Wagner: Die Walküre

Patrick O'Connor
Opera (UK)

Just 40 years ago, Decca announced the completion of the Solti Ring, with a campaign bearing the slogan ‘Artistically and technically the greatest recording triumph ever’.

No one agreed with that then, but who could have predicted the flood of Rings, first on LP, now on CD and DVD? I’m not sure that it would be possible even to list all the Walküres that are out there – more than 50 on CD now. This latest set is the start of what will surely be known as the Adelaide Ring. The first staging of the tetralogy, created in the southern hemisphere (Australia’s earlier Rings were imports from Europe), it was reviewed at length in these pages by Hugh Canning (February 2005, pp.168-71) and one’s first reaction is to regret that the chance was not taken to film the production, rather than make a sound recording.

This is touted as the first-ever Ring in Surround Sound. I do not have the equipment to utilize this (if I were to acquire it, I think my long-suffering next door neighbours would finally rebel), but on earphones the effect at the beginning of Act 3 is spectacular, with wonderful orchestral detail, and the voices of the Valkyries coming in at different angles. It also sounds quite humorous, which rather took me aback, until I turned to Canning’s review and looked at the picture of the girls lined up on bar stools beneath a sign declaring ‘Wunder Bar’.

Act 1 comes off best here. Deborah Riedel gives a superb performance as Sieglinde: her voice has matured, and this seems to suit her much better than some of the Italian roles in which she has been heard. Stuart Skelton is a firm-voiced Siegmund, thrilling at ‘Wälse!’ and joining Riedel in an exciting finale to the act. Hunding is the dark-voiced Richard Green, managing to make the wronged husband sound indignant and menacing.

… Elizabeth Campbell is a rich-voiced Fricka; both she and John Bröcheler as Wotan put a considerable amount of energy into their bickering duet. Their diction is admirably clear, and Campbell’s cry of ‘Die Betrog’ne lass auch zertreten!’ sounds really aggrieved … In the ‘Todesverkündigung’ [Lisa] Gasteen displays her fine lower register, and at ‘So grüsse mir Walhall’ and through the struggle with Brünnhilde, Skelton shows himself to be a Siegmund of noble energy. At this point in the drama Asher Fisch’s control of the opera is exactly right, and moments where he lets the music unfold rather slowly seem apt in the context of the urgency of the Valkyrie’s rash decision to aid Siegmund. Connoisseurs of Wagner singing should hear Skelton in this, and in his solo contemplating the sleeping Sieglinde: he is the real thing.

The final scenes benefit from the live recording, and the tension and commitment that can come only in performance. A significant moment in the history of opera in Australia, a fine performance, very well recorded ...