Wagner: Das Rheingold

Christine Tham
SA-CD.net (Australia)
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This is the second instalment of Melba Recordings' staggered release of what will eventually be the first multi-channel Hybrid SACD set of the complete Wagner Ring Cycle, based on live performances from the first truly Australian production of the Ring, staged by State Opera South Australia in Adelaide in November-December 2004.

The first title released was Die Walküre in June 2006 and previously reviewed by myself on this site.

Das Rheingold is different from the other operas in the Ring Cycle, considered by some to be an operatic prelude to the whole Cycle rather than full-scale opera. It contains only one act divided into five scenes and is intended to be performed over two and a half hours with no intervals, so requires stamina from the performers and a good attention span from the audience. Quite a lot happens, setting the context for the subsequent operas, ranging from Alberich stealing the gold from the Rhinemaidens in the opening scene to nothing less than the Gods entering Valhalla accompanied by suitably dramatic music at the close.

Yet I have seen more than my fair share of disappointing performances. Because much of the material is expository in nature, there is a tendency for productions to lack energy. Fortunately the Adelaide 2004 production is not one of them ... The opening scene features lots of stage movement with the Rhinemaidens wearing what appears to be diving outfits sliding with real water flowing down an angled stage floor. And in the third scene we get to see lots of action and movement on a partitioned stage representing the caverns of the Nibelungen.

On this recording, listeners can experience some of the magic that was present on the night of the performance ...

  As usual, the recording is technically faultless and superb. I get the feeling I can hear every note played by every instrument in the orchestra, and hear every last nuance in the voices. The overall sound is rather rich, deep, and luscious, and the voices in particular have a lot of body due to reverb ...

Once again, the surround version sounds more transparent and expansive than the stereo version ... The surround mix is rather conservative, which is not surprising given that it's a live recording. Some care has been taken to mix the Rhinemaidens so that they literally surround the listener in both the first and last scenes. I can hear the audience chuckling in at least two instances, during the first and third scenes, which I thought was a nice touch and a useful reminder that this is a live performance after all.

  Incidentally, the relative positions of characters on stage are preserved on both stereo and surround mixes which was a nice touch.

In summary then, this set is still worthwhile collecting, especially if you intend to own the complete Cycle when it is fully released (14 discs) ...


Performance: 3.5 stars (*** 1/2)

Sonics: Stereo – 4 stars (****)

Sonics: Multichannel – 4 stars (****)