Wagner: Das Rheingold

Robert Markow
Opus (Canada)

Das Rheingold: Performance / Sound *****
Siegfried: Performance / Sound *****
Close on the heels of Die Walküre, Melba Recordings has now released two more instalments of the Ring as presented by the State Opera of South Australia in Adelaide. Drawn from the live performances of three Cycles given in late 2004, this production features above all the conducting of Asher Fisch, whose command of the musical architecture is truly impressive. Over the span of four minutes, the Prelude to Das Rheingold unfolds slowly but inexorably from the faintest tremor to a swirling mass of water. There is a real sense of growth, not mere time beating. Fisch’s ability to create mood is equally laudable; you can almost feel the dragon’s dark presence at the beginning Act II of Siegfried.

The orchestra, which had never before played this music, turned in performances that can match virtually any on record. Melba’s stunning warmth and clarity of sound ensure that the continuous web of leitmotifs supporting the vocal lines is always in evidence. The balance in other productions tends to favour either voices or instruments, but here neither takes precedence.

One might wish for more visceral excitement in the big climaxes, but Fisch is always in control, preferring a more lyrical yet cogent approach.
The singers, particularly in Rheingold, sound like the characters they’re meant to impersonate: gruff and commanding for Wotan, nasty for Alberich, fearsome for Fafner, and something akin to the voice of doom for Erda. Special effects (anvils, thunderclaps, Siegfried’s hilarious attempt to fashion a reed, Fafner in his cave) are realistically rendered.
The cast was drawn mostly from Australia and New Zealand, but outstanding exceptions were John Bröcheler (Wotan) from Holland and Canada’s own Gary Rideout portraying a youthfully exuberant Siegfried…