Embarking on the first Australian recording of Wagner’s Ring, Melba has begun not at the beginning, but with the second and most musically attractive opera of the cycle, The Valkyrie. It is a work of forbidden desire and unwanted destiny, pitting societal duty against inner yearning.
Most enduring are the moments of poetic lyricism in the first act, which chronicles the rapid kindling of incestuous love between the doomed siblings Siegmund and Sieglinde. Stuart Skelton, as Siegmund, gives the disc’s best performance with a mahogany rich and glowing voice (though he changes Wagner’s notes in the beguiling melody Wintersturme).
Deborah Riedel’s Sieglinde has matching power but a balancing persona, evoking focus and tenseness. Together they bring the first act to a magnificent close.
The second act is dominated by domestics. First Fricka, Goddess of Family Values, convinces the frustrated Wotan that mortgaging the gods’ future to free-love and incest just won’t do. Second, Brünnhilde, Goddess of Rebellious Teenagers, drops some tactless remarks about who wears the trousers. Wotan and Brünnhilde are the key roles from here to the end and, for a recording, the casting has utility but not vocal greatness. As Wotan, John Bröcheler excels in nuanced narration, such as the long confession in the second act where he confides to Brünnhilde how he got into this mess. In the last act he copes with fatigue professionally.
Lisa Gasteen’s Brünnhilde is hugely powerful against the full orchestra in places such as her valedictory moment in the third act …Elizabeth Campbell maintains an insistent edge to her sound as the nagging Fricka and Richard Green brings a cavernous and aptly boorish tone to Hunding.
Recorded in super audio CD surround sound, the quality is forward and excitingly clear, giving space and depth to the redoubtable Valkyries and glittering detail to the fire music.
Particularly rewarding are the dark reflective clarinet sounds and the horn and tuba sonorities, which Wagner made at once sweet, ennobling and ominous. Conductor Asher Fisch’s reading has strong outlines and is disciplined.
The disc is an important aural documentation of the historic 2004 Adelaide Ring and provides radiant listening.