JOHN ADAMS: City Noir (2009). MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D "Titan."
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orch/Gustavo Dudamel, cond.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON DVD VIDEO B0013638 TT: 91 min. + 23 min. bonus
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WAGNER: Das Rheingold
Juha Uusitalo (Wotan); Ilya Bannik (Donner); Germán Villar (Froh); John Deszak (Loge);Franz-Josef Kapellmann (Alberich); Gerhard Siegel (Mime); Matti Salminen (Fasolt); Stephen Milling (Fafner); Anna Larsson (Fricka);Sabina von Walther (Freia); Christa Mayer (Erda); Silvia Vásquez (Woglinde); Ann-Katrin Naidu (Wellgunde); Hannah Esther Minutillo (Floshilde); Communitat Vaienciana Orch/Zubin Mehta, cone.
C MAJOR (UNITEL CLASSICA) DVD VIDEO 700508 PT: 167 min + 27 min. bonus
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WAGNER: Die Walküre
Peter Seiffert (Siegmund); Petra Maria Schnitzer (Sieglinde); Matti Salminen (Hunding); Juha Uusitalo (Wotan); Jennifer Wilson (Brünnhilde); Anna Larsson (Fricka);Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana/Zubin Mehta, cond.
C MAJOR (UNITEL CLASSICA) DVD VIDEO 700804 TT: 245 min. + 27 min. bonus
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Televised live on PBS, Gustavo Dudamel's first official concert as director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic took place October 8, 2009 in Walt Disney Concert Hall. It was a major event long awaited by the city and the musical community. This DVD includes a 23-minute documentary about the dynamic young conductor and his new affiliation after taking over an orchestra previously led by Esa-Pekka Salonen who is now conductor laureate. Dudamel also is principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony with a contract to run through 2012, and he continues his remarkable association with the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra—along with many guest-conducting assignments. Let us hope he doesn't burn out! The inaugural concert begins with a work by John Adams, appointed by Dudamel to fill a new position—Creative Chair. City Noir was commissioned for the event. It is a fascinating, complex four-movement work of great rhythmic impact. The rich orchestration is a showpiece for the entire orchestra, with many jazzy interludes for solo players. City Noir is given a brilliant performance,and its intricate syncopation is admirably controlled by Dudamel's inspired conducting. Mahler's Symphony No. 1 shows that Dudamel also is a master of that composer's idiom. This is a stunning concert in every way. Video is excellent—the camera always is in the right place, which cannot be said for audio. Very often we see percussion instruments being played, but they are not to be heard. It always is a pleasure to watch Dudamel, and we are fortunate to have this video of an auspicious event.

This exciting—and sometimes frustrating—production of Wagner's Ring has been described as "A Ring for the 21st Cenbtury." There have been many modern Wagner productions where the misguided directors make a shambles of the composer's intent with their often outrageous concepts often not very well sung. Zubin Mehta suggested the Catalan theatre company La Fura dels Baus mount a new production in Valencia's spectacular opera house, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, using modern technology and "visual language of Star Wars and Harry Potter films." Stage director was Carlus Padrissa, stage design by Roland Olbeter, and the video creator was Franc Aleu. Lighting, so important in these productions, was by Peter van Praet, with costumes by Chu Uroz. Costumes for the valkyries are typical of the stereotype of a Wagnerian soprano, and as most of the valkyries are generous in girth (particularly Brünnhilde), costumes do not flatter. As all nine (including Brünnhilde) are of more than ample heft, we must have about a ton of Valkyries on stage, a dubious honor. But, they sing MAGNIFICENTLY! I've never heard these important roles sung better, so we must overlook the visual aspect; it is quite comic to see these lady warriors moving up and down, assisted by cranes.

The performances were recorded live in April/May 2007. The first two operas, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, are spectacular, and most unusual. Large cherry-picker type cranes are on stage moving singers horizontally and vertically as they are singing. There are six large panels across the stage with a constant display of projected images and symbols, often quite dazzling. And most of it makes sense, although it would have been helpful for most viewers if DVD notes explained more about the producers' concept. In the opening of Das Rheingold, each of the three Rhine Maidens is actually swimming inside a large glass aquarium (!). The descent of Wotan and Loge into the Nibelheim is visually astonishing. In the final scene of Rheingold there surprisingly is no rainbow bridge. The gods enter a Valhalla made from a suspended tableaux of 30 fallen hero's bodies, hanging 6 in each row with 5 rows. Die Walkúre is a knockout in every way. You will not forget the magnificent forest scenes, the apparition of the sword, the dynamic valkyries flying about (thanks to the cranes and the industrious crew that manipulates them). The final scene in which Brünnhilde is surround by fire is most effective.

These performances are terrific in every way. No one will be disappointed by the strong casting throughout—this is among the finest Wagner singing you will hear anywhere today. Recently this site was not enthusiastic about the first CD by young Finnish bass-baritone Juha Uusitalo (REVIEW), but now he has developed total control over his voice; his Wotan is uncommonly strong both vocally and dramatically. Peter Seiffert is a vital, assured Siegfried, Anna Larsson's Fricka could not be bettered. Jennifer Wilson, a relatively new soprano in the opera world, is a magnificent Brünnhide—I've never heard anyone sing the role better. One is reminded of Birgit Nilsson at her best. What a powerhouse soprano Wilson is! The Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana is a virtuoso full-size ensemble; conductor Mehta appropriately shares applause with them whenever possible.

And there's more. The Blu-Ray versions of both of these operas offer DTD-HD MA 7.1 surround sound. Philipp Knop supervised the audio, and you will listen in amazement to the stunning richness and wide range recreation of this performance. Those who have regular 5.1 surround sound can of course play this on their 5 speakers (plus sub woofer); should you have the appropriate preamp, two extra back speakers and amplifiers, you'll have this extra bit of realism and impact. Let us hope there will be more audio/video feasts such as these. The two final Ring operas, Siegfried and Götterdammerung, will be reviewed shortly on this site. Don't miss these extraordinary performances with their superb singing, stunning visuals, and spectacular sound.

R.E.B. (February 2010)

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