Wiener Staatsoper's 2011 Ring Cycle Recorded - Available for Purchase!!

Seeing the entire Ring Cycle in two weeks, performed under Christian Thielemann with the Wiener Philharmoniker in the pit, was definitely a highlight of my time in Vienna. I am no Wagnerian, by which I mean that while I appreciate the music it is not an area with which I have a great deal of experience. Still, it was quite the experience. I commented then that there were ups and downs in the singing but that the conducting and orchestra were superb. The staging was non-traditional, which also had its high and low points. I had no idea that it was being recorded while I was there, however. It's very gratifying to see the edition, read people's thoughts about it, and say, "oh yes, that substitution of one singer for another? I witnessed that!"

I will not make any further comment on the comparative quality of this recording than to say it definitely has its merits even if many will find it lackluster in singing compared to earlier "golden ages," and may discount it for the price. For more perspective however, contained are links to my original reviews of the four operas and my conclusion reviewing the whole cycle:

Das Rheingold
Die Walküre
Siegfried
Götterdämmerung
Der Ring des Nibelungen - Cycle Review

For those interested in purchasing the set or simply for looking up more information about it, it is available from Amazon, at a price of roughly $72-$92 depending on the seller: Wagner: Ring [Box Set]

I would also like to add that I found Mr. Crowe, a reviewer in the Amazon comments, had a very insightful perspective. I have copied his review below exactly as it appears in its original form, which can be seen, with the comments of others, on the Amazon page for the recording. He provides insight not only into the performances (which I also have written about in my original posts) but also into the sound quality of the recording and the politics behind its creation and the production's creation (things on which I do not touch):

"20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of 2Thielemanns with this one just taking the prize-but then it's not much of a competition-but it could have been worse!August 6, 2013
This review is from: Wagner: Ring (Audio CD)
The recording of this live Ring Cycle from Vienna was dogged by controversy from the word go. The Ring is in more or less permanent repertory at the Staatsoper, with a cycle in the spring and one in late autumn/winter.
A new production will be ushered in by a "Star Conductor", who is then replaced after a year or two by less stellar though just as gifted conductors.
The current production was inaugurated by Franz Welser-Most, who was succeeded by Adam Fischer and Peter Schneider.
It could not have been more of a shock therefore when the 2011 autumn cycle was announced as being under Christian Thielemann than if it had been under Herbert von Karajan via a medium!
Furthermore, it was to be a gala project, recorded and filmed live (with no retakes) for intended commercial release, and to that end it was further announced that the orchestra would be the " A " team composed only of members of the Philharmonic-a true second VPO Ring! Tickets sold out in seconds.
After the rush of excitement, a creeping reality began to set in-what about casting? The pool of truly great singers of Wagner is a small one, (is there one?) and all houses struggle to assemble first rate casts across the board, and Vienna is no exception. An examination of the cast roused little enthusiasm, being composed of veterans, second string performers and few real stars.
However, at least Dalayman was cast as Brunnhilde-until she was taken ill and had to be replaced by Linda Watson at very short notice! Eric Halfvarson had to be replaced as Hagen by Attila Jun for Act 3, and Uusitala was also replaced late on in the rehearsal process by veteran Arnold Dohmen!
Filming stopped after Walkure-Oh Dear!-and it was announced soon after the final performance-that recordings would NOT after all be released!
There was anger and speculation mixed-had Welser-Most axed it in pique in his capacity as Music Director, had Thielemann vetoed it, and if so why?
There were of course suspicions as to why, but denials came from both camps and the debate raged on. Vigorous protests came from the orchestra, no doubt thinking of lost revenue.
Critics in Vienna had hailed the performances as the greatest artistic event in 50 years-international critics were less effusive-MUCH less effusive-so we in the wider public could only surmise that it probably wasn't as great an achievement as we might have hoped for.
Well, finally, after all the shilly- shallying, we can judge for ourselves!
Comparisons are inevitable with the Solti Vienna recording which is otherwise "hors concours", and Thielemann's own Bayreuth recording of 2010 from the 2008 deason which I reviewed on its release, and for which I expressed great admiration for the conductor's vision and particularly his sense of "architecture" with almost equal levels of disappointment for the lack of quality singing.

