Das Rheingold

Richard Wagner Das Rheingold opera to libretto by the composer. Directed 2007 by Carlus Padrissa and La Fura dels Baus at the Calatrava opera house Palau de las Arts Reina Sofía in Valencia. Stars Juha Uusitalo, Ilya Bannik, Germán Villar, John Daszak, Matti Salminen, Stephen Milling, Franz-Josef Kapellmann, Gerhardt Siegel, Anna Larsson, Sabina von Walther, Christa Mayer, Silvia Vázquez, Ann-Katrin Naidu, and Hannah Esther Minutillo. Zubin Mehta conducs the Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana. Videos created by Franc Aleu; sets by Roland Olbeter; lighting by Peter van Praet; costumes by Chu Uroz; directed for TV by Tiziano Mancini. Grade: B

The L'Opera Dou Jury viewed this Das Rheingold and gave it the grade of "B+". After seeing the Met Ring cycle, I'm less enthusiastic than the Jury about this Valencia recording.

Now to my assessment. The Met Das Rheingold is a traditional Ring show with clever set changing technology (using "the machine") plus tasteful updating of costume design with a cute "Valhalla art deco" style. But above all, the Met focused on clear, clean story-telling with taut (but paced) directing, expert acting, and superb, clear videography to support their world-class singers.

The Valencia Das Rheingold, on the other hand, focuses on a mise-en-scène inspired by equal parts of Star Trek, Bladerunner, and The Discovery Channel.  This includes spectacular computer-generated video plus outlandish stage props (like human beings hanging from a conveyer belt), and acrobatic formations (like that shown on the cover art above).

The Rheinmaidens here come in separate small aquariums that rise out of a river bottom made of aluminum floor plates.  OK, it's neat that the signers are actually wet, but this staging doesn't match up well with the libretto. The magic ring is a big plastic gizmo with a circle of red lights glowing inside. It looks just like one of those paging devices they give you when you wait in line at a busy restaurant (at least it doesn't vibrate and buzz). The costumes are especially outlandish---my favorite is the helmet Freia has that looks like a huge insect cocoon growing out of the top of her head. Any giant stupid enough to lust after this deserves to die ASAP.

Getting past the controversial design, the orchestra under Mehta plays pretty well. The singers are almost always competing with the design commotion for attention and are often also photographed in deep shadows. They seem good enough to hold their ground. But I doubt many viewers will remember this production for sublime singing or acting.

This high-tech design orgy must have been created by artists who got their start making computer action games or working with modern circuses. And if I'm right in calling this an orgy, then when you first encounter it, it's fun; but soon, the orgy cloys. You might think this might appeal to opera newcomers (especially young ones). But these are the very viewers who need to concentrate on the basic story line. Viewers who may benefit the most from this would be those who already know the story well and are ready to put some new zing in their lives. Maybe this was why the Jury gave this such a good grade.

Wonk James Kreh believes that the sound for this title probably was recorded with 48kHz/16-bit sound specs. This would be only slightly better than the specs for most CDs (44.1kHz/16-bit). We think the standard sound recording specs for Blu-ray discs today is 48kHz/24-bit. We can tell that the stereo music on this disc was recorded at 48kHz/16-bit. But the details of the recording of the surround sound are not available, which suggests that it was also recorded at 48kHz/16-bit. Based on this and my comments above, Kreh recommended that the "B+" grade we originally gave be reduced to "B," which I have done.