In one of life’s lovely incongruities, a generous spirit of arts-minded beneficence smote the Federal Government in 2004. It gave $5 million over five years to a small fledgling Melbourne record company named Melba. Now here in the nation’s premier arts state, we need not be concerned with things outside our backyard, but the main beneficiary happened to be State Opera’s 2004 Ring, Melba has started committing the Cycle to disc, in state-of-the-art, surround-sound Super Audio CD format: the project began with Die Walküre and will be complete by June this year.
The results are something far beyond what one might imagine. For the Elke Neidhardt Ring, State Opera assembled a wonderful cast, and under Israeli conductor Asher Fisch the ASO played wonderfully – that we know. But this recording puts the whole thing in the most favourable light. It is superlative. Sound engineer Phil Rowlands has done a very clever job of splicing together the best takes from three performances plus the dress rehearsal …
Not for a minute, let’s say, would one expect this new recording to compare with Decca’s majestic 1966 Die Walküre with Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic. Yet as surprising or heretical as this may sound, it runs seriously close not only in casting strength but in the standard of orchestral playing. Fisch had what turned out to be a close-to-ideal cast at his disposal ... and as a newcomer to the Ring himself, he was able to bring to it a powerfully fresh, gripping interpretation. The ASO is lifted beyond itself, showing a finesse and precision that has one constantly amazed and the singing is magnificent throughout.
One expects mishaps in a live recording, but the editing is done with great care and creates what is in effect a blemish-free studio recording.
This first instalment, which is lavishly presented with a 160-page hardcover booklet complete with libretto and translation, is a very special release. It costs … but it oozes quality and is worth every cent.