To my taste the 1993 Barenboim/Bayreuth Ring is the best of the current commercial video recordings of The Ring, which include as well: 1) the 1985 Bayreuth (Philips DVD), 2) the 1989 Bavarian State Opera (EMI-Toshiba DVD), 3) the 1990 Metropolitan Opera (DG DVD), 4) the 2002 Stuttgart Staatsoper (TDK DVD), and 5) the 2004 Teatre del Liceu (Opus Arte DVD). Most of the versions have significant strong points. The 1985 Bayreuth has very good singing and acting in a satisfying modern production. For me, though, the sound and video quality have always been disappointing. The 1989 production has very good audio and video quality and a good, satisfying performance in a fairly interesting production. However, this Japanese set is extremely expensive and hard to buy. The 1990 Met performance is, amazingly, the only traditional staging available. It is definitely a very good performance, but I find the less traditional performances more stimulating. The audio and video quality are only good. The 2002 Stuttgart performance is well sung and the orchestra plays well. The sound is very good, video is OK. This version has been roundly criticized, but mostly for its stage design. It is pretty strange in parts (the Dragon in Siegfried, for example), but I enjoyed many parts of it. The 2004 Barcelona performance has been acclaimed by many reviewers, largely based on the stage design by Harry Kupfer. The singing and orchestral playing are OK, the conductor's tempo is generally slow. The sound recording is good, but the video (particularly for a brand new release) is quite disappointingly grainy to me.
Now we come to the 1993 Bayreuth/Barenboim production. Always important for Wagner, the orchestral playing is excellent, Barenboim's conducting is outstanding, and the recorded sound is excellent. The singing and acting are uniformly very good. The stage design, again by Harry Kupfer is modern (supposedly set in the 30's--Siegmund's costume is rather Indiana Jones-like). The deep Bayreuth stage is effectively used. Through all four operas I find the staging interesting and enjoyable to look at, not so spare as to be boring but not so dominant as to be awkward or overwhelming to the action. This performance has finally been released on DVD by Warner Classics in both the US and Europe in NTSC. I've learned from Warner that the original recording was in analog High Definition and their first step in preparing the curent DVD was to transfer the video recording to a digital 1080 line tape (so we can hope there will be an HD version later). There was also ambient sound recording in the original so the DTS soundtrack is real 5.1. The 16:9 anamorphic picture is a big improvement over the laser disc, much more detail; the sound is very good. An exciting reintroduction of a great performance. (The other 3 Ring operas will be released in the next 15 months, according to Warner.)
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