Melba Recordings

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Wagner: Die Walküre

Opera Opera (Australia)
David Gyger

Melba Recordings of Melbourne has embarked on a dauntingly ambitious recording project: a complete Ring Cycle in Super Audio CD format.

The first instalment of the issue, predictably, is Die Walküre, by far the most popular segment of the tetralogy; and the sound is spectacularly sumptuous and clear.

This set, of course, presents the production staged in the Adelaide Festival Theatre by the State Opera of South Australia in November / December 2004, and Melba will eventually immortalise the entire cycle of Der Ring des Nibelungen, Australia’s first fully home-grown one, staged at that time.

Having attended many opera performances in the Adelaide Festival Theatre over the years, including the final Ring Cycle of the three which provided the grist for this release, I can express only admiration for the aural quality of the result as immortalised here – it beats any actual live operatic experience in this acoustically flawed venue hands down …

… the presentation of the set is exemplary – the body type is actually large enough for those with merely human eyesight to read and the discs are deftly slotted into the back of the hard-bound booklet …

Right from the word go, the opening moments of Act I are stupendous – the orchestral sound during Siegmund’s running-through-the-forest prelude exemplary, and both Deborah Riedel’s Sieglinde and Stuart Skelton’s Siegmund performances are highly impressive. As the younger and more emerging of the pair, Skelton’s contribution particularly struck me as I listened to the recording – the budding heldentenor ring was blossoming before my ears most impressively, and was a consistent thrill right through to his demise in Act II, and was complemented by splendid vocal acting. Riedel, too, was at her well established best, producing torrents of creamy soprano quality sound and acting her vocal heart out ...

[Skelton’s] extended story-telling near the end of the act is very impressive – its dynamic range astonishing, impressing particularly when it’s reined in to the very brink of inaudibility, but as robust as they come when he lets loose the decibels required to do full justice to the interminably held Notungs as he names the sword in the tree and wrenches it free and plunges into the amorous nirvana of the extended love duet with an equally energised Riedel …

… once [Lisa] Gasteen’s phenomenal sound comes thoroughly into focus … she establishes a well balanced partnership with [John] Bröcheler during their long father / daughter chat before the fireworks of the act ensue.

At the beginning of the third disc of the set, during the renewal of Riedel and Skelton’s exemplary partnership, we are again at a pinnacle of this set’s artistry, and his rejection of Gasteen’s invitation to Valhalla sans Sieglinde is superbly infused with aural agony.

There’s a predictably gustsy ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ to open Act III, with exemplary focus on the series of one-liners uttered by the minor sisters of the nine-member tribe …

Gasteen … is thrillingly expressive, overwhelmingly powerful as the torrents of seamless sound pour forth effortlessly from her lungs. Along with Skelton and Riedel, it’s above all her gig on the CD set as it was in the theatre.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra too comes across with increasing voluptuousness as the end draws near, under Fisch’s increasingly effective tutelage …

Finally, the Melba Die Walküre is a worthy release to be greeted warmly … It is hoped that Melba … maintain[s] the superb technical quality achieved in Die Walküre; … the quality of the performances themselves … are more than good enough to warrant the level of immortality afforded by a release such as this