Those who witnessed the truly world class production of Richard Wagner’s operatic Ring cycle mounted by our own opera company in 2004 were unanimous in their praise and now comes the chance to relive the experience – well sonically at least – in forthcoming instalments as the four operas are released in stunning SACD format. It is a pity that this historical occasion was not committed to film for it remains a unique occasion in the annals of live Australian music. Here was the first fully staged Australian production of Wagner’s marathon saga and it’s populated with a primarily Australian cast of international standing.
As I noted in my initial live review, it is the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra that is the unsung hero of this production. Due to the resources needed for the task, during the last fifty years of so-called ‘hi-fi’ recordings, there have been relatively few recorded accounts of the Ring cycle. The general yardstick by which others are measured is Solti’s vintage cycle (DECCA) that mixed great musical talent with then nascent recording effects. Though now over 40 years old, in terms of consistency – musical and technical – the Solti Ring still shines. However with the added authenticity of vivid life-like SACD sound, on this first released instalment, Die Walküre – Melba have delivered a recording that is much more than a sonic memento of this important occasion.
The brilliantly lit recording demonstrates the fact that for conductor Asher Fisch the orchestra is central to this interpretation and our own Adelaide Symphony are beautifully captured in this important set - particularly in the orchestral interludes and the thrilling take on the famous ‘Ride of the Valkyries’. Vocal soloists are well caught – particularly in the case of the great Lisa Gasteen who has gone on to consolidate her brilliance in this repertoire overseas. There is little doubt that this is the best recorded Walküre in the catalogue and such is the sense of concentration from the performers and the accuracy and sensitivity of Melba’s breath-taking recordings, that there are long periods where the listener forgets that this is a live performance until the enthusiastic wave of applause enters. Beautifully packaged and recorded, true opera fans should take note and perhaps those who are fascinated by long mythic sagas – from the Icelandic to Tolkien – should take the plunge.