I'll start by paying a compliment-this recording is not as disappointing as I had feared it would be.
Pretty much the same applies to this set as to the earlier 2008 live recording except that there is an ironic reversal of roles-those that are very finely sung on the Bayreuth set are here rather poor, and vice versa!
The recording is processed at 24Bits/96khz and is excellent in conveying a real impression of hearing the performance in this venue. The balance is inevitably different from the Bayreuth set, with the orchestral presence much more forward and making more of an impact-but those expecting the lush wrap around sound of the Solti/Culshaw recording will be disappointed as this recording highlights the artificiality of sound of the earlier set.
However, compared to other live recordings from the Staatsoper, particularly those on Orfeo, the sound is a little dry and airless at times. I won't overstress this as the there is a very realistic sense of presence about the recording which is pleasing, and the balance between voices and orchestra is excellent.
Stage noise is occasional but not over intrusive, as is occasional audience participation-applause at the end of acts is left in, as are the occasional (and in Vienna inevitable!) boos!
The orchestral sound is very different from that of Bayreuth, where the strings are very forward and the brass recessed. While the refulgent string tone is in full evidence, the resplendent Vienna Brass are major participants in the forefront-and magnificent they are too. In terms of sheer orchestral sonic impact, this set eclipses the earlier Bayreuth one. At times the weight of the brass sound is overwhelming. This is a live "warts and all" recording, not patched together from rehearsals (there were very few!) and alternative performances (there were none!) and there is occasional imprecision-more especially entry between singers and orchestra is not always spot on, but I'm being hyper-critical and there is little to cause raised eyebrows.
The transfer is at quite a low level, meaning that a volume boost is probably required which in turns risks damage to equipment -and the ears-when the many climaxes are reached.
I found Thielemann's sense of architecture to be superb, even revelatory in the earlier recording-and so it proves again here. I was time and again reminded of Knappertsbusch at his best-not AS slow, but Thielemann understands the ebb and flow of the drama better than any of his contemporaries, and the orchestral sound world is just perfect. He even emphasises even more the big rallentando he makes before the final statement of the Walkure motif in the Walkurenritt-pure Kna-I love it!
What Thielemann understands so well are the "big moments."
So many of these pass for little or naught under Janowski and Gergiev, but in this set they raise the hairs on the neck as they should.
So far then, it's all rather fine. Now we come to the singing.
It would be easy for me to yet again launch into a tirade against the lamentable standard of Wagner singing that is inflicted upon us today, and more especially the level of critical approval that it receives-but I'm going to take a philosophical approach accepting that we are where we are, and the stark choices are to perform the music with the best that's available-or not to perform it at all. In this context, this Ring is not bad at all-indeed much of it is very well sung by any standard!
I greatly enjoy Dohmen's Wotan in the Haenchen recordings, but find his Bayreuth assumption reliable but rather prosaic.
In this recording he is-superb! Veteran he may be, but his vocal resources are in fine fettle in this Ring, his frequent piano singing is truly beautiful, and his sense of the drama is superb.
Hi Rheingold Wotan is masterful-he reaches the heights with steady assured
tone, his Walkure Wotan is noble, angry and moving by turns, and his Wanderer is just wonderful. Yes, there are barks, snatched notes, exaggerations-this is what one always hears in the opera house. His assumption for me ranks with the very best.
Das Rheingold fares well in general-Konieczki's Alberich performance is more to my taste than was his Wotan-well sung and superbly crafted as a really nasty Nibelung indeed. I still find a rather disturbing nasal quality to his tone, but it is quite fitting his characterisation in this instance. He's not Neidlinger or Wolfgang Koch-but he's very good indeed, as are the beautifully sung and acted, on pitch Rhinemaidens. Janine Baechle's Fricka is less hectoring and more studied in her berating of Wotan for his stupidity, Freia sings well instead of screeching, Donner and Froh are excellent and as are the admittedly rather grainy sounding giants, who nonetheless impress with the weight of tone and their acting. Adrian Eröd is a local Viennese baritone who is considered a star in that city-and rightly so for his assured beautiful singing and excellent dramatic skills more than warrant his reputation.
His Valentin in Faust can be heard on the Orfeo recording from Vienna I reviewed some years ago (I was at the performance!), but here we find him in what I believe is the unique situation of being cast as a baritone Loge.
The range does not trouble him in the slightest, but the darker quality to the voice makes this loge a much more formidable character indeed-there is much more scorn and menace in the voice. This is a real tour-de-force.
Wolfgang Schmidt, a recent Siegfried, adopts a "comedy voice" for Mime. The squawking exaggerations work quite effectively in his brief appearance here, though not later. Anna Larsson's Erda is very fine and assured, and not too "plummy."
I count this Rheingold as a major success, and Walkure is only slightly less so.
Christopher Ventris as Siegmund is no Kaufmann, never mind Vickers or King (I won't mention Melchior or it will bring on tears), but his lighter voiced , l lyrical Siegmund gains strength and confidence as the first act progresses, and he is as good as Wottrich on the Bayreuth set. He doesn't sustain the final "Wälsungenblut" for more than a second, but this is not in the score and is only grandstanding by the tenor-but it is sadly missed!
He is partnered by the veteran Waltraud Meier. My heart sank when I heard her opening tremulous rather strangulated notes- I need not have worried, for she not only recovers but launches into the higher strata of this role with absolute assuredness, and a brilliant rock steady legato that is a joy to hear.
Like all natural mezzos who have "bigged up" to soprano, there is a slight tremulousness in the middle register, but the committed acting banishes all thoughts of this. It is a truly thrilling performance, not least in Acts 2 and her big moment in Act 3 is hair raising (in the best sense!)
Halfvorsen is a mediocre wobbly Hunding-not too bad in this role-Baechle's Fricka is again excellent, and I have already alluded to Dohmen's truly inspired Wotan. The Valkyries have never been bettered-they are utterly superb in every respect.

