Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Wagner - five DVD recommendations for those who do not like (know?) Wagner

A reader has asked for a recommendation of three Wagner DVDs for those who do not like/know Wagner´s music. I will give five...

My main criteria for selecting these videos are simply those that I find provide the best introduction to Wagner´s music in relatively updated productions of a reasonable quality. Thus no Tristan, no Parsifal, no Ring, no vintage DVDs with historic singers. Comments and suggestions are, of course, most welcome.

A brief look at the attached videos may hopefully help to decide before buying..

1. The Flying Dutchman. Highly acclaimed production from Bayreuth 1985 by Harry Kupfer, who essentially sees the opera as Senta´s dream.

Final scene below with Simon Estes (Dutchman) and Lisbeth Baslev (Senta):



2. Lohengrin. Either 1) Konwitschny´s class-room staging from Barcelona Liceu in 2006. Very innovative Regietheater, where the opera takes place in a class-room, the protagonists being children. Definitely a fresh view on the work. To be honest, I do not like it, as it takes too much focus away from the music, but for those unacquainted with Wagner, it may serve as an entertaining introduction.

Lohengrin and Elsa´s wedding in the classroom (John Treleaven, Emily Magee and Luana DeVol):




or 2) the elegant Lohengrin choice: Lehnhoff´s production from Baden-Baden 2006 - my personal Lohengrin favourite, not the least because this features the incomparable Waltraud Meier as Ortrud.

Below - the confrontation between Ortrud and Elsa in front of the church (Waltraud Meier and Solveig Kringelborn):

3. Tannhäuser: David Alden´s modern, very aesthetic Tannhäuser production from Munich 1994.

Confrontation between Tannhäuser (René Kollo) and Venus (Waltraud Meier):




4. Walküre - Patrice Chéreau´s historic staging from Bayreuth 1976. Still the most moving version I have seen of this work. Perhaps my top-recommendation for introducing oneself to Wagners work...

Below: Confrontation between Matti Salminen (Hunding), Peter Hofmann (Siegmund) and Jeannine Altmeyer (Sieglinde):




5. For those not keen on modern productions: Meistersinger from The Metropolitan Opera 2001. The best "traditional" Wagner DVD on the market, to my taste. With Karita Mattila, James Morris, Ben Heppner and René Pape.

Scene from Act 3 in Hans Sachs´ living room :


11 comments:

Dr Yiapud said...

thanx..i 'll try the hollander and lohengrin with meier..

William said...

Thanks for the recommendations. Onto the amazon, netflix, and library lists they go. You've esp. piqued my interest with the class-room Lohengrin.

Gandharva said...

The DVD recommendations are appreciated because I’m usually forced to rely on YouTube or a CD to introduce someone to Wagner. Parsifal is the only DVD I have (I refuse to resurrect my VHS recording of Levine’s Met Ring. Not because it is Levine, but because it is VHS). So I try to find a creative way to generate some interest. For example, if someone says they don’t like Wagner – which really means they haven’t heard him or they picked the wrong 2 minutes in the middle of an opera as their first exposure – I’ll ask them if they like movies. Then I’ll show them the scene from Birth with Nicole Kidman that leads into the opening prelude to Die Walküre. They’ll usually say, “That’s cool.” You could do the same thing with The Ride of the Valkyries from Apocalypse Now, but if you have to resort to that to impress someone with Wagner it’s probably a lost cause and barely one step above showing them naked Rheinmaidens.

Generally I never suggest an entire opera as an introduction to Wagner’s work because it’s just too much for someone to take in. Instead, I recommend listening to three selections from Tannhäuser: the pilgrim’s chorus, Elizabeth’s prayer and Wolfram’s song to the evening star (to which they will inevitably say, “Hey, that sounds familiar. I think I’ve heard that before. I like it.”). From there I recommend Mild und leise and the final scene from Götterdämmerung because I think everyone should hear Brünnhilde’s Glorification theme emerge from silence at least once in their lifetime. (We should have a discussion about this sometime.)

If you’ve gotten this far with someone and they ask for more I think you can throw them headfirst into Parsifal. Some may hold back thinking it is too deep, But I say bring it on. Life is too short. Just give them a little guidance and let the music do the rest. Even if they don’t get it, like Parsifal himself, they’ll be transformed by the experience.

NV said...

For Parsifal, the more interesting remains yet syberberg's movie(Lehnhoff production in Baden is a little bit artificial ...). Maybe it's not for beginners but maybe it is, precisely because it has more to do with Germany, Europe, culture and wagner himself than with Parsifal. Newcomers have thus plenty of things to deal with, and if they are interested in european history and culture, they can't get bored. But it's a movie and not a video...

mostly opera... said...

