The best of the Stuttgart Ring Cycle productions but still problematic
I absolutely love the Ring Cycle, but I confess that I didn't think much overall of the Stuttgart productions. Das Rheingold and Die Walkure were dull and Siegfried was cheap, irritating and overly-silly, all three of which were saved only by the music and as close as two or three good performances for each production. Gotterdammerung was the least problematic, but there are still problems. For starters it is the least cheap-looking, with Gibichung's Hall the best overall set of the four productions.
That's not to say it is completely perfect visually. The set for Brunnhilde's rock is very badly painted, and of the costumes Hagen and Alberich's were the only ones I kind of liked, the others especially Brunnhilde's fluffy bunny-like nightdress and the Norns reminiscent of bag ladies were strange. The stage effects also underwhelm, especially Grane, who instead of majestic is little more than a wooden stick horse. It's like the rubber frog seen in Das Rheingold all over again.
On the technical side, the sound is clear as is the picture quality and the video directing is good. Musically, this is again the best of the four. The orchestra don't sound underpowered and play with a lush and powerful sound, the beginning is not quite mysterious enough but at least there is some impact. And the conducting didn't plod too much or was overly-bombastic in the climaxes, a big problem in especially Die Walkure.
Staging-wise, it is not as dull as Rheingold or Walkure or is as silly as Siegfried. There are some good scenes here, like the start with the Norns, Hagen's call and the scene between Brunnhilde and Waltraute. Plus, Alberich's death did bring out a slightly more human edge to Hagen, some may argue that this weakens his character but I found it did work. However, there is an uneasy mix of horror and comedy involved here, such as the dead Siegfried and Gunther visibly walking off for Brunnhilde to sing the Immolation scene, which for me is almost as bad as Tristan still being alive and inanely grinning during Isolde's Liebestod in the 1998 production of Tristan Und Isolde. And don't get me started on the whole hiding the bear(with the Rheinmaidens) and cake business.
As for the performances, they are not brilliant across the board, but there are a few outstanding ones and these performances are among the best of the Stuttgart Ring Cycle performances. The standouts for me were Roland Bracht, Franz Joseph Kappelmann and Hernan Iturraide. Bracht's Hagen is truly outstanding, sonorous and evil, not quite as good as Salminen at the Met but one of the stronger assumptions of the role on DVD in my opinion. Kappelmann is an Alberich that is menacing yet we do feel for him, amazing considering that in Gotterdammerung Alberich is pretty much a cameo role. As Gunther, Iturraide sings beautifully, with a quite appealing Bel-Canto-like quality, contrasting I feel well with the role of Hagen.
Tichina Vaughn is a moving and well sung Waltraute, making more of an impression than her Fricka in Walkure, which was good but here she has much better support than in the second act of Walkure(undermined by a very unconvincing Wotan) in her big scene in Act 2 with Brunnhilde. Eva Marie Westbroek rounds off the convincing trio of conspirators as Gutrune, vocally and physically beautiful and she shows rage and sorrow over Siegfried's death very well. The Norns are well done(even with a couple of wobbly moment from the first Norn), with their opening scene one of the better scenes of the production, and the Rheinmaidens have much more to do than in Rheingold. The chorus are fantastic, especially in Hagen's big aria.
Luana DeVol is not bad as Brunnhilde. I did say in my Siegfried review that Lisa Gasteen was the best Brunnhilde of the three productions Brunnhilde is part of. I did forget to say that that applies only vocally. I do think that DeVol would've been better vocally if she had done the role ten years earlier, with moments that come across as shrieky for my liking. Thankfully though, she is not as promiscuous as Brunnhilde was made in Siegfried and, while she is not in the best vocal shape, I didn't get the sense that the role was too heavy for her like I did with Renate Behle in Walkure. Her Immolation Scene is tense, moving and thrilling, singlehandedly the best piece of acting of Behle, Gasteen and DeVol put together.
Which brings me sadly to the weak link of the cast, the Siegfried of Albert Bonnema. He does fit the part better physically than Jon Frederic West and marginally more convincing as an actor. The biggest problem was his vocal production and how he was directed. There are one too many times in this production where Siegfried does come across as too comical, which really jars with everybody else and the fact he is more the intense and heroic figure in this opera. The vocal production sadly is no better, coming across as strained and under-pitch most of the time.
In conclusion, has its problems but of my least favourite of any Ring Cycle production on DVD( the others are 1990 Met, 2007-9 Valencia, 1980 Chereau-Boulez and 1992-3 Bayreuth, the 2010-2 Met productions are not on DVD but that Ring Cycle was better than the Stuttgart Ring as well) this Gotterdammerung is the least bad. 6/10 Bethany Cox
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