'Das Rheingold' tells the story about Alberich's theft of the gold from the Rhine, the forging of the Ring of power and sets off a cascade of events that further develop in the subsequent operas of the Ring Cycle.

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Cast

Cast overview:
James Morris ...
Siegfried Jerusalem ...
Ekkehard Wlaschiha ...
Christa Ludwig ...
Fricka
MariAnne Häggander ...
Freia
Mark Baker ...
Alan Held ...
Jan-Hendrik Rootering ...
Fasolt
Matti Salminen ...
Heinz Zednik ...
Birgitta Svendén ...
Erda
Kaaren Erickson ...
Woglinde
Diane Kesling ...
Wellgunde
Meredith Parsons ...
Flosshilde
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Storyline

'Das Rheingold' tells the story about Alberich's theft of the gold from the Rhine, the forging of the Ring of power and sets off a cascade of events that further develop in the subsequent operas of the Ring Cycle.

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Drama | Fantasy | Music

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Der Ring des Nibelungen: Vorabend - Das Rheingold  »

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User Reviews

An interesting production, somewhat stark.
19 August 2005 | by (The San Francisco Bay Area) – See all my reviews

Back in 1990, when the Ring Cycle hit the U.S. west coast, two productions (if I recall correctly) were in full swing, one of which, the Los Angeles production, stared Siegfried Jerusalem in two staring roles; as Loge in "Das Rheingold" and as Siegfried in "Siegfried."

Both productions have their positives, but, for my money, it was the San Francisco production that will always remain in my mind. Even so it's the Los Angeles version of the 1990 Ring Cycle that's forever preserved on Deutsche Grammophon's DVD collection.

The Los Angeles production has a more stark and, ironically, literary presentation of Wagner's first act. The Rheinmaidens are costumed as actual water nymphs, as Wagner imagined them. They wear a kind of fish body suit, and traipse around a set that has a stage cloth set in front of it with underwater ripples to give the audience a sense of being below the surface of the waves where the Rheingold is guarded. Said stage cloth moves up and down to complete the visuals for the audiences' visual reference. The same stark approach is given to the next set piece where Wotan and his pantheon confront the two giants, Fasolft and Fafner, they've contracted to build their fortress. There's a fine backdrop of a mountain range with a rainbow arching in front of it. It adds to the ethereal nature of the tale's various intrigues, and, like a lot of opera sets, helps highlight the performances of the singers/actors while establishing the location and mood.

But, despite that, for myself, I find Levine's production lacking in terms of set design, even though the performances are on par with a lot of other opera I've seen. Overall the production suffers from a desire to be almost too literary or didactic in its presentation. I never got the sense that I was watching anything other than a stage performance caught on video. I like the performances for what they are, and the sets are passable even if they aren't to my liking, but the videography, combined with the on stage visuals of the Los Angeles production, simply don't cut it. To myself it looks like this was an attempt to merely capture and market the Ring Cycle onto home video for some major LA studio, and it shows.

I hate to do North-South California comparison here, but the San Francisco production was by far superior. The fortress on the backdrop for the San Francisco set looked like a fortress for the gods, and not some quasi-geographic mountainous thing that was understood to be a fortress. Ditto with the Rheingold set, and all the rest for the entire cycle; "Das Rheingold," "Die Walkurie," "Siegfried," and "Gotterdammerung." The Los Angeles sets were built and lit so that they could be broadcast using old tube camera technology, and, like I said in the previous paragraph, it shows. The San Francisco sets were built for spectacular drama. Each set was dramatically lit, and unique in construction. The Los Angeles sets recycled the "fortress" set piece for later segments, giving the whole thing that unique tinge of recycled tinsel-town LA; fake and phony on top of that.

To hear the music and singing one could listen to just about any track, as the inflections of the singers aren't all that different from one version to another. But the actual emoting on stage, the costuming and sets are part of what makes opera what it is. They're what make opera, opera. And the Los Angeles version with Levine at the helm doesn't deliver. For anyone whose seen other renditions throughout the years, either live or on video (live broadcast or tape), then you'll agree that the San Francsico production was by far superior. If you can find a program guide for the 1990 San Francisco Ring Festival, then just flip through the pages and you'll see what I mean.

The one advantage that the LA production had over its Northern Californian counterpart were the giants' makeup. The SF production fell short (no pun intended) when Fasolf, Fafner, and their helper giants came on stage wearing unsightly large elevator shoes and cranium extensions that looked like something out of an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation. The SF giant costumes were that bad. Even so, this one small advantage of the LA production doesn't cover the multitude of sins in terms of production values, especially for an area like Los Angeles that has all kinds of wealth to dedicate to the arts. It was almost criminal to see the one set recycled for another location, not to mention the so-called special effects which, again, just didn't compare to the War Memorial Opera house's high standards.

But, even with all that, truth is I did enjoy seeing the tale acted out again on DVD, even if it lacked the visual effulgence of the one production which I will always consider as the Gold Standard for Wagner's "Der Ring Des Nibelungen." The Deutsche Grammophon edition is clear in both sound and image. There're no TVC dropouts, and the sound is Dolbey digital DTS surround, so, by that criteria, it is a competent production. Still, how I wish the 1990 San Francisco production had been captured and preserved onto film or video, because, as usual, Northern Californian art trumps Los Angeles marketing; everyday of the week, even in opera. In fact I'd even recommend it over the famed German/Austrian production of the late 80s, which, if you can find it, is also on VHS and DVD.


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