge. He pretty much steals the show whenever he appears. He’s arch and insinuating without distorting the music. I think Large interpolates some non theatre footage during the ascent back to the surface and there’s really too much smoke. The final scene plays out in much the same way as the rest. There’s nothing particularly special about the Rainbow Bridge or Valhalla but it’s all serviceable enough.
Technically this is very much a 1980 TV production. The picture is a somewhat grainy $:3. The sound options are Dolby 5.1 (presumably reengineered from a stereo tape) and LPCM stereo. They are both decent but not thrilling. My copy has English and French subtitles but the currently available version has more options. As far as I can tell, this recording is only currently available as part of a complete Ring with bonus documentary disk but at a bargain price.