CDs / DVDs, 27. June 2006
At last we have a contemporary treatment of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen that doesn't insult audiences. This production is based on the new "Complete Edition of the works of Richard Wagner," and considerable discussion is given to the numerous (thousands it states) minor changes based on Wagner's notes after the time of the premiere. I doubt most listeners would be aware of these except for faster tempi than usual ("Don't's not an aria!" Wagner said referring to Brünnhilde in Götterdämmerung). What is important in these performances is the imaginative staging—the stage circles into the audience with the orchestra pit in the center but at only a slightly lower level than the "stage." Sets by George Tsypin are basic but believable, costumes designed by Eiko Ishioka are imaginative and appropriate (the DVD cover shows Brünnhilde's), and Pierre Audi's stage direction is compelling.

All of this is remarkably impressive visually but would be for naught if the singing didn't do justice to Wagner's masterpieces—and generally it does, considering the state of Wagnerian singing today. John Bröcheler's Wotan/Wanderer is uniformly strong, and there is a welcome appearance of Chris Merritt as Loge, a role far removed from the tenor's earlier high-tenor parts that brought him fame, but right for him now. Henk Smit and Graham Clark as Alberich and Mime, vividly portray these disreputable characters. Renihild Runkel is a solid, vocally secure Fricka, Anne Gjevang a strong Erda. Nadine Secunde's Sieglinde gets better as Walküre progresses; by the time of "O hehrstes Wunder!" in Act III she is in excellent form. Likewise, Jeannine Altmeyer's Brünnhilde, rather stressed in her Battle Cry, improves in Act III and her big scene with Wotan is superb. John Keyes isn't a true heldentenor, but he copes well with the demanding role of Siegmund, and visually he is totally convincing. This is the finest batch of Valkyries I've ever heard; no question that one or two of them will be singing major Wagner roles sometime soon. The orchestra (Hague Residentie Orchestra for Rheingold, Netherlands Philharmonic for Walküre), are excellent, and conductor Hartmut Haenchen proves to be a fine Wagnerian conductor. The 5.1 surround sound is full and rich with fine balance between orchestra and singers, photography is superb with the camera almost always in the right spot. I look forward to Siegfried and Götterdämmerung; this is an admirable Ring