State Opera of South Australia's much anticipated production of Wagner's
Der Ring des Nibelungen was received with unanimous critical
acclaim when it was presented in Adelaide in November and December 2004.
Elke Neidhardt's intensely dramatic production cried out for a DVD recording,
but financial and time constraints made this impossible. Thankfully
though the performances were recorded by Melba Recordings with substantial
assistance from the Australian Government, and the first opera, Die
Walküre, has now been released. An added interest in this recording
is that it is the first Ring cycle in SACD (super audio / surround
Even when listening on a standard CD player the first thing that strikes
you is the superb quality of the sound. The clarity and warmth of the
orchestra and the immediacy of the voices make this a performance that
From the opening prelude with its brooding relentless intensity Asher
Fisch guides the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra through Wagner's score
in a reading that is infused with passion from beginning to end. The
orchestra play superbly throughout, culminating in a rendition of the
magic fire music that is utterly heartbreaking in its beauty. There
are only occasional moments when Fisch is unable to find sufficient
intensity in his reading. This includes the end of Act 1 where he fails
to drive the act to a close with the rapture and ecstasy that Wagner
An interesting aspect of this production was that the majority of the
roles were taken by Australians and New Zealanders. While many of the
names may be unfamiliar there is certainly no feeling that the vocal
performances are second rate.
For many it will be Lisa Gasteen's Brünnhilde that will be the
main attraction of this new recording, a role that she is now singing
worldwide to critical acclaim. In the final analysis this CD confirms
the strengths and weaknesses of her portrayal of the warrior maiden.
She is dramatically first rate and excels where she can use her luxurious
middle and lower registers to great effect, particularly here in the
Todesverkundigung scene. But it is the top of the voice that
lets her performance down, lacking the ringing top notes of many of
her predecessors. Nevertheless there is still much to enjoy, and in
particular she combines brilliantly and most movingly with John Bröcheler
as Wotan in Acts 2 and 3.
John Bröcheler's Wotan was a tour-de-force on stage and much of
this comes across in this recording. He sings expressively with great
attention to the text, using a dynamic range that can take him from
all-powerful God to grieving father. You feel for this Wotan, with the
heartbreak at the end of the opera as evident on the recording as it
was on stage.
It is Stuart Skelton who gives the stand out vocal performance, his
youthful, ardent voice with its rich baritone quality making him an
ideal Siegmund. His voice has been caught beautifully and is a constant
joy to listen to. If he lacks the true tenor sound at the top, and like
Fisch fails to find the ecstasy at the end of Act 1, this is nevertheless
a performance of world-class standards, and one that stands up extremely
favourably to many of his recorded counterparts.
Deborah Riedel's Sieglinde is good without being particularly memorable.
Her dark timbre is appealing, but ultimately she fails to find the necessary
rapture at the top of the voice. To be fair she is being compared with
some very famous singers in this role and while she does not let the
side down, there is a lack of excitement in her performance.
Elizabeth Campbell's Fricka seems less impressive on this recording
than it did on stage. Vocally she lacks the full-toned sumptuous sound
that would give her the authority to be the dominating partner in her
encounter with Wotan. Like Riedel she faces stiff competition in this
role. New Zealander Richard Green's uses his cultured bass voice to
create a portrayal of Hunding that is evil and menacing without having
to resort to ugly sounds to do so.
The Valkyries are well portrayed and the SACD recording is particularly
effective here, capturing their offstage calls quite realistically.
At the end of the day anyone who saw this production will know that
there is a huge element missing in this recording, but the scene still
works well with plenty of visceral excitement.
For those who saw the production in Adelaide this recording of Die
Walküre it is probably a must, and for those wanting a Ring
in SACD format it is equally as essential. For the rest there are still
compelling reasons for purchasing this version - vibrant playing, superlative
sound and a uniformly excellent cast that makes a great case for the
The four CD set is lavishly bound with a hardback booklet that contains
the usual essays, biographies and the text in German and English (a
French translation can be found on the Melba Recordings website). Curiously
there is very little reference to the State Opera of South Australia
production: there are no photographs and the production team is not
credited. It is hoped that this can be rectified when the full cycle
The remainder of the cycle is planned for release over the next year:
Das Rheingold later this year, Siegfried in February 2007,
Götterdämmerung in June 2007 and a boxed set of the
full cycle by Christmas 2007. For further information visit the Melba
Recordings website at http://melbarecordings.com.au