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Wagner: Die Walküre

01/08/2006
Positive Feedback Online (US)
Mark Wagner

 

Richard Wagner’s massive four opera set Der Ring des Niebelungen is by any person’s definition, massive. Twenty-five LPs ...15 CDs … over 15 hours of musical pleasure or sheer butt numbing pain. Maybe some of both? …

With the introduction of stereo recording in the mid 1950s, London / Decca Records made the brave effort to record the entire opera set on stereo. After finishing Die Götterdämmerung in 1964, the Solti / Culshaw / Vienna recording was complete ...When I learned that Universal (primarily Decca) had abandoned SACD, I was in despair, worrying that somehow Decca would let the Solti cycle sit and rot (Das Rheingold is nearly 50 years old!) and that the Solti set would never come out on SACD. However, some time back I learned that an Australian company (Melba Recordings) was planning a new cycle on SACD, I felt some glimmer of hope.

Despite Die Walküre being the second opera in the cycle, Melba released this opera first. Major support comes from the Melba Foundation. I have great respect for the Melba Foundation as two of its biggest supporters are none other than the husband and wife team of conductor nonpareil Richard Bonynge and the unequalled soprano and coloratura, Dame Joan Sutherland (who also performed on the Solti / Decca Ring). With such a pair, one can indeed expect greatness.

The cast is made up of primarily Australian singers and Asher Fisch leads the very competent Adelaide Symphony Orchestra as part of the State Opera of South Australia. The primary roles in this opera are as follows: Siegmund and Sieglinde (brother and sister and then husband and wife), Hunding (Sieglinde’s always-angry husband), Wotan (the brooding and usually angry father of the gods), Fricka (Wotan’s fussy and nagging wife), finally Brünnhilde, and her wild Valkyrie sisters

Lisa Gasteen … dramatic and passionate … Stuart Skelton and Deborah Riedel provide a superb Siegmund and Sieglinde (the ill-fated brother / sister and later, husband / wife). The remaining singers are all excellent,
with an appropriately hacked off Fricka as well as a wonderful gaggle of Valkryies!

The sound captured by the Melba engineers is superb. I simply cannot offer any higher praises! There is a huge sense of space from what “sounds” to be a large stage and equally large house ... Singers entering from the sides are well recorded giving an excellent feeling of direction … and space. The orchestral sound is very fine and there is an excellent balance between the vocalists and orchestra, even when the orchestra gets the chance to let loose …

In closing, summarizing the SACD makes me feel overall, we have a stunning achievement. … a truly outstanding effort.

Way back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Sir Georg Solti and the Decca team made history with the first complete stereo release of the Ring Cycle. Is Melba on its way to doing the same nearly 50 years later? I sincerely feel history has once again been made, since this SACD is the first ever high resolution recording of what is undoubtedly one of the most demanding operas to produce, direct, stage and record.

To Melba Recordings, a hearty BRAVO!