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Richard Wagner

Staatskapelle Weimar
Carl St. Clair, conductor
Arthaus Musik 101353, DVD,

Wotan – Mario Hoff
Donner – Alexander Günther
Froh – Jean-Noël Briend
Loge – Erin Caves
Alberich – Tomas Möwes
Mime – Frieder Aurich
Fasolt – Renatus Mészár
Fafner – Hidekazu Tsumaya
Fricka – Christine Hansmann
Freia – Marietta Zumbült
Erda – Nadine Weissmann
Woglinde – Silona Michel
Wellgunde – Susann Günther-Dissmeier
Floßhilde – Christiane Bassek

Michael Schulz, stage director
Dirk Becker, set designer
Renée Listerdal, costume designer

Recorded live from the Deutsches Nationaltheater, Weimar, 2008.

NTSC 16:9, PCM Stereo / Dolby Digital 5.1;
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian
Running time: 166 mins

Review by Steve Koenig

Permit me to start out, Erde-like, with an aviso: this should not be your first or only Rheingold. In many ways it is too cartoon-like in action to convey the depths of feeling musically, vocally, or mythologically. And yet: there's something in the naïve simplicity of this production which makes a very complicated tale very easy to follow; I could easily show it to a junior high schooler with no fear of misunderstanding the story. What would be lacking is the emotions or inner psychology beyond the obvious, but perhaps sometimes the obvious is enough. Most of the acting and the orchestral playing seem to be paint-by-numbers.

It opens with a cute, short prelude of three little girls telling each other a tale using frog puppets as the cameras transition to a bench with symbols: boots, a spear with writing on it, fingers without a hand, and hair.

The giants Fasolt and Fafner are, well, giant, and doofy; like overgrown versions of Devo's Booji Boy with padding all over their heads and ears to make them look, to be blunt, retarded.

The stage is set as long horizontal strips; above is the blue Rhein. Alberich and the others are below and the Rheinmaidens have to reach over in order to do their teasing of the poor dwarf. Bizarrely, one nixie even loses her long tresses and remains bald throughout the rest of the proceedings.

Alberich's costume is the old carny get-up of a false foot extending from the knee so the clown can look disproportionally short while the actor, in effect, is walking on his knees with his legs dragging behind him, covered in dark cloth. This causes him to waddle like a penguin. Later, when they torture Alberich on a table, Wotan's knees threatening to crush his chest, bright lights tear into his eyes.

Freia, without whose apples the Gods will die, clad in virginal white like a prior-day, basket-holding Dorothy Gale, and just as confused, is shoved to and fro between the giants and the Gods like a blonde, braided, gum-crackin' Bavarian bimbo; a bizarre take on Disney's Goldilocks but with a deep voice.

The tarnhelm is no helmet but is thin chain mail over Mime's face; it has the unfortunate effect of a sheer stocking pulled over thief's mug. There are a few scenes where first Mime, and then in the last act, the Gods each cover over an eye with two fingers. Is this paying tribute to Wotan's missing one eye or a skewed reference to a Hitler salute?

A rather effective but perturbing image is Wotan's chopping off Fafner's finger to get the ring; he fiddles with the ring finger for a long while, then after a long, suspenseful time, he finally take the ring off and places it on his own finger, still keeping us in suspense as he holds the finger for a few full minutes more before casually flicking it off like a cigarette stub.

As an actor, Erin Caves stands out as a wily Loge, dressed in a suit and casual vest which makes him appear Wall Street-slimy and, at the very end, the three Rheinmaidens were visually and vocally spellbinding as they stared down Wotan.

Despite my grousing, I still found this a fascinating take on Das Rheingold, and for that reason, for those who collect 'em (I have five on DVD so far), a worthy purchase.

[Many thanks to Tony Pirtle for jumping in at the last second as copyeditor.]

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