Katarina Dalayman is the best Brunnhilde in this work since possibly Nilsson!
She has a lighter voice than Stemme-but none of the wobble. From her first entry and her very cleverly crafted "Hojo to ho's " to her final pleadings with Wotan, she is utterly superb. The act 2 " Todesverkundigung" scene can become a drag, but her nobility and brilliant singing make it seem too short.
Thank goodness we now have her Walkure Brunnhilde to complement her Gotterdammerung performance for Elder.
So, a fine Walkure which is let down only by having a very good rather than knockout Siegmund, and a wobbly Hunding. I will return to it frequently.

The first 20 minutes or so of Siegfried are appalling. The strangulated caterwauling of both Schmidt and Stephen Gould is truly abysmal, with little or no attempt (or ability?) to sing any of the written notes. The entry of Wanderer brings things back to an even keel, and Schmidt finds the voice to sing more of his responses to Dohmen's excellent Wanderer.
Then a minor miracle takes place-Stephen Gould returns and has found some steady tone to finish off the act with hardly a shout, and he delivers a passable forging song, though I wish his Mime would shut up-a pity he didn't behead him there and then. The audience erupts into cheers-whether this is because the noise has stopped, or it is an expression of genuine pleasure I am not sure.
Gould does have more ring to his voice in the second part of this act than he did in Bayreuth, and he continues to improve in Act 2 where after a thrilling confrontation between Alberich and the Wanderer, he croons his way through the Forest Murmurs quite effectively. Don't get me wrong-it's not great, just not terrible which is in these times the best we can expect. The Woodbird is a triumph-just beautiful. This is Gould's best act.
Act 3 commences with a raging orchestral storm leading into a moving and terrifically well sung scene between Erda and the Wanderer, and in fairness Gould is not bad in the confrontation with his Grandfather.
Sadly, Ms Dalayman became ill after Walkure and was replaced at the eleventh hour by Linda Watson, whom I castigated for her rotten singing in the Bayreuth set. She is in totally different voice here, and delivers a very well acted, technically accomplished Brunnhilde. Her voice is not beautiful in the way of Dalayman, but she sings well with her vibrato under control-mostly.
It takes two to tango and to duet-I'll draw a veil over this final duet-I won't be returning to it anytime soon!

