In all honesty I was expecting worse. Not because I dislike the opera or any members of the cast, on both counts that couldn't be further from the truth, just that on DVD Das Rheingold(and the Ring Cycle in general) have been a mixed bag ranging from outstanding(1990 Met, 1992 Bayreuth), very good(2010-2012 Met, 1980 Chereau-directed), decent(2006 Copenhagen, 2007-8 Valencia) to disappointing(2004 Stuttgart, 2008 Weimar). I have yet to see the other three, though I have high hopes because names like Eric Halfvarson and Matti Salminen promise so much, but this Liceu Rheingold is at the moment in the decent category.
Perfect it isn't, but I'm glad I went ahead and watched it, not knowing what to expect from the differing reviews. I personally liked the production values, they are not traditional by all means, but the sets are evocative, particularly the centrepiece that is the World-Ash tree and there are some imaginative stage effects. The picture quality and video direction are quite serviceable. The staging had some nice touches, such as Wotan and Loge's descending into the Nieblungen via a subway escalator(not as visually interesting as the 2010 Met or 2007 Valencia production in that scene but at least there was something), as well as a couple of parts that came across as awkward such as the dance the Gods are made to do in the final scene.
Musically, it is solid without being extraordinary. The orchestral playing is lush and powerful, and while quite as musical or as enigmatic as other conductors Bertrand De Billy's conducting does its job well and does have a sense of warmth. The Rhinemaidens are very good especially Cristina Obregon as Woglinde, which was refreshing after recently seeing Weimar's where they were out of tune. The sound is mostly fine, apart from a couple of instances of direct sound like Donner conjuring up thunder it records the orchestra and singers well.
The singing is mostly fine. Of the cast though I did find the weak link to be Kwangchoul Youn's wobbly Fasolt. Thankfully everybody else is wonderful. Andrea Bonig is a knowing Erda, while Elisabete Matos sing Freia beautifully and Lioba Braun a stylishly sung Fricka. Matthias Holle's Fafner is suitably sinister, and Froh and Donner are solid vocally and dramatically. Falk Struckmann does have times where his voice sounds unsteady, but his Wotan is otherwise majestic and noble. There are three standouts however. Francisco Vas' Mime is appropriately oily with a good voice that doesn't resort to shouting. Gunter Von Kannen is not quite as good as good as he is for Bayreuth but still makes for an Alberich that is not only menacing but also tormented. Best of all is Graham Clark's Loge, lightning sharp and deliciously ironic Clark ties with Heinz Zednik as the best Loge on DVD.
All in all, a quite decent Rheingold. I personally wouldn't go as far to say that it is the best Rheingold available, but compared to the likes of Stuttgart and Weimar it is very watchable and well sung stuff indeed. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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