This new Die Walkre marks the beginning of the first complete recording of the Ring on SACD (Super Audio Compact Disc), and in consequence the sound is superb. Wagner was at the forefront of theatrical development in his time, and there’s no doubt that he would be pleased to hear such a vividly played account of his work in full surround sound, some of the best technology of our time.
The recording comes live from the State Opera of South Australia, where it was well received in the press. The playing of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under Asher Fisch is perhaps the most commendable aspect of the performance. Urgent in the tremolando prelude to Act 1, warmly romantic in the Siegmund-Sieglinde love duet and spacious in the final scene between Wotan and Brnnhilde, the orchestra responds with sensitivity to Fisch’s vital direction.
Although she’s had a mixed press, I admired Lisa Gasteen‘s Brnnhilde at Covent Garden. She resumes the role on record for her native company (in an almost all-Australian cast) and, despite the odd strained high B or C (inevitable in a live recording), hers remains a compelling interpretation. For me, she brings an unusually high level of emotion to Act II (when her father, Wotan, puts her to sleep), touching the heart when she nervously asks whether it was so bad for her to have saved the life of Sieglinde (Wotan’s daughter) against his wishes. She may fall short of the perfection of Birgit Nilsson in Solti’s still definitive account on Decca, but Gasteen’s is nevertheless an important Brnnhilde. In these days of few new opera recordings, it’s good to have her on record in the role.
Less successful is John Brcheler as Wotan. In this most unforgiving of roles, Brcheler sounds tired even by the end of Act II, while Act III seems effortful from first to last, and Gasteen puts him to shame, unfortunately. He makes reasonable sense of the words, which is an important part of singing Wagner, but such a woolly tone is hardly going to be the stuff of legend.
As well as Gasteen’s Brnnhilde, the reason to buy the beautifully-presented set is Stuart Skelton‘s Siegmund. Here is a voice to listen for in the future (in fact, we should get him over here for the Covent Garden Ring). The ‘Winterstrme’ aria is precise and demonstrates a golden voice, while the conclusion of his duet with Sieglinde is electrifying. He has both the sense of drama and the vocal power and beauty for this music.
Deborah Riedel‘s Sieglinde is also pretty good, though she’s less special and her tone is unfocussed at times. ‘Du bist der Lenz’, for instance, is less accurate than it might be, Riedel ignoring its almost classical vocal line. Nevertheless, her contribution to Act III is memorable, really capturing the character’s desperation and relief at Brnnhilde’s help.
Elizabeth Campbell‘s Fricka inevitable pales in comparison to Rosalind Plowright’s scenery-chewing act in the Royal Opera’s Ring, but she makes a decent stab at the role. Richard Green is a suitably menacing Hunding, and the six Valkyries are all excellent.
In all, there are many things to recommend this new recording, especially the vivid sound (which is even good on a normal CD player) and Lisa Gasteen. Yet Solti’s account remains untouched.