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  Melba Recordings -
  MR301089-90 (2 discs)
  Wagner: Das Rheingold - Fisch
  Wagner: Das Rheingold

John Bröcheler (Wotan)
Timothy DuFore (Donner)
Andrew Brunsdon (Froh)
Christopher Doig (Loge)
Elizabeth Campbell (Fricka)
Kate Ladner (Freia)
Liane Keegan (Erda)
John Wegner (Alberich)
Richard Greager (Mime)
Andrew Collis (Fasolt)
David Hibbard (Fafner)
Natalie Jones (Woglinde)
Donna-Maree Dunlop (Wellgunde)
Zan McKendree-Wright (Flosshilde)
The State Opera of South Australia
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Asher Fisch (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Opera
Recording type:
Recording info:

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Related titles: 4

Reviews: 3

Site review by Christine Tham November 12, 2006
Performance:   Sonics:    
This is the second installment of Melba Recordings' staggered release of what will eventually be the first multi-channel Hybrid SA-CD set of the complete Wagner Ring Cycle, based on live performances from the first truly Australian production of the Ring, staged by State Opera South Australia in Adelaide in November-December 2004.

The first title released was Die Walküre in June 2006 and previously reviewed by myself on this site.

Das Rheingold is different from the other operas in the Ring cycle, considered by some to be an operatic prelude to the whole cycle rather than full-scale opera. It contains only one act divided into five scenes and is intended to be performed over two and a half hours with no intervals, so requires stamina from the performers and a good attention span from the audience. Quite a lot happens, setting the context for the subsequent operas, ranging from Alberich stealing the gold from the Rhinemaidens in the opening scene to nothing less than the Gods entering Valhalla accompanied by suitably dramatic music at the close.

Yet I have seen more than my fair share of disappointing performances. Because much of the material is expository in nature, there is a tendency for productions to lack energy. Fortunately the Adelaide 2004 production is not one of them, at least not on stage anyway. The opening scene features lots of stage movement with the Rhinemaidens wearing what appears to be diving outfits sliding with real water flowing down an angled stage floor. And in the third scene we get to see lots of action and movement on a partitioned stage representing the caverns of the Nibelungen.

On this recording, listeners can experience some of the magic that was present on the night of the performance. Unfortunately, the recording does not convey a lot of the visual energy, and I couldn't help feeling whilst listening to the discs that I was listening to the soundtrack of a film without the benefit of the pictures.

As usual, the recording is technically faultless and superb. I get the feeling I can hear every note played by every instrument in the orchestra, and hear every last nuance in the voices. The overall sound is rather rich, deep, and luscious, and the voices is particular have a lot of body due to reverb. My only quibble is that the overall tone can sound just a bit boomy in the lower frequencies at times.

However, the performance lacks the excitement and the dramatic presence of the Solti version on Decca. Of course, the Solti recording had the benefit of being a studio production rather than a live performance, and producer John Culshaw took the opportunity to turn it into a sonic showcase, including adding artificial reverb to Alberich's voice when he was wearing the Tarnhelm helmet and lots of sound effects, including anvils ringing and thunder claps. Although some have criticised the Solti Ring as being too "gimmicky" with it's use of studio techniques, it does have two advantage over many recordings of live performances (including this one): a superbly balanced orchestral tone and singers that are not distracted by the requirements of on-stage movements.

The comparison between the Adelaide SA-CD and the Solti recording is clearly in favour of the latter in the first scene, where the Solti version has the magnificent horns blaring over the deep E-flat bass, which sounds majestic and yet ominous at the same time. In comparison, the horns in the Adelaide version sound rather muted and die down rather quickly, and the exchanges between Alberich and the Rhinemaidens sound rather wooden compared to the playful and yet cruel flirting that goes on in the Solti version. The SA-CD is also "marred" by the lots of "crackle" (which, believe it or not, is the microphones interpreting the sound of running water on stage) and footfalls, which effectively dispel the illusion of the characters swimming around in the Rhine. These kind of noises made sense during the live performance, but perhaps less forgivable in the context of a recording (although they are far less intrusive on the stereo mix compared to the surround).

Fortunately, the next scene, featuring Wotan and Fricka, was much better, probably because the cast could focus on the singing instead of stage movements. The orchestra also starts to pick up during this scene and sounds a bit more dynamic and a little less laidback and restrained.

