I have always appreciated Wagner's music, and even more so with the monumental Ring Cycle. Das Rheingold is the first part of the cycle, and while not as musically beautiful as Siegfried or as accessible as Die Walkure it is still as compelling. Of the other versions I've seen, I loved the 1990 Met, 2010 Met and 1992 Bayreuth, highly enjoyed the 1980 Chereau-directed performance and 2007 Valencia, liked the 2006 Copenhagen and was underwhelmed by 2003 Stuttgart. Of those productions, the weakest was this one from Weimar.
By all means it does have some things I liked. The orchestral playing is suitably lush and powerful, and Carl St Clair(who I've never heard of much) conducts with a serious and enigmatic assurance without being pedantic. Of the staging there were only two bits that stood out/completely worked for me, Loge's disgust at the gods and Fafner's laughter as he kills Fasolt. There are three good performances, the best being Nadine Weismann's vocally and dramatically glorious Erda. Erin Caves' Loge is suitably ironic and Christine Hansmann is a stylish and witty Fricka.
How I wish I can say the same for the rest of the cast but I can't. Other than the production values and staging, the worst assets were the Rhinemaidens. Just when I was just getting over seeing bald Norns in Gotterdammerung(in a previous production) I see one of the Rhinemaidens is. But they are even worse vocally, the harmonies are never secure in pitch and the first Rhinemaiden not only sings her high notes off pitch but you also get the sense that she actually can't sing them. I was also disappointed in the Wotan of Mario Hoff. Actually dramatically he is alright, he does have that sense of authority. It is a shame though that he is not suited vocally, rather than the usual noble, darker-sounding bass baritone Hoff sounds like a lyric baritone.
Tomas Howes as well as looking as far from skin-crawling as you can get as Alberich(third perhaps only to Hagen and Fafner in terms of creepiness in the Ring Cycle), sings with a terrible wobble and his pitch is approximate all the time. Fasolt and Fafner here are single-handedly the most ridiculously conceived Fasolt and Fafner I've seen on DVD, Fafner in particular actually looks as though he is going to fall over any minute and their designs would look more at times in The Munsters for example. Sadly their vocals also disappoint, Renatus Meszar actually is pretty good if perhaps too light for the role but Hidekazu Tsumaya is wobbly a lot of the time. The rest of the gods aren't much better. Marietta Zimbult sings and acts too much like a child as Freia. Jean-Noel Briend and Alexander Gunther are not too bad vocally but as Froh and Donner they are not stirring enough.
As for the production-values and staging, there is little to write home about. The sets are rather small, for a Wagner production I don't think sets the size they are here work, but they are also stark and lacking in grandeur. The stage effects are next to nothing, I missed Valencia's very striking way of descending into Niebelheim, here it seemed dead and almost like you were just waiting for something to happen. The effects for the Tarnhelm take the crown from Stuttgart as the most underwhelming I've seen, while cheaply done at least something happened in Stuttgart. The costumes are just as bad, Alberich and the giants especially are ridiculous.
Staging-wise, I mentioned the single two bits that worked. Everything else was dull, lightweight and almost far too silly. As if the Tarnhelm wasn't bad enough, for some inexplicable reason they make Froh blind and Donner would belong as a strongman at a carnival but he looked so out of place here especially compared to Froh. I just didn't get what Michael Schulz was trying to do, hopefully the other Weimar Ring cycle will show the complete opposite and that this was the case of nobody finding their comfort zones yet. Overall, apart from the orchestral playing and conducting, 2 bits of staging and the performances of Erda, Loge and Fricka this Rheingold didn't work for me. 4/10 Bethany Cox
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