This is the second “live” recording from the 2004 Adelaide Festival’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (the first, Die Walküre, reviewed in November’s Program Guide), but it’s the first opera in the tetralogy. Thus the brilliant coup dé theatre with which Wagner commences the work – five minutes of primeval E flat sludge, out of which the River Rhine emerges surging and sparkling – also begins the whole cycle … once the massive ASO becomes audible it doesn’t put a note wrong for the next two-and-a-half hours. The playing, and the overall sound, is magnificent.
The Rhinegold sets the stage for the whole Cycle, a singularly unedifying saga peopled by characters you wouldn’t invite into your living-room under any other circumstances. The gods – Wotan, the chief god, is worst – are greedy, self-centred, untrustworthy and heedless of consequence. The Rhinemaidens might be forgiven as fishbrained fools were it not for their unkind teasing of Alberich the dwarf. Actually Alberich – splendidly sung by John Wegner – is almost an honest character; at least he pays the stipulated price (cursing love) for his stolen gold, while the others all try to weasel out of their contracts.
Many of the singers are already familiar to 4MBS listeners from the November broadcast of The Valkyrie. It’s nice to hear some of the Valkyries turning up here as Freia, Erda, and Rhinemaidens, while Elizabeth Campbell and John Bröcheler reprise Fricka and Wotan. There are some new male voices, including Andrew Collis and David Hibbard as the workmanlike giants, endearingly stolid until the Curse gets them. Christopher Doig is Loge, a schizophrenic mixture of clearsighted ethics and dirty tricks.
The Rheingold works perfectly well as a stand-alone opera, if you don’t mind the villains – the morally-bankrupt gods – coming out on top. But the poor plundered Rhinemaidens have the last word, lamenting their stolen treasure: “Goodness and truth dwell but in the waters / false and base all those who dwell up above!” They’re right about that; there’s more to this story yet.