Wagner: Das Rheingold

Andrew Quint
Fanfare (US)

The first complete Wagner opera to appear on SACD was Melba’s Die Walküre, a 2006 Want List selection of mine. The second is this Rheingold, also courtesy of the State Opera of South Australia and Asher Fisch. As with the earlier release, this one’s a sonic marvel, especially for those who undertake surround sound. The stereo DSD version provides excellent vocal/orchestral balances and a good sense of occasion, but multichannel offers significantly better dynamics, tons of “air,” and increased textural clarity—always of great benefit with Wagner, allowing a listener to attend to more than one musical event at a time. Scene 1’s Prelude begins with a center-of-the-earth solidity, progressing to immerse the listener in a great tension-creating crescendo that builds to the Rhinemaidens’ entrance. The descent into Nibelheim is very effective, thanks not only to Fisch’s propulsive leadership but also to a dimensional mass of anvils. At the opera’s close, the Rhinemaidens are distantly placed (with their own harp), true to the composer’s intentions.

Every one of the singers is accomplished, though some are more ideally suited to their role than others are. There can be no reservations about John Bröcheler, as commanding a Wotan here as he was in Walküre. His rich-voiced and expressive performance affirms he’s as good as anyone is in the part these days. John Wegner, the Alberich, is also a seasoned Wagner singer with Bayreuth credentials ...

Richard Greager’s Mime is just right—miserable, desperate, self-pitying. The giants both possess big, solid voices and actually sound like brothers, but Fafner (David Hibbard) immediately registers as the more hard-nosed of the pair while Fasolt (Andrew Collis) gets a little sappy at the prospect of giving up Freia. The goddesses are fine (Liane Keegan’s Erda exudes dignity); Donner and Froh are suitably heroic, and the Rhinemaidens possess distinctive voices that make it easy to tell them apart, while still blending beautifully ...

Melba’s packaging is luxuriant ... [and] sonically oriented types will surely want to continue to acquire Melba’s cycle.