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To celebrate the Wagner bicentenary this year, Opus Arte has issued The Wagner Edition, a special pack containing productions of his six mature operas and a complete Ring, all filmed during the last decade, showing off the work of many of today’s leading Wagnerians.

From Netherlands Opera comes Martin Kušej’s 2010 production of Der fliegende Holländer. This is one of those productions that expects the audience to work hard, but even after several viewings, not everything has become clear.The opening scene takes place in what looks like an airport departure lounge. A single fish flipping on the floor is the only concession to the sea. The cast is strong with the veteran Robert Lloyd as Daland, Catherine Naglestad as Senta and Juha Uusitalo as the Dutchman. Hartmut Haenchen whips up a storm in the pit.

There is much to enjoy in Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s production of Lohengrin, recorded at Baden-Baden in 2004, not least the way he skilfully moves his principals and chorus around the set. Waltraud Meier is a formidable Ortrud and even manages to get away with wearing what looks like a cat on her head. Klaus Florian Vogt in the title role has a remarkably heady voice, frequently sounding like a countertenor rather than a Heldentenor. Kent Nagano conducts with style and authority.

The Tristan und Isolde is Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s 2003 production for Glyndebourne, the first Wagner opera to be staged there. His approach is minimalist with only a few curved girders to indicate the ship. He moves his singers so little that they rarely seem to connect with each other. There are times during the love duet when it appears they are waiting to be introduced. It’s a vocally strong cast led by Robert Gambill and Nina Stemme, with Bo Skovhus as an excellent Kurwenal and René Pape making King Marke stand out. The production is very well served by the considerate conducting of Jiří Bělohlávek.

Lehnhoff again, this time his production of Parsifal, originally for English National Opera, but recorded here in Baden-Baden in 2004. Set outside the Knights’ headquarters in a post-apocalyptic world, with bullet-riddled walls through which a meteor has crashed, the sun becomes a symbol for life outside the order. Lehnhoff’s approach makes perfect sense, and, when allied to such high-calibre singing, even more viewable. Kundry, sung by the mesmeric Waltraud Meier, has become a bird. Christopher Ventris in the title role gives a thoughtful and considered performance while Matti Salminen’s Gurnemanz almost steals the show. Thomas Hampson, cast against type as the long-suffering Amfortas, brings considerable dignity to the role, while Kent Nagano draws playing and singing of the highest quality from his forces.

Kasper Holten’s 2009 Copenhagen production of Tannhäuser is a concept production: have an idea and make it fit, come what may. So, there’s no Venusberg. Instead, the opera opens with the aftermath of what looks like a riotous party. Tannhäuser puts on a beret and picks up a pen; he’s really Wagner, you see, and the events we’re witnessing are all in his mind. In the title role, Stig Andersen sings manfully with good, ringing notes, and Tina Kiberg impresses as Elisabeth.

The highlight of the Wagner Edition is, without doubt, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from Glyndebourne. This is brilliantly sung and acted by a well-chosen cast. Gerald Finley as Hans Sachs and Anna Gabler as Eva are both quite outstanding. David McVicar’s atmospheric production captures perfectly the small- town relationships and the sense of missed opportunity that permeates the piece. It is very moving and, at times, very funny.

The Ring Cycle featured in the collection is Harry Kupfer’s production, recorded in Barcelona in 2004 and a radical reworking of his earlier Berlin staging. It’s set in a world of neon lights and disintegrating settings. Kupfer’s approach is invariably spot on. What doesn’t quite reach similar high levels is the singing and acting. Falk Struckmann is a dramatically peevish Wotan whose singing is all too often one-dimensional. Deborah Polaski clearly has all the notes as Brünnhilde but fails to become totally involved. John Treleaven gives it all he’s got as Siegfried and there’s an outstanding Fricka from Lioba Braun. Good support, too, from Graham Clark as Loge and Mime. Bertrand de Billy in the pit gives a rather uninspired interpretation. While this is not the finest Ring available, Kupfer’s staging makes it well worth getting to know.

Richard Fawkes Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Opera Now, 2013 - ©Rhinegold Publishing