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Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
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
rec. live, Adelaide Festival Theatre, 16 November-12 December
Texts and English translations included
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
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
in the world: luminous strings, warm woodwind and powerful
brass – so important in Wagner and especially in this
• 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
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
John Wegner is just as high-strung and neurotic an Alberich
as he was in the earlier parts; one of the best and most
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
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!
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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