Wagner: Götterdämmerung

Andrew Quint
Fanfare (US)

The State Opera of South Australia’s Ring Cycle, conducted by Asher Fisch, finishes strong with this Götterdämmerung. When Die Walküre was released in mid-2006, Melba’s set was the first entire Wagner opera to appear on SACD. Now, Melba has company, a complete Ring from Amsterdam courtesy of Et’Cetera but that hardly diminishes the worth of the Australians’ achievement...

[T]he cast is very strong and everyone, down to the last Norn, was evidently having a good night. American tenor Timothy Mussard does an outstanding job as the hero. His voice, while not the most ringing and gleaming you’ve ever heard, is undeniably heroic in scale and, more critically, Mussard’s portrayal is exquisitely alert to exactly where the character is on his path from enthusiastic cluelessness to tragic enlightenment. His final dying words eschew scenery chewing and communicate that Siegfried finally understands that he’s been made fully human by Brünnhilde’s love. Lisa Gasteen is warmly womanly in the Prologue, and so palpably exultant in describing her bliss to Waltraute that her horror and disgust when she catches up with Siegfried is set up maximally. She’s magnificent in her last scene, building a sense of resolve and purpose—and delivering just plain beautiful singing.

Duccio dal Monte, the Hagen, was a student of Rolando Panerai. He has a large and darkly powerful instrument and his ruminations alone on stage at the close of act I, scene 2 are pretty scary. As his half-brother, Gunther, Jonathan Summers is suitably puffed-up and proud. Additionally, Joanna Cole’s Gutrune is among the most successful I’ve ever heard. She’s perky enough when she first appears, superficial and narcissistic, but not stupid. Later, she’s extraordinarily sympathetic as she futilely awaits Siegfried’s return in act III—sad and small, with a growing comprehension that she’s been brutally manipulated. There’s no gratuitous screaming or wailing when she learns of Siegfried’s demise. John Wegner makers the father-son relationship of Alberich and Hagen quite believable at the beginning of act II and Elizabeth Campbell, who sang so well as Fricka in Rheingold and Walküre, is an excellent Waltraute, trying multiple approaches to get her sister to surrender the cursed ring.

Again, Asher Fisch leads with tremendous dramatic instinct and makes the most of every orchestra-only passage, and not just the famous set pieces. As just one example, listen to the mood of smouldering hate that Fisch conjures up for the Prelude to act II. The orchestral execution is absolutely world-class: hearing the horns at the beginning of the final act, you’d think the Vienna Philharmonic or Royal Concertgebouw had been brought to Adelaide for these performances.

Particularly in surround, the rich warm sound holds you in a luxuriant embrace, with true instrumental colors. (Someone who had never heard a clarinet and bass clarinet, for example, would know instantly that the latter is much larger than the former.) Voices are naturally scaled as if heard from an audience perspective, and balances between pit and stage are ideal. The occasional rear-channel effect—Siegfried and Hagen’s men finding each other in act II’s second scene, for instance—are nicely done. The choral work is good.

As with the previous three dramas, Melba’s plush packaging provides the libretto in German and English... Collectors who already own the first three instalments of Melba’s Ring will need no encouragement to acquire this release. Others who want to sample the Australians’ considerable accomplishment would do quite well to start with Götterdämmerung.