Wagner: Götterdämmerung

Bill Hoffmann
The Canberra Times (Australia)

The recent release of the four-disc recording of Wagner’s epic music drama Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) brings to a conclusion the ambitious project of the Australian classical music company, Melba Recordings, to mount a complete recording of the composer’s cycle of four operas, The Ring of the Niebelung to be released in four instalments during 2006 / 2007. This took advantage of the State Opera of South Australia’s highly acclaimed 2004 Ring Cycle, presented during November and December of that year. The recordings were made live in the Adelaide Festival Hall.

In the words of Maria Vandamme, the chief executive of the Melba Foundation and co-producer of the recordings: In making this state-of-the-art recording, we have used the multi-channel ‘super audio surround sound’ format, which places Melba at the foreground of a new generation of CD labels re-shaping the classical music recording industry around the world.  The first three operas of Wagner’s tetralogy already released have been received with acclaim in Britain, the United States and Europe, not only for the excellence of the performances but for the recording quality. Britain’s Opera magazine described the project as “a significant moment in the history of opera recordings”, while the US music press described it as being “as groundbreaking as Georg Solti’s 1966 recording at that time”.   In France it won an award at the 2007 Académie du disque lyrique, with its president M.Clym, saying:
This recording of the Ring is not only a great achievement but also highly significant as the first ever complete Ring from Australia, a country from which such an ambitious recording project comes as a very important and unexpected event. On playing this recording, one is struck by the quality of the engineering, first for the spread of sound and the warm realism of the orchestra in the prologue, and then the realism of the voices as they enter, and finally for the excellent balance between orchestra and voices.

No extraneous noises – stage movements or audience noises – distract from the pleasure of the performance, something that has been a disturbing element in recordings of live performances.

The climatic scenes of the Ring Cycle – the death of Siegfried, Brünnhilde’s immolation in the hero’s funeral pyre, the destruction of Valhalla, and the return of the Ring of the Nibelung to the waters of the Rhine – are powerfully projected in Götterdämmerung in a music drama that is both massive and moving. The principal figures are played by singers of outstanding vocal accomplishment.   American tenor Timothy Mussard brings a voice with the expressive strength of the true “heldentenor” to the role of Siegfried, while the dark tonal quality of the voice of Italian baritone Duccio dal Monte is ideally suited to the role of the evil Hagen.   Australian soprano Lisa Gasteen brings to the role of Brünnhilde a voice of great power and beauty, while the conductor, Wagnerian expert Asher Fisch, maintains the dramatic momentum of the performance over its long expressive spans.

It makes a gripping conclusion of what has been a notable series of recordings that have placed Australia at the forefront of recording technique for the new century.