Wagner-Das Rheingold (Probst/Ruuttunen/Bracht/Stuttgart/Zagrosek) (2002) (NTSC)

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Released 31-May-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Main Menu Audio & Animation
Booklet
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 153:02 (Case: 152)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (74:36) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By János Darvas
Thorsten Fricke
Studio
Distributor
Euroarts
Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring Roland Bracht
Mette Ejsing
Philipp Ens
Helga Ros Indridadottir
Margarete Joswig
Motti Kaston
Robert Künzli
Eberhard Lorenz
Wolfgang Probst
Esa Ruuttunen
Bernhard Schneider
Michaela Schuster
Catriona Smith
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $59.95 Music Richard Wagner


Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None German dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles German
English
French
Spanish
Italian
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    On the scale of massive artworks Der Ring des Nibelungen must rank somewhere near the top. The four music dramas that make up this epic cycle run to about fourteen hours or so of music. There are at least fourteen significant singing roles, as many minor roles again as well as a chorus in the final part. There are set changes that must be made while the music is still playing. The libretto calls for fire and underwater effects, a rainbow bridge, a chariot drawn by rams and a fearsome dragon. And the first act of Götterdämmerung is as long as many complete operas.

    Richard Wagner first conceived the work in the 1840s as a single opera, called Siegfried's Death, but as he worked on the material he realised that to tell the full story required another opera, and then another. Finally he added a prologue opera to set the entire story in context. That opera was Das Rheingold. Wagner had written out the entire Ring in libretto form by the end of 1852 and had it published before commencing work on the music. Das Rheingold was the first to be composed, and it was completed in 1854. The first performance did not take place until 1869, when it was performed on its own in Munich. The entire Ring would not be performed as a tetralogy until the first Bayreuth performances in 1876.

    Like the final opera in Der Ring, Das Rheingold takes the form of a prologue followed by the main part of the story. Unlike the rest of the Ring operas though it is formally in a single act of four scenes, usually performed without a break.

    The prologue takes place at the bottom of the Rhine. Alberich steals the Rhinegold after renouncing love, which allows him to forge a ring that gives him the power to rule the world. Wotan forces Alberich to give up the ring, the Tarnhelm (a helmet that allows the wearer to change shape, become invisible or instantly transport to another location) and the hoard of gold in exchange for his life. Wotan uses the gold to ransom his sister-in-law Freia, who has been promised as payment to the giant brothers Fafner and Fasolt for building the castle of Valhalla. Alberich places a curse on the ring, which takes immediate effect when Fafner kills Fasolt to claim it. The work ends with the gods entering Valhalla.

    At least that's how the libretto tells it. Visually this 2002 presentation by the Stuttgart State Opera eschews a lot of the story. It is set in what is supposed to be (according to the booklet) a sort of health spa, a building with a large fountain in the middle, a smaller one on the left wall, some tiled areas and an upper level at the back. The entire cast are dressed in modern clothes and most of them are on stage throughout. Wotan is some business leader with the rest workers in his organisation, aside from Fasolt and Fafner who are presented like a corporate raider and his hired thug. The Rhine is represented by the fountain, the rainbow bridge is a hole in the floor and there's a lift at the back. The Tarnhelm is a wall mirror. Alberich bites the head off a soft toy sheep and is covered in blood. And so on.

    Does it work? The opera did not feel illuminated in any way to me. In fact I felt somewhat tainted by having watched it - this for a second time to boot. The conceit of the Stuttgart performances is that each part of the Ring is done by a different director (the first time this has been done, apparently) and has no consistency of casting. The result is that the entire work is disjointed, and given that none of the directors sees fit to try to realise the work instead of imposing their own vision on it, none of the parts is greater than the sum of the whole.

    Out of the six available versions of the opera on DVD (excluding the exhorbitantly priced Japanese release of the Sawallisch-conducted Ring cycle which has no English subtitles) this is the sixth-best.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The opera is presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The video is in NTSC format.

    The video is actually very good with only a few minor issues. Close-up and medium shots are clear and relatively sharp, with only the wider shots showing a lack of definition and detail. Most of the time the stage is brightly lit, so there are few of the issues associated with video recordings in low-level lighting. Colour looks a little weak, though the chosen colours for the production are fairly drab anyway. Flesh tones are adequate. Black levels are also okay, but shadow detail is below average, the dark suits often lacking any sort of definition.

    Video artefacts are present but are not disturbing. There is some minor edge enhancement, some low level noise and some other mild compression artefacts.

    Optional subtitles are provided in English, apparently with American spelling though the only instance I saw of this was luster instead of lustre. The subtitles are well done, and compared with some of the other Rheingolds on DVD they seem to be a good, detailed translation of the text.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted, with the layer change occurring at 74:36 during a brief break in the music. The layer change is noticeable but it does not disrupt the music.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Three audio tracks are provided for your listening pleasure. I listened to the DTS 5.1 track in full and sampled both the Dolby Digital 5.1 and Linear PCM 2.0 tracks.

    The audio quality is generally excellent. Not only is there a discernable soundstage across the front, with instruments in their places, but there seems to be some depth as well. Some instruments appear to be closer to the listener than others. The listener is placed very close to the orchestra, so much so that other noises, such as the players moving in their chairs or turning the pages of their manuscripts can be heard clearly.

    The rear channels not only provide audience noises but also reinforce the illusion of practically being in the orchestra pit. The tubas especially can be heard coming from the rear channels as well as the front. The subwoofer blends neatly into the overall sound mix, with only a few instances where it stood out (such as Donner's hammer blow near the end of the opera).

    The Dolby Digital mix is a little more congested and less warm-sounding than the DTS, and the low frequency effects are more noticeable. The PCM track seems restrained by comparison, and the sound picture is less forward and less enveloping.

    There were no issues with audio sync.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu Audio and Animation

    The main menu has some video and audio from the performance, though if you go to a sub menu and return to the main menu the audio disappears.

Booklet

    The booklet contains a short piece about the work, a plot synopsis and a brief essay about the production. These are repeated in several languages. There is also a cast and crew listing and a track listing.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This recording of the opera is also available in a PAL version with a different cover (shown in black and white on the inside cover of the booklet). The same release is available worldwide.

Summary

    A disappointing and even dispiriting staging of the opera, sung competently but without distinction.

    The video quality is very good.

    The audio quality is excellent.

    Don't expect to be overwhelmed by the extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-HS60 LCD projector, 95 inch screen. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationReceiver: Pioneer VSX-AX4ASIS; Power Amplifiers: Elektra Reference (mains), Elektra Theatron (centre/rears)
SpeakersMain: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

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