Site review by Christine Tham November 3, 2007
|Back in May 2006 I reviewed the very first instalment of Melba Recordings' complete recording of the State Opera of South Australia production of Wagner's Ring cycle (Die Walküre). At that time I was so enthused by what I heard that I was eagerly anticipating the rest of the set.
Now that the final instalment (Götterdammerung) has been released (a few months late - it was originally scheduled for June 2007), I couldn't help feeling just a little sad. Now there will be no longer future releases to look forward to, the cycle is finally complete.
The Melba recording of what has become affectionately known as the "Adelaide Ring" was originally intended to be the world's first multi-channel Hybrid SA-CD release of the complete Wagner Ring Cycle. Of course, in the intervening period between the release of Die Walküre (June 2006) to Götterdammerung (October 2007), this set has lost that honour - the Dutch label Etcetera has released another Hybrid Multichannel set earlier in 2007 with the Nederlands Philharmonisch Orkest conducted by Hartmut Haenchen.
However, this set is still worthy of collecting, because the Adelaide Ring is truly an excellent production, with a very strong cast. It may not be as dynamic or as pacy as some may like, and there are a few weak spots (particularly in Das Rheingold), but the lyricism (in Die Walküre) together with the insight and clarity in Siegfried makes this one of the most well-balanced recent performances of the Ring. It's also the first truly Australian production of the Ring, staged by State Opera South Australia in Adelaide in November-December 2004, costing over A$15 million partially funded by the State government as well as the Australia Council.
So, how is Götterdammerung, performance-wise? To be honest, it took me a while to get into it. The Norns spinning the rope of destiny in the Prologue was very slow paced and lethargic, and left me in a blue funk. When Lisa Gasteen (as Brünhilde) and Gary Rideout (as Siegfried) appeared towards the end of the Prologue (to recapitulate the ecstasy of the end of Siegfried Act III), the singing sounded a bit tired and listless (not surprising, since Lisa would have sung the very taxing Siegfried only days before). Even the orchestral interlude depicting Siegfried's journey down the Rhine sounded a bit ponderous.
However, the pace picks up in Act I and by the 3rd Scene I have become engrossed in the insightful and lyrical performance. Some of the visual humour of the chorus scenes featuring the Giblich vassals in the Hall of the Giblichungs can be heard in Act II, with sounds of the audience chortling audibly in the background (if you want to know why, it's because the Giblichungs are dressed as typical "Ockers" swigging cans of good ol' Aussie beer).
Brünhilde's immolation scene, which closes the operatic cycle, is quite deliberately taken at a very stately pace, in order to maximise the pathos of the drama and the sublime beauty of the music. Lisa Gasteen's voice is in superb control, exhibiting no signs of the tiredness in the Prologue. Unfortunately, the recording doesn't quite capture the rather visceral (some may even say gawdy) live performance of the ending, with real fire depicting the end of Valhalla and real water representing the flow of the Rhine.
Recording-wise, this is another excellent production from Melba, thanks to the skills of recording engineer Phil Rowlands. The sound stage is perfect, and the multi-channel mix delivers an enveloping sonic spectacle that has lots of depth and substance. The rear channels are mostly used for ambience, and also conveying sound effects (like thunder) as well as capturing audience clapping. My only complaint is that Siegfried's funeral march sounded a tad boomy in the lower registers, but to be fair it was rather boomy even in the Adelaide Festival Hall during the live performance.
Bass freaks will love Track 9 in CD2, which features lots of low frequency rumbles that will give your subwoofer a good workout.
All in all, if you have been collecting the set so far, there should be no reason for you to miss out on this final chapter (of the opera cycle as well as the recording). As a stand alone opera, this is a creditable performance.
My final thoughts in terms of all four titles in this set: Die Walküre has the best/most memorable/most distinctive performance (but perhaps the worst in terms of orchestral and singer balance). Siegfried is the best from a sonics perspective, and also orchestral integrity. Götterdammerung is middle-of-the-road in terms of both performance and sonics, and Das Rheingold is probably the "weakest link."
