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Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Götterdämmerung (1876)
Timothy Mussard (tenor) – Siegfried; Lisa Gasteen (soprano) – Brünnhilde; Duccio dal Monte (bass) – Hagen; Jonathan Summers (baritone) – Gunther; Joanna Cole (soprano) – Gutrune; John Wegner (bass-baritone) – Alberich; Elizabeth Campbell (mezzo) – Waltraute; Liane Keegan (contralto) – First Norn; Gaye MacFarlane (mezzo) – Second Norn; Kate Ladner (soprano) – Third Norn; Natalie Jones (soprano) – Woglinde; Donna-Maree Dunlop (mezzo) – Wellgunde; Zan McKendree-Wright (mezzo) – Flosshilde
The State Opera of South Australia Chorus, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra/Asher Fisch
rec. live, Adelaide Festival Theatre, 16 November-12 December 2004
Texts and English translations included
MELBA MR 301099-102 [4 CDs: 53:13 + 67:25 + 67:28 + 78:57]

There is a quotation from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the front cover of this set saying “Adelaide can be proud”. I would like to endorse that statement with all possible enthusiasm. After the glorious start with Die Walküre (see review) one and a half years ago the cycle has proceeded along the same exalted lines. I didn’t rate Das Rheingold (see review) quite as highly as Die Walküre but still found it impressive and Siegfried was a wholly engrossing experience (see review) that could compete with the best.
There are three things in these Adelaide recordings that have received almost unanimous praise:

• the quality of the recording – this is the first Ring cycle in SACD sound. In surround mode the realism is tangible and truly atmospheric, the clarity and pinpoint details of the orchestra and the dynamic magnificence overwhelming. The balance between stage and pit is what I would expect to hear from a good seat in an opera house. I haven’t been to Adelaide Festival Theatre though.

• the playing of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, which places this ensemble on a par with the most prestigious orchestras in the world: luminous strings, warm woodwind and powerful brass – so important in Wagner and especially in this particular work.

• the conducting of Asher Fisch. “Asher Fisch has to be counted among the front-runners of recorded Ring conductors” I wrote in my review of Das Rheingold and even though I made adverse comments on some of his choices of tempo in Siegfried this verdict still applies. With its heavenly length this drama is difficult to keep together and since it moves forward mainly at measured speeds there is always a risk of longwindedness. Fisch nevertheless has a firm grip of the proceedings and he makes the most of the purely orchestral moments which are quite numerous in Götterdämmerung. The Dawn music in the Prologue is mighty, the Rhine journey majestically surging, the Funeral march solemn but still defiant. The final flooding of the Rhine is magnificent and spectacular but also warm and touching with that wonderful string melody. As an orchestral Götterdämmerung this reading is a tour de force.

Vocally it is also in the main on a very high level. The chorus sing extremely well and the male chorus, who have the heaviest burden, are superb in the swinging chorus that follows Hagen’s summoning of the vassals (CD3 tr. 10). There is a good trio of Rhinemaidens and the three norns are highly expressive – something that is common to all the soloists. It is often one of the blessings of live performances where all the participants are involved in their roles and also have a director’s concept “built-in” into their readings. A special rosette should be awarded to Liane Keegan, whose contralto has depth and exemplary steadiness. I have already praised her Erda in both Das Rheingold and Siegfried and this is another feather in her cap. Elizabeth Campbell is another mainstay in this set, singing Fricka in the first two parts of the cycle. Here she returns for a short guest appearance as Waltraute, a role that Loane Keegan took in Die Walküre. It is a strong reading of the narration and there is real panic in her voice when she sees the cursed ring on Brünnhilde’s hand. Vocally she starts unsteadily but grows in confidence during the scene. This is also the case with Joanna Cole’s Gutrune, whose first act appearance is dramatic but less than ingratiating to the ear. In act 2 she emerges as an utterly transformed singer - possibly recorded on a better day.
Her brother Gunther is sung by Jonathan Summers, who makes this character strong and hot-tempered, not the usual meek cypher. He has retained his full-bodied, incisive voice – a little less steady than when I used to hear him at ENO some 15 to 20 years ago. Otherwise the ravages of time have been very merciful to him.
John Wegner is just as high-strung and neurotic an Alberich as he was in the earlier parts; one of the best and most dangerous of dwarfs on any recent recording; Duccio dal Monte makes his son Hagen a formidable character. He isn’t quite as spitefully evil as Kurt Rydl on the Haenchen sets (see review & review) but he is much steadier and his is a large voice with impressive bottom notes. He is a bit uneven and the singing is sometimes marred by a heaviness and curious lack of sonority but at his best, as in Hier sitz ich zur Wacht! (CD2 tr. 7), he is by some margin the best Hagen of the last decade.
On the Walküre set the great find was tenor Stuart Skelton and on Siegfried it was tenor Gary Rideout as the eponymous hero. I had hoped to hear him as Siegfried here too but instead another American steps in. At first I thought that Timothy Mussard was another find. He is powerful, manly and with some sap in the voice. Along the road to his death I started to have second thoughts, however. He has stamina and he is expressive but the tone isn’t heroic, even if undeniably he has necessary power. Too often nowadays the hero could just as well have been singing Mime in the previous opera. That is also the feeling I have about Mussard. One could argue perhaps that Siegfried in this opera isn’t a true hero. After all he cheats and betrays Brünnhilde – even though this is achieved by witchcraft. One still expects more nobility of tone from the at least nominal hero. Siegfried Jerusalem on the Barenboim-Kupfer Bayreuth set is the closest to the ideal of latter-day attempts. I rather hope that Ben Heppner will be persuaded to record the part before it is too late. His recital last year with excerpts from the Ring was promising. Anyway Timothy Mussard is impressive in his own way and if one can accept him as he is, he gives a lyrical and expressive rendering of his narrative Mime heiss ein mürrischer Zwerg and a sensitive Brünnhilde, heilige Braut.
The crown of the whole performance is Lisa Gasteen’s Brünnhilde. I was a little worried about some spreading of tone in Siegfried. There are signs of this in the early stages of this opera too but as the drama unfolds she impresses more and more through her insight and her intensity. She tops everything else with one of the most glorious readings of the Immolation scene. Anne Evans on the Barenboim set is superb but falls short of the seemingly unlimited power of Lisa Gasteen. Birgit Nilsson, for both Solti and Böhm, is superhumanly strong and brilliant but lacks the warmth.
The 165 page hardback book with the CDs as an appendix is a luxury one doesn’t expect these days: full texts and translations, a deep-probing essay and a synopsis, biographies of the conductor and soloists and photos of them all plus some evocative colour-photos of the performance. Adelaide can be proud.
In my review of the Haenchen CD set I advised prospective buyers to wait for this release. With hindsight it was a good piece of advice. Of the four Götterdämmerung from the 21st century that have come my way – Haenchen on DVD, Haenchen on CD (different casts!), Zagrosek on CD (also available on DVD) and the present one – each and every one has good things to offer. However Asher Fisch and his Adelaide forces definitely carry off the palm. Adelaide can be proud!
Göran Forsling


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