The third scene surprisingly comes across quite well in the recording, and finally the last two scenes are acceptable, though lacking the intensity and the dramatic impact of the Solti version. Unfortunately, both Timothy DuFore (Donner) and John Bröcheler (Wotan) were a bit too relaxed in terms of pitch control in the "He da! He da! He do!" scene for my liking.

Once again, the surround version sounds more transparent and expansive than the stereo version, which in turn makes the CD version sound a bit glassy and anaemic. The surround mix is rather conservative, which is not surprising given that it's a live recording. Some care has been taken to mix the Rhinemaidens so that they literally surround the listener in both the first and last scenes. I can hear the audience chuckling in at least two instances, during the first and third scenes, which I thought was a nice touch and a useful reminder that this is a live performance after all. Incidentally, the relative positions of characters on stage are preserved on both stereo and surround mixes which was a nice touch.

In summary then, this set is still worthwhile collecting, especially if you intend to own the complete cycle when it is fully released (15 discs), but is not beyond reproach. I can now understand why Melba chose to release Die Walküre as the first title in the collection. After hearing Die Walküre, one can accept some of the faults in this recording, but I suspect I might be less forgiving if this was the first title released.

The next title scheduled for release is Siegfried early in 2007 followed by Götterdammerung in the middle of the year. This review is based on an copy supplied by Melba Recordings in late October 2006 just after the official launch.

Review by threerandot April 12, 2008 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Asher Fisch and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra are matched with a solid cast in this excellent recording of Wagner's Das Rheingold. Fisch proves himself to be a formidable Wagnerian conductor.

At one time, complete recordings of the Ring were difficult to make. When people talk about the Ring, the first recording usually mentioned is the recording by Sir Georg Solti. Since that time, there have been dozens of Ring recordings. Now there is the complete cycle recorded by Asher Fisch and the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra with what is an excellent cast, but things are not all smooth. There are some bumps in this performance, which is the first of its kind for Super Audio CD. When I heard that the complete Ring cycle was to be released on SA-CD, I knew I simply had to have it. The State Opera of South Australia prove that they are more than up to the task in this live recording of Das Rheingold. Living in Canada, getting my hands on the complete cycle took several months as distribution in Canada was limited during 2007 for this cycle. Thankfully, I was able to secure each of the four operas in the cycle and which I am now in the process of reviewing.

The Adelaide Symphony are indeed an impressive body of musicians and Asher Fisch is an excellent dramatist. This recording of Das Rheingold shows Fisch's understanding of the score and he displays an ability to keep the action moving forward with just the right energy. Rarely does the action lag. I sat with libretto and was kept engrossed throughout the entire two and a half hours of listening. There were only a few brief moments where the action slowed.

I have always found it fascinating that Die Walkure and not Das Rheingold, has been the most popular opera in the cycle. Yes, Die Walkure is filled with some of Wagner's most beautiful music and singing, but I personally find Das Rheingold is filled with more action and the pace never lets up. I kind of see it as the "Action Movie" of the Ring Cycle. I have always felt that Rheingold is the first opera anyone listening to Wagner for the first time should hear.

In Scene 1, Fisch creates an exciting buildup from the very first notes with an impressive and slow crescendo. This also displays the wide dynamic range of this recording. I did find that the sound could be a little harsh if I got too excited with the volume of my system.

The first scene betweeen the Rhinemaidens and Alberich features just the right atmosphere, brought about by the depth and wide range of this recording. Alberich is suitably impressive. The Maidens display the right kind of naivete. They are all excellent singers. The first appearance of the Gold is impressively punctuated by bold and impressive brass.

Scene 2 opens with warm and noble brass, but John Bröcheler is a flawed Wotan. When he sings of his beloved Walhalla, he is unsteady and lacks power in his voice. This is one of the problem moments in this Rheingold recording. His singing does improve as the performance progresses, but again, at the end, when he sings of the Mighty Hall, he shows some faltering. Not as much as at the beginning, but again, lacking in power. Elizabeth Campbell is not a terrible Fricka, but she does have some problems as well, lacking a steady and controlled voice at times. Freia (Kate Ladner), is however, a strong vocalist and makes the most of her time onstage, as any singer does with smaller roles. She is sympathetic and has a beautiful voice.

Another scene worth mentioning is the entry of the Giants, which is very impressive. Both powerful singers, Andrew Collis (Fasolt) and David Hibbard (Fafner) are excellent as the Giants and their scene where they fight over the gold is another highlight, with bombastic and exciting kettle drums punctuating the drama. Truly memorable! Froh and Donner protecting Freia from the Giants is another exciting scene.

