Wagner: Das Rheingold

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Melba Records
PERFORMER: John Bröcheler, Timothy DuFore,Andrew Brunsdon, Christopher Doig,Elizabeth Campbell, Kate Ladner, LianeKeegan, John Wegner, Richard Greager;The State Opera of South Australia/Asher Fisch

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It might seem a shade unfair, reviewing this segment of the first home-grown Australian Ring immediately after Testament’s superb Bayreuth Rheingold; but in fact the gulf is not as wide as one might expect.

This recording has much to recommend it, even more than the striking Walküre. Above all, there’s Asher Fisch’s conducting, expansive and lyrical but dramatically paced, with splendid playing from the Adelaide orchestra. And the almost entirely Australian singers rise admirably to the challenge.

John Bröcheler’s imported Wotan is decent rather than exceptional, spirited and strong but gruff-toned and unsteady at the top, sketching the arrogant younger god broadly but lacking Hotter’s nobler nuances.

John Wegner sings his adversary Alberich with baleful command, nicely counterpointed by Greager’s Mime, unusually lyrical for all his malicious whinings. In the third pivotal role veteran Heldentenor Christopher Doig sings Loge with unusual power but a slightly weird, sinewy tone, and keen if not oversubtle character.

The Giants (Andrew Collis and David Hibbard) are a splendidly dark-voiced pair, Donner and Froh (Timothy DuFore and Andrew Brunsdon) sturdily effective and Freia (Kate Ladner) suitably freshvoiced and vulnerable.

Keegan’s Erda is a shade light, but admirably clear and pointed, Elizabeth Campbell’s Fricka less distinguished but entirely adequate, and the Rhinemaidens are an extremely high-spirited bunch.

All in all, you’d be lucky to find such a consistent standard of performance in most European houses today. And it’s captured here in SACD surround-sound, enfolding the listener in stage atmosphere and orchestral detail, creating a real sense of the live occasion.

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One only wishes that they had also recorded the visuals of Elke Neidhardt’s modernistic but effective staging.