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Wagner: Das Rheingold

OzArts Review (Australia)
Neville Cohn

When I listened, astonished and delighted, to The State Opera of South Australia’s recording of Wagner’s Die Walküre, I wondered whether this was some inspired, one-off fluke, a thrilling flash in the pan, never to be equalled, let alone improved on, by this Australian company.

I am most gratified to say that such concerns on my part were entirely unnecessary because this remarkable opera company’s follow-up recording of Das Rheingold is no less impressive than its earlier CDs of Die Walküre. I cannot too highly praise the excellence of this performance.

As was the case when listening to Die Walküre, I had to pinch myself that I was not dreaming, that this extraordinary fine interpretation didn’t come out of Bayreuth, the world centre for Wagnerian excellence, but from an antipodean opera company the existence of which it would be fair to say the vast majority of Wagner aficionados would be ignorant – but not for long. It would be impossible, I suggest, for this dazzling musical light to be hidden under a bushel; it is one of the most impressive and laudable operatic initiatives ever to come out of Australia.

Rossini famously said of Wagner’s operas that they have wonderful moments but terrible half hours. I’m not a betting man but I’d happily wager that if that portly Italian genius had heard this recording, he’d have drastically altered his rather vinegary opinion.

Mrs Siddons, that ultra-eminent English actress of an earlier era, was said to have had a voice of such compelling beauty that even when uttering so humble a request as ordering a glass of beer caused the bartender to faint. Now, I should reveal that I didn’t faint while listening to Das Rheingold –but I unhesitatingly place this recording in that category of exalted excellence. At the risk of seeming a bore, can I re-iterate how gratifying it is that so thorough a grasp of Wagnerian idiom has emerged – triumphantly – from a company far from the main routes of the international opera circuit.

This wonderful recorded performance has given me hours of joyful listening. I recommend it unreservedly to anyone seeking Wagnerian truth.