this remarkable Australian achievement. .... this compelling Australian Ring....
**** 4 stars performance/**** 4½ stars sound
The Melba recordings of the State Opera of South Australia's performances of the four operas of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen given in Adelaide in 2004 were greeted with fulsome and justifiable praise when they were released between 2005 and 2007. It is not altogether surprising then that Melba have now issued this 2-disc set of 'highlights' from the Ring for the less committed Wagnerite who wishes to experience this remarkable Australian achievement.
Das Rheingold begins with the orchestral Prelude which illustrates the spacious conception of the conductor Asher Fisch and the well integrated orchestral sound. The moment when the gold is stolen from the Rhine maidens follows; giving us an all too brief opportunity to hear the powerful Alberich of John Wegner. Fisch's stately and expansive account of Scene IV – The Entry of the Gods to Valhalla – provides an impressive conclusion to Das Rheingold.
The vocal performances really catch fire with the Walküre excerpts thanks to the firm virile singing of Stuart Skelton and especially the radiant voice of Deborah Riedel whose death from cancer in 2009 at the early age of 51 robbed the world of an exceptional artist as her wonderful singing of Sieglinde demonstrates. Asher Fisch's pacing in this opera is measured, but never sluggish and he inspires the fine Adelaide Symphony Orchestra to produce glowing sonorities throughout.
The two selections from Siegfried that open the second disc are the forging song “Nothung! Nothung! Neidliches Schwert!” with which Act 1 ends and the final 13 minutes of the Siegfried / Brünnhilde duet that concludes the opera. Gary Rideout – another fine artist whose tragic death occurred in 2007 at only 55 – is a thrilling Siegfried and Lisa Gasteen's imperious Brünnhilde makes a worthy partner. The remaining 49' of the disc are devoted to what are perhaps the most well known parts of Götterdämmerung – Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey, Siegfried's Funeral Music and Brünnhilde's Immolation. Here the Siegfried is the capable Timothy Mussard while the resolute Brünnhilde of Lisa Gasteen delivers her immolation with formidable power.
As we have come to expect from Melba the presentation of this set is of the highest quality. The two discs are contained within a 127-page hard-backed book that includes an illuminating essay on the Ring by Mike Ashman entitled “The beginning and end of the world”, artist biographies and photographs from the productions and a German/ English (singing translation) libretto.
Sound engineer Phil Rowlands and his team have achieved miracles in capturing the atmosphere of these live performances with virtually no sign of an audience presence until the thunderous applause that breaks out at the end of each Act. The minimal amount of stage noise occasionally heard is inevitable, though it simply adds to the sense of “being there” - notably during Siegfried's forging of his sword. The balance between voices and orchestra in general tends to favour the former and the use of the surround channels in this 5.1 recording – not just for ambience - is most effective and never overdone.
Those seeking just some of the Ring's 'golden moments' should not hesitate to investigate this excellent set, though then they will surely be tempted to acquire the whole of this compelling Australian Ring cycle.