Wagner: Die Walküre

Andrew Quint
The Absolute Sound (US)
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This Die Walküre is the first complete Wagner opera to appear on SACD. It’s not, of course, the first in surround sound: considering only the Ring, there are six cycles on DVD, complete or in progress, all with a multichannel option. But those are relatively low-fi DTS or Dolby Digital, which cheats the listener out of some of the composer’s luxuriant orchestral syntax.
Melba’s live recording was made with 65 microphones. The final product sounds like it was mixed for atmosphere rather than attempting to document a real-life acoustic, in this case the Adelaide Festival Center. Voices, with rare exception, are upfront, but the orchestral recording allows Wagner partisans to wallow in the richly scored strings and brasses as never before. The rear channels occasionally output direct sound—Hunding’s horns at the close of Act II, or an arriving Valkyrie in Act III. Timbrally, the sound is smooth with a solid bottom end.

Most of the singers for the entire Adelaide Ring, of which this set is the first installment, are capable Australians. There are two world-class Wagnerians here, German John Bröcheler and Lisa Gasteen (who hails from Down Under).

A good Wotan and Brünnhilde count for a lot in Die Walküre and things are best when they’re on stage. Bröcheler’s nicely paced second act monologue and the opera’s last scene between father and daughter are highlights ... Stuart Skelton’s voice has a baritonal quality that’s appealing in quieter passages ... Deborah Riedel’s Sieglinde is richly and securely sung ... Asher Fisch, an experienced Wagner conductor from Israel, favors brisk tempos ...
The lavish packaging includes useful notes and a German / English libretto.


Music: *** (3 stars)
Sonics: *** ½ (3½ stars)