Wagner: Die Walküre

John Sunier & Peter Bates
Audiophile Audition (US)

This beautifully-recorded, handsomely-packaged album marks the very first SACD release of a complete opera in Wagner's famed Ring Cycle. Die Walküre was selected because it is the most popular of the quartet comprising the Ring Cycle. If any opera composer of the past seems appropriate to surround sound reproduction it would certainly be Wagner. It's not the label's first SACD - they earlier released a ballet by Hérold, conducted by Richard Bonynge, La somnambule. The Melba Foundation is named after Dame Nellie Melba, the Australian diva who along with Caruso really created the whole classical recording industry. Among its patrons are Bonynge and Joan Sutherland. The immense recording project of Die Walküre was supported by the Australia Council, the Arts Funding Body of the government, Melba Foundation patrons, and Dr Douglas G Mitchell. It involved 129 orchestral musicians, a chorus of 70, 27 principal singers and a crew of 75.

… I found this a top-quality production. The singers sound uniformly good to me (though I am far from a Wagner expert), the Adelaide Symphony plays its heart out - the 'Ride of the Valkyries' section is truly exciting - and the hi-res surround prevention makes suitable use of the spatial choreography now possible in this format. The brass section of the orchestra seems to be more in the surround channels than the frontal ones, although the singers are usually kept to the front stage areas. I was reminded of the surround placement on the Tacet label, which puts players completely around the listeners. The effects of offstage singers works so much better than with simple two-channel reproduction. There is a great clarity to the sound although it is some distance away - not muffled and echoey. Perhaps I was just getting into the imagined stage action, but during Wotan's entrance on horseback I thought I placed him vertically above the Valkyries. The clarity of both the hi-res audio and the surround presentation allows for some of the voices to be quite distant from the listener and still not sound off-mike, as do many singers on some opera recordings.

… Asher Fisch’s use of his ensemble is dramatic and spot on regarding tempo and singer placement. Its goblet-clear 5.1 sound is most impressive … great sound reproduction abounds


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