Gotterdammerung starts with superb Norns, has first class chorus work, the same excellent Rhinemaidens and a fine Waltraute in Baechle again.
The Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey are to cheer for, as is the orchestral contribution throughout. Linda Watson's Brunnhilde starts pretty well and improves exponentially through the work culminating in a very fine Immolation scene indeed. Stephen Gould is in the best voice I have heard him, and although he (and we) suffer in his Act 3 narration, he is otherwise not bad and actually does a fine Siegfried's Death-the Funeral Music is sensational with Thielemann unleashing the full force of the magnificent orchestra.
Having given us a fine Donner, Markus Eiche gives us a truly memorable Gunther-weak, vacillating and dominated by his well sung sister Gutrune and Hagen, and the Alberich is very well taken again
Eric Halfvorsen returns for the role of Hagen in Acts One and Two, but is replaced by Attila Jun (Elder's Hagen) for Act 3.
I'll assume that Halfvorsen was in vocal difficulties from the outset, because I find him all but unlistenable. Not only is he incapable of sustaining any phrase, he cannot produce sufficient tone. The only word I can use -being generous-is awful. He manages after a fashion with the more conversational elements of the role, but as soon as he has to force his tone, the voice breaks down. The Act 2 summoning of the vassals is painful.
It begs the question not only why did the Staatsoper not substitute the superior Jun for the entire role, and indeed why did they engage Halfvorsen at all? Admittedly they are used to unsteady basses in Vienna-Kurt Rydl was principal bass for nigh on 2 decades, and he always had a wobble that registered on the Richter scale, but at least the sheer volume and intimidating characterisation carried the day. When one thinks of previous essayers of this pivotal role such as Frick, Greindl, Ridderbusch and Salminen, one could weep! It seems that the pool of great basses is as shallow as it is for Heldentenors and Dramatic sopranos-in 2013, veteran John Tomlinson is singing Hagen in this production!!!!
Matters improve when Jun takes over in Act 3, and it is a fine conclusion to the cycle. I have already alluded to Siegfried's death, but Linda Watson gives us a very fine Immolation scene, touching and thrilling in equal measure-yes, there is an occasional wobble, but not enough to detract from the overall excellence of her performance. Thielemann gives us a wonderful cataclysmic finale, and the orchestra really rises to the occasion.
There is included in the very attractive packaging a comprehensive booklet with translated libretti, and 2DVD's which comprise documentary films on each segment of the production-the scenes shown might be seen as a warning rather than an encouragement as Vienna too has succumbed to the tyranny of " Regie Theater" for its new productions.
So what is the final conclusion? A superb Rheingold is partnered by a very fine Walkure followed by a deeply flawed but ultimately serviceable Siegfried and a fine Gotterdammerung whose qualities just survive the vocal inadequacies to which I have referred.
The 2008 Bayreuth recording was patched together from rehearsals and 3 performances each of the works, and as result ensemble is crisper overall.
On the other hand, the sheer impact of the VPO eclipses that of Bayreuth.
Vocally it is swings and roundabouts with Vienna just winning out despite the excellence of König in the Bayreuth set. Dalayman, Dohmen and Eröd are simply stunning, and other cast members are mostly excellent.
Therefore, I would just recommend this over the earlier set, and as an added bonus it is much less expensive and has the DVD extras.
The Vienna Critics were wrong-it was not the artistic event of the decade-I've heard better performances of all but Rheingold in Vienna over the years.
I can see why it was planned not to release it-or rather I can hear why.
Even though by today's standards it's a pretty good effort, sadly that's not saying much!

Seekers after a VPO Ring should stick with Solti. Seekers after their first recording should opt for the newly mastered Bohm on Eloquence.
This is for diehards only-and of course Thielemann admirers. There is much to admire, probably just more than there is to deplore, so I award it 3.5 stars, just above the Bayreuth set. Stewart Crowe"

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