He was incorrigibly vain, pathologically self-centered, a liar, a serial adulterer, an anti-semite, a cheat and opportunist, amoral and often on the run from the law. This thoroughly unpleasant man was also one of the 19th century’s most abundantly gifted figures.
Three hours and forty three minutes is a very considerable length of time to focus unremittingly – as critics ideally need to do – on a single opus. Over nearly four hours, it is all too easy for the attention to waver. But then, I can recall only too well that boredom – cosmic tedium, in fact – can set in in far shorter periods of time if performance standards are wanting in one way or another. And there are limitless temptations to sink into the arms of Morpheus during the unfolding of so vast an enterprise as Wagner’s Die Walküre unless the narrative pace is maintained. It is an absolutely crucial requirement.
Would Rossini’s gibe that Wagner’s operas had splendid moments but terrible half hours be justified in this recorded performance? The Ring, after all, unfolds extremely slowly. Would it wither embarrassingly on the vine?
How, I wondered, would I fare as I placed the first of four compact discs in the player and seated myself on the hardest, least comfortable, chair (to limit the possibility of nodding off if this was to prove a very extended exercise in dreariness)?
The short answer is that time flew – and as the hands moved round and round the clockface, not even its chimes on the hour succeeded in deflecting attention from the magic pouring from the speakers.
This recording is an exceptional achievement. It sets new and lofty standards for Wagnerian expression in Australia. It will surely become the performance by which all other Wagner offerings in Australia will be measured for some time to come – and justifiably so.
An impressive cast rises quite magnificently to the occasion. In fact, this vocal excellence is so uniform that it would be frankly invidious to single out individuals. Whether in leading or ancillary roles, there is total identification with the requirements of the parts – and not only in purely physical terms. If ever a performance of Walküre pierced to the heart of the composer’s intentions, it is surely this. Here is an account that throbs with sincerity.
Truth is a word too casually bandied about, so much so that its currency has been largely debased. But in the sense of its definition as a faithful reproduction of an aesthetic endeavour, this recorded performance comes as close as makes no matter to being just that. And that is a signal achievement for a company far from the European epicentre of Wagnerian tradition. This, in fact, places Australia – and Adelaide in particular – very much on the Wagnerian map of the world.
In their uniformity of tonal sheen, the ASO strings should make every other orchestral string section in the land look to their laurels. They sound electrifyingly fine in the prelude to the opera with conductor Asher Fisch doing wonders in obtaining from his forces a remarkably effective, buoyant quality. And the ASO as a whole does wonders in ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ – and how splendid, for once, to listen to ‘The Ride’ not as a stand-alone concert offering but integrated, as Wagner meant it to be, into the work as a whole. This recording is the profound progeny of a happy marriage between Wagnerian scholarship and high inspiration.