Ghandarva - your points are very interesting, especially since none of the "introductory" Wagner scenes you mention are among my personal favourites. Neither are the ones I posted myself, as a matter of fact :)

- Tannhäuser I almost never listen to, the Liebestod for me is among the least interesting parts of Tristan, Dutchman I find lacking in orchestration compared to his later works, of Lohengrin I virtually only listen to the Ortrud-Telramund scene, Meistersinger is often too long etc. :)

My own fascination of Wagner started when I was 12 with the Hunding character.. I´ve always been fascinated by the dark aspects of Wagner and my favourite scenes have not changed much over the years and include:

Ortrud-Telramund in Lohengrin Act 2, Siegfried first 30 minutes of Act 2, Wotan-Erda scene in Siegfried Act 3, Wotan´s monologue in Walküre, Hagen-Alberich confrontation in Götterdämmerung.

Probably has to do with me not being much of a tenor fan either..

nv- I´ve always found the Syberberg Parsifal quite odd being a lip-synched studio production and very difficult to predict how people will respond to it. As you said, for some it may serve as an excellent introduction to Parsifal and Wagner and for other it may simply turn out to be eh..boring.

Dr Yiapud said...

Well really it isn't a matter of duration of the opera..it is difficult to attend to 5hrs opera of wagner but the same is for mozart's (ie cosi fan tute)..but in the other hand if you attend to trovatore or tosca really you will pray not to finish!!anyway i ordered the 2 dvds and i am looking forward to seeing them...

nv said...

Mostly opera- Lip-synching was the rule at the time and I agree it seems now awfully old fashioned. That’s the reason I can’t look at those old Ponelle’s production which have been released in DVD. The difference with Syberberg’s Parsifal is that it is a movie and not a filmed opera. I saw it the first time when it was released in France at the beginning of the eighties in a still existing picturesque movie-theater in the seventh district of Paris. My father –who owned only Gluck’s Orpheus in vinyl- and my girlfriend, who liked Cat Stevens and the Sex pistols, loved it. Precisely because it was not only an opera. That’s why I said it may be a way to attract novices. But of course not all kind of novices. And I can perfectly understand why some people find it boring…

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendations. I own the "Tannhäuser" one and totally agreed with you. It's simply a marvellous performance, despite Kollo (I also would add that any production/DVD release with Waltraut Meier is worth!).

Also followed your suggestion and bouth the "elegant Lohengrin".

But I was hoping for a Ring cycle DVD suggestion. I have been struggling with it. Have bought all the other Wagner operas, but the Ring. Somehow I don't really know where to begin. I have a CD version, which I have listened exaustingly, but cannot decide on a DVD set. Any tips?

Finally, after spending nearly a whole afternoon reading your blog (by the way, congratulations!), I found most intriguing that there was no recommendation for a Tristan DVD. Why is that? As I have in my "collection" six (6!!!) versions of the opera, some of them you have commented yourself, I was curious to see which one you would recommend. Any hope on that side?

mostly opera... said...

My project is to review all available Wagner operas on DVD, which takes some time to write up, though I have virtually seen them all. I´m in the middle of writing about the Kupfer/Barenboim Ring, which is the one I recommend. As number two: The Chéreau prodution. But more on that hopefully within a month.

I believe I recommend the Heiner Müller Tristan DVD with Daniel Barenboim and W Meier from Bayreuth with his previous Ponnelle production from the 80´s as a second choice for those more inclined towards traditional productions.

Hopefully I´ll finish this Wagner DVD write-up marathon within a month..

Rheintochter said...

Thank you so much for the Ring recomendations. I was finally bold enough and bought the Baremboim/Kupfer version, which I'm watching right now. Thank you and good luck in your DVD reviews... I'm certainly curious to read them!

On the Tristan recomendation, I'm not so sure... I have recently rewatched my DVDs... I do admire the Muller version. Maybe it is the most balanced vocally, but there is something in the interaction of the major characters that doesn't fit. It looks too artificial, like if Tristan and Isolde were more symbols than real people. I know it is a possible reading of the drama, but I definately prefer the versions where the characters seem more real. As for the Ponelle version, I definately don't like Joana Meier's Isolde. Kollo's Tristan is also too static. Perhaps it is a fault of the DVD, the whole experience being something totally different alive. I think there is no final Tristan on DVD yet. The Konwitschny Tristan is better, imo, despite Jon Fredric West, who has totally miss the point with Tristan. I also like very much the Py/Jordan version, despite the bad quality of the reccording. But I think that Py has some interesting perceptions on the drama, and last but not leat, Forbis is the most good looking Tristan on DVD. But it's a pity that Kupfer's Tristan was never reccorded (as far as I know). I watched it last night alive at the Berlin Staatsoper, and was so moved by the angel and the interaction of the main characters... unfortunately, no Waltraud Meier, but Deborah Polaski did a fine job, and Robert Gambill wasn't as bad as I have thought... And, I have never watched Baremboim alive, so it was something to rememeber!!!!

Once more, thanks for the comments.

Anonymous said...

Try your entrance to the world of Wagner with his great-granddaughter's interpretation of Meistersinger on DVD. Out now and available under www.bayreuther-festspiele.de.

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