Sydneysiders miffed at missing out on the big Wagner celebrations in Melbourne next year will find some consolation in returning to Melba’s landmark recordings of the 2004 Adelaide Ring Cycle conducted by Asher Fisch. This was the first Ring to be recorded for six-channel SACD and now, thanks to a grant from the federal government, Melba Recordings has issued a handsome 2-disc collection with generous excerpts from all four of the operas featuring a top-notch cast. The surround sound on this set is spectacular – warm, accurate, up-close but beautifully balanced with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and State Opera of South Australia all on top form.
Sadly, three of the cast have died since the live performances of Elke Neidhart’s production. Deborah Riedel was already suffering from cancer when she sand Sieglinde; American tenor Gary Rideout, one of the Siegfrieds in this recording, died during the post-production period, and New Zealand tenor Christopher Doig passed away in 2011. The album boasts two of the leading Wagnerians today in Dutch bass-baritone John Bröcheler as Wotan and our own Lisa Gasteen as a momentous Brünnhide. Israeli conductor Asher Fisch is also considered one of the world’s leading exponents of Wagner, having worked extensively with Daniel Barenboim in Bayreuth and Berlin. The excerpts are all of a generous length, with the orchestral set pieces – the Ride of the Valkyries and Siegfried’s Funeral Music among them – breaking up the vocal action. For a live production there’s surprisingly little interference. Play it through as many speakers as possible and turn the volume up. It is the perfect Vorspiel to a year of bicentenary celebrations.