I have seen this film from the 1992 Bayreuth Ring Cycle a couple of times before but I watched it again this week before seeing a live production of Das Rheingold at Longborough. Having refreshed my knowledge of the opera, I was able to sit in my favourite seat in the middle of Row A, breathing down the conductor's neck, without worrying about having to read the surtitles. This 1992 film was my first ever experience of Wagner's Ring and, as you might imagine, it changed my life.The brilliance of the orchestral playing, under Daniel Barenboim, is apparent from the opening bars. Visually, this introduction is also the most impressive part of the production as it gradually reveals the Rheinmaidens at the bottom of the Rhine being confronted by the dwarf Alberich, played by the magnificently grumpy Günter Von Kannen. It looks like a big budget film rather than a record of a stage production. I get a tingling feeling every time I watch this, in the knowledge that I am setting out on an epic 15-hour journey.
Stage Director Harry Kupfer takes Wagner's impossible stage directions literally, even to the extent of having real giants. Matthias Hölle and Philip Kang as Fastolt and Fafner are about 20ft high and are moved around, presumably, by stage hands hidden underneath their skirts. This is the least successful part of the production as the singers lack mobility and look silly with human-sized heads on top of giant bodies.
On previous viewings, I had concentrated on John Tomlinson's performance as Wotan. He is magnificent, presaging even greater performances in the nest two parts of the Cycle but it is noticeable that Wotan, in this first part, is not a particularly big sing. He spends a lot of time just posing with his spear while Loge, the god of fire runs round doing his work for him. The real star of the show is Graham Clarke's camp Loge, the only gay in Valhalla. Clarke's Loge really emphasises the distance between himself and the other gods. They are stupid and selfish, he is a real bright spark who, disgusted with their behaviour, is left finally alone as he refuses to join them in Valhalla.
So, the night after watching this wonderful production costing mega marks, I went to hear Das Rheingold in the quiet Cotswold village of Longborough in an auditorium not much bigger than a village hall. In its own way, that too was life-changing, proving that Wagner can be equally well staged on a small budget with a big imagination.
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