Another important asset to this production was Christopher Doig as Loge. Loge is an important factor in this drama as so much of the action revolves around this character. Christopher Doig is an excellent and powerful singer and realizes this character so vividly. In this particular opera, a strong Loge is a necessity. Listen for Loge singing about his travels to find what men throughout the world could possibly value more than the love of a woman. An excellently drawn characterization.

In Scene 3 Alberich is imposing and Mime is truly wretched and evil. These are two pivotal characters and again, brought to life vividly by John Wegner (Alberich) and Richard Greager (Mime). Their first moments with Alberich beating Mime are truly frantic. I also appreciate when Loge and Wotan match wits with Alberich and fool him into turning himself into a toad. The audience laughs at this point. This is the only point in this recording where I could hear the audience, such was their attention to the action onstage.

Asher Fisch is an intelligent conductor and he understands how to build climaxes that are truly memorable. The heaping of the Gold in front of Freia is one such example. John Wegner (Alberich) tears up the scenery when he puts his curse upon all who would gain control of the Ring. We also get a remarkable Erda in Scene 4. As Erda's part is so small, again, singers want to make the most of their moments on stage. Liane Keegan is an exceptional Erda with great control and a very strong voice. Her moment is a highlight.

Another singer who is not at his best is Timothy DuFore as Donner. His voice is a little too shaky and wobbly for my liking, but his summoning of the forces of nature is marked by the strong forces of the Orchestra. The Rhinemdaidens at the end of Act Four are caught in such a way that they sound as though they are singing from deep below the stage. Listen for the harps coming out of your Left Surround Speaker. A very nice touch to their voices. The final closing moments of this recording features truly impressive fanfares as the cast enters Walhalla.

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.

Asher Fisch has proved himself to be a first rate Wagner conductor and apart from some bumps here and there, this is a very excellent recording of Das Rheingold. The Surround Sound recording is very impressive, if perhaps having a little too much depth at times, but this rarely caused too much distraction. The orchestra is set somewhat further back with the singers in front. The Wide dynamic range is impressive, but I did occasionally have to adjust my volume somewhat. No matter. This is a very good recording of Das Rheingold and I think many will be pleased with it. If you can accept the few bumps in it, it makes for an exciting evening of Wagner. Highly Recommended.

(This review refers to the Multichannel portion of this disc.)

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Review by JJ June 1, 2007 (2 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
Créé le 13 août 1876 à Bayreuth, le prologue de la Tétralogie de Richard Wagner, l'Or du Rhin, vint à l'esprit du compositeur allemand, vingt trois ans plus tôt, en 1853 et c'est en ces termes qu'il l'exprima : "Je m'allongeai sur un lit de repos, et ne tardai pas à sombrer dans une espèce de somnambulisme habité de l'accord parfait en mi bémol majeur, souligné de motifs mélodiques. Ces motifs mélodiques allaient en s'accélérant, mais l'accord parfait de mi bémol majeur, immuable, semblait vouloir donner un sens à mon cauchemar. Une frayeur soudaine me fit sortir de la semi-torpeur avec la sensation que des vagues, à présent, passaient avec fracas au-dessus de ma tête. Et là, soudain, je sus que je détenais le prélude orchestral de l'Or du Rhin, et du même coup, je compris aussi que c'était en moi et en moi seul que je devais puiser des forces vives". Le premier Ring sur support SACD nous arrive donc d'Australie avec une distribution locale et l'Orchestre Symphonique d'Adélaïde que dirige Asher Fisch. Cette version du Das Rheingold est une grande réussite. Avec des tempi relativement amples, laissant le discours musical s'épanouir dans un souffle naturel, la direction de Fisch englobe le drame dans une vision énergique et fluide. L'action se déroule alors dans une sorte de mouvement de balancier se faisant tour à tour fiévreux ou méditatif, que les protagonistes transcendent par une présence de chaque instant. Saluons la distribution avec notamment John Böcheler dans le rôle de Wotan, Christopher Goig dans celui de Loge, Elizabeth Campbell dans Fricka ou encore Liane Keegan dans le rôle d'Erda. Mais la palme revient à l'Alberich de John Wegner, d'une force expressive rare, offrant au drame une vérité que l'on pensait perdue dans le chant wagnérien d'aujourd'hui. Avec une belle prise de son aérée, respectant les perspectives de l'action, ces Super Audio CD, dont la qualité éditoriale est également à saluer, sont faits pour le multicanal.

Jean-Jacques Millo

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Works: 1  

Richard Wagner - Das Rheingold, WWV 86A