Review by threerandot April 19, 2008 (5 of 5 found this review helpful)
|With a strong cast and the mighty power of the Adelaide Orchestra and a glorious chorus, Asher Fisch conducts this grand performance of Gotterdammerung from the Adelaide Opera.
After a stirring Prelude, we enter the Prologue to this opera which begins with the 3 Norns singing and spinning the rope of destiny. This is probably one of the weakest portions of the entire cycle dramatically, since there is really no action to speak of. The Norns are really there to recap the action of the previous operas in the cycle and to make sense of their dialogue is not easy. The music is dreary here and the scene is difficult to dramatize. The three Norns are all great singers and Asher Fisch and the Adelaide Orchestra make the most of this scene. The remainder of the Prologue consists of Brunnhilde and Siegfried professing their undying love for one another. I kind of look upon this scene as their "honeymoon", with each of them giving each other a gift. Brunnhilde gives Siegfried her horse and Siegfried gives her the ring. The singing is great from both leads and Asher Fisch again paces things very well with the powerful Adelaide Orchestra.
Wagner did do one very smart thing with this opening Prologue and that was to include the two Orchestral Interludes to keep the action going. The Daybreak interlude is most impressive with the Orchestra leaping out of your speakers at you and Siegfried's Journey to The Rhine has always been a favorite of mine, beautifully played.
Act 1 is where the real action of this opera begins, with Hagen, the son of Alberich plotting the demise of Wotan and the Gods. He seeks the Ring for himself and uses the Gibichungs, Gunther and Gutrune to gain it for him. This is a charismatic Hagen created by Duccio dal Monte who has a powerful voice. After convincing Gunther and Gutrune of his plot, Siegfried arrives in all of his naivete. Timothy Mussard is a strong Siegfried, but I wish that Gary Rideout had been brought on board for this last opera as I prefer his voice over Mussard's somewhat. No matter, this is a strong characterization of Siegfried. Joanna Cole is a beautifully voiced Gutrune who expects Siegfried to be her husband, with Brunnhilde to be matched with Gutrune. Scene 2 closes with Hagen revelling in his plan.
The Interlude before Scene 3 represents Hagen's lust for revenge against the Gods for Alberich. The Orchestra is powerful and menacing. Scene 3 is pivotal and exciting with Waltruate attempting to convince Brunnhilde to give the Ring back to the Rhine Maidens and end Alberich's curse. The Waltraute in this performance is in capable hands as she describes the state the Gods are in. We can see in her minds eye, with the help of the Adelaide Orchestra, the scene of the Gods gathered around Walhalla awaiting the end. Brunnhilde shows no pity and won't give up the Ring, which represents Siegfried's love to her. Both singers here are dynamic and powerful with Fisch's excellent painting and dramatization of Waltruate's story of the Gods.
Siegfried returns in disguise as Gunther (thanks to the Magic Tarnhelm), to grab Brunnhilde and bring her to back to Gunther for marriage. She is dragged into a cave as the Act ends with exciting playing from the Adelaide Orchestra and the applause of the audience.
Act 2 opens with one of my favorite Preludes in the entire cycle, Fisch and the Adelaide Orchestra setting the dark and menacing tone of the action to follow. Scene 1 features Hagen and Alberich both played with great conviction. Alberich is convincing as he urges Hagen to hasten towards the end of The Gods and Alberich's ultimate revenge. Scene 2 opens with a brief interlude and this scene features the return of Siegfried to the Gibichungs. Sence 3 is most impressive with Hagen's call to the Vassals for the feast and the weddings of Siegfried and Gutrune and Gunther and Brunnhilde. This scene is filled with spectacular singing from Hagen and the power of the mighty Adelaide horns is stunning. You can hear offstage trombones in the surround channels, I believe. The male chorus of Vassals is equally impressive. A truly remarkable chorus vividly captured. A highlight of this performance!
