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I only just saw this, but as far as film versions of operas go, it is enjoyable and creative. The World War I type setting somehow helps explain some of Mozart's themes in ways that I didn't understand them before. Besides, a good magical fairy tale film is rare these days, but I count this as one of them. Moreover, I really wish more directors would make more operas into films, so kudos to Branagh for following a rare tradition that Ingmar Bergman also played with. In an ideal world, this would would be one of the first experimental stages of many more films of many different operas to come. Everyone seems fine with the idea of making Broadway musicals into films, let's do it more with opera.
I was reading C.S. Lewis today and suddenly wanted to share an excerpt about this opera when I realized that there is no thread at A&F for what is arguably one of the greatest musical masterpieces in all of world history. I'm not really a fan of opera. I haven't seen very many of them, and most of what I've seen has bored me (and I'm convinced this is a fault of mine, not of the art form itself). However, Der Ring des Nibelungen has never ceased to amaze me ever since I first saw a version of it on PBS when I was a child. Ever since then, I've slowly tried to see different versions of this whenever I can. Someday some director will make this whole thing for film instead of just filming on the stage, but no one's done it yet. If you have never seen this, you need to see it. If you have never seen this, you have already probably already seen 50 different films that use little snippets of music from this. Yes, it's an opera. And yes, it's actually a 16 hour opera divided into four segments, each four hours long. But, it's an opera based on Norse mythology. It's cast of characters features Odin (Wotan), Frigg (Fricka), Freyja (Freia), Thor (Donner), Freyr (Froh), Urðr (Erda) and Loki (Loge). It's a work of art that clearly inspired C.S. Lewis to be the sort of writer, thinker and artist that he turned out to be. And it's a masterpiece that has inspired other masterpieces (most obviously including J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings). The Ring of the Nibelung is, after all, the story about a ring of power that (1) gives the ring-bearer power over the rest of the world, and (2) bears a fatal curse. For practical purposes, my favorite version of this that exists on DVD is the 1990 New York Metropolitan ring cycle conducted by James Levine (with James Morris as Wotan, Siegfried Jerusalem as Loge & Siegfried, and Hildegard Behrens as Brunnhilde). From the reading that I've done on the subject, it appears to be the closest thing on DVD to performing the opera in the traditional sense that Wagner intended it to be performed. If you've never seen this before, I'd strongly recommend trying this one first. Jerusalem revels in both his roles and appears to be having more fun than any other Siegfried that I've seen so far. While I didn't think the cast were quite as good as in the Levine version, Hartmut Haenchen & Pierre Audi's 2008 version of the ring cycle in Amsterdam is still quite good. And the set design is pretty impressive (it's more modern in design, but still traditional in style overall if that makes any sense). I've also seen Pierre Boulez's 1980 production from Bayreuth. Like changing time periods in a Shakespeare play, director Patrice Chereau set it in the 1800s industrial age instead of the ancient/medieval/mythological setting. It also probably consists of my second favorite cast, second only to the Levine 1990 production. Finally, I have yet to see the futuristic 1992 Barcelona version by Harry Kupfer and Daniel Barenboim, but I've heard so many good things about it that I'm going to have to try it next. I have not seen and have no clue what to think of the 2006 Copenhagen cycle by Kasper Bech Holten. (Also, I tried and intensely disliked the 2000 Stuttgart version.) The essay by C.S. Lewis I was reading was entitled First and Second Things and the excerpt that reminded me of this is as follows: