Melba’s issue of live 2004 recordings of the State Opera of South Australia’s Ring continues with Siegfried. (Walküre and Rheingold were covered in Fanfare’s 30:3 and 30:4, respectively.) As of this writing, these are still the only complete Wagner operas available in high-resolution surround sound and the sonics—especially for devotees of multi-channel—remain a major attraction. The 5.0 program delivers a huge, room-filling soundstage, a total-immersion experience for the audiophile Wagnerian. Voices are naturally scaled and vocal/orchestral balances ideal. At the beginning of act I, Mime’s anvil materializes in the air in front of you. Appropriately, the rear channels generally don’t emit direct sound, though, dramatically, an explosion is placed behind the listening position when the Wanderer correctly answers Mime’s third question.
Most of the cast is familiar from the previous two releases. John Bröcheler sounds confident in his mission, relaxed yet majestic. His interaction with the sleepy Fafner is brought off quite well. Bröcheler’s approach to his two final scenes is also successful: he earnestly asks Erda for help without angry bluster or threat, and he’s able to maintain his dignity even after his headstrong grandson has broken his spear. As Mime, Richard Greager is wheedling and snivelling, though not over the top. His spell of disorientation after the Wanderer leaves at the end of act I, scene 2 is nightmarish and the brother vs. brother conflict after Fafner’s demise engaging, as is the scene where Siegfried divines the dwarf’s murderous intentions. John Wegner is a world-class singer—I’ve seen his Telramund and Biterolf at Bayreuth—and, though one might prefer a darker more malevolent-sounding voice for Alberich, he has full measure of the role and his scene with Bröcheler in act II is a highlight of this performance.
Lisa Gasteen awakens magnificently, a large-scale, womanly Brünnhilde exuding warmth and tenderness, evolving smoothly into sexual willingness. Liane Keegan’s Erda sounds timeless and wise, and David Hibbard renders Fafner’s death with feeling and a full rich tone. The Woodbird’s bright, youthful vocal sonority is just right …
Fisch is truly a great Wagner conductor who always manages to maintain dramatic tension, even in the final scene with an unevenly matched Siegfried and Brünnhilde on stage. There are several orchestra-only passages to savour: the opening of the second act fully manifests Alberich’s dark mood and the music accompanying the hero’s approach to Brünnhilde’s rock is thrilling. It is magical every time the “Götterdämmerung” motive appears during Erda’s scene. The orchestra’s contribution cannot be faulted. German and English texts are provided, with a French translation available online. Thanks to Fisch, Melba’s Siegfried, like the other available instalments of this cycle, is absolutely a keeper.