Scene 4 is marked by Brunnhilde's accusations towards Siegfried. Fisch keeps the drama moving forward with Gasteen an impressive Brunnhilde. I do wish the Siegfried of Timothy Mussard was little stronger, however. Scene 5 continues to reveal Gasteen as a powerful Brunnhilde, shamed and vengeful as she and Hagen plot the end of Siegfried. The Adelaide forces are suitably powerful. Hagen is her equal vocally and dramtically. Even the Gunther in this performance makes some impressive contributions in this scene. An impressive second Act.
After the heated drama of Act 2, Act 3 opens with a lighter tone. The Rhinemaidens beg Siegfried to return the Ring to them and end the curse. Timothy Mussard's voice is much improved here and he comes across more as the youthful hero, along with beautiful singing from all of the Rhine Maidens. Scene 2 shows off the acoustic of the Adelaide Hall with brass instruments and the voices of the chorus and other singers coming from different channels of your surround system. In this scene, Siegfried retells his story of the woodbird most beautifully. Siegfried's death is palpable with his final monologue, accompanied by the music from Brunnhilde's awakening in Siegfried, Act 3 repeated here and gloriously played by the Adelaide Orchestra.
Siegfried's Funeral Music is always a favorite of mine and the Adelaide Orchestra prove they have the right stuff to pull this off. This is truly a highlight and in Fisch's more than capable hands, we are treated to a memorable and powerful performance, with subtle dynamics and the mighty Adelaide Orchestra in complete control. This will give your surround system a good workout
Scene 3 marks the return of Hagen to Gunther to announce the death of Siegfried. Gutrune's moment is short but she makes the most of it with powerful singing. Scene 4 marks the closing moments of the Ring with Lisa Gasteen proving just why she was chosen as the Brunnhilde for this production. She sings with power and authority and the Adelaide forces are remarkable as the Gods reign comes to an end and Walhalla falls down.
This final act of this performance goes by very quickly and shows just how grand this performance of Gotterdammerung is. We have an excellent cast with Hagen and Brunnhilde being the stand out singers. I wish that Gary Rideout had been brought in for this performance, since I feel his voice suits the role of Siegfried a little better than Mussard.
The one caveat is the opening Prologue and parts of Act 1, but this is more due to Wagner's verbose nature of composition, than to this actual performance.
The packaging of these SA-CDs from Melba Recordings features a Jewel Case sized booklet with the SA-CDs inside cardboard pockets within the book. I did not really like the idea of taking my SA-CDs in and out of the sleeves, so I placed them in my own Jewel Cases. The problem with the cardboard sleeves is that there is sometimes a little glue on the discs themselves, which meant I had to wash them. I do understand that putting this package together did cut down on costs. However, my discs came in good condition and cleaning took a little work. The book is also covered in a kind of heavy clear plastic to protect the booklet, which I can appreciate. Overall I would have preferred a packaging more closely resembling the Harmonia Mundi operas. Nevertheless, this will not really detract from my final rating of these recordings. The book contains the synopsis, essays, photos, bios on the performers, a complete list of the performers in the Adelaide Symphony, recording information, as well as info on the Melba foundation. The Libretto features only German and English. A french version can be downloaded from the Melba website.
There has never been a definitive recording of the Ring cycle in my opinion, not even Sir Georg Solti's, although for many, his comes the closest. The length, breadth and scope of Wagner's Ring is, by its very nature, open to so many differing points of view as to what constitutes a great performance. Arguments will always cirlcle around this mammoth work that Wagner took 28 years to compose.
With Asher Fisch, The Adelaide Orchestra and the strong casting, this live recording of Wagner's Ring will most likely, in time, earn a place among the very best recordings.
(This review refers to the Multichannel portion of this disc.)
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