Asher Fisch
State Opera of South Australia Chorus
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
November/December 2004
Festival Theatre Adelaide
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedTimothy Mussard
BrünnhildeLisa Gasteen
GuntherJonathan Summers
GutruneJoanna Cole
AlberichJohn Wegner
HagenDuccio dal Monte
WaltrauteElizabeth Campbell
WoglindeNatalie Jones
WellgundeDonna-Maree Dunlop
FloßhildeZan McKendree-Wright
1. NornLiane Keegan
2. NornGaye MacFarlane
3. NornKate Ladner

If you’ve been collecting the Adelaide Ring, and finding more positive than negative aspects in the process, this final instalment shouldn’t disappoint. It builds to a commanding account of the closing scene, with Lisa Gasteen conveying immense depths of feeling as well as titanic conviction: and Asher Fisch shapes the orchestral epilogue in so fervently upbeat a manner that you could almost imagine the gods in Valhalla redeemed rather than destroyed. No wonder the audience cheers as soon as (and not before) the last chord dies away.

The problems found in previous instalments remain. The sound perspectives often seem artificial, raising questions about how the recording was actually engineered. Asher Fisch can be heavy-handed as he strives to sustain and even intensify the grandly epic character that dominates from the very first chord of the Act 1 Prologue. The recording makes the orchestral brass sound out sonorously, but there are oddities of balance, like the forward placing of the trumpet as it echoes Brünnhilde’s phrases in her Act 2 oath – not one of Wagner’s more subtle inspirations, and almost comically explicit here.

Gary Rideout, the Siegfried in the cycle’s third episode, is replaced here by another American, Timothy Mussard. He sounds pleasingly youthful and has stamina to spare, but his German can be awkward, and on several occasions he opts for rather coarse over-emphasis (perhaps encouraged by the production) when a less assertive lyricism would be better. As Hagen, Duccio dal Monte recorded the role to considerable effect (but within a very uneven performance overall) back in 2000 (1/02). In the context of the Adelaide cycle, I felt that the natural eloquence of his delivery would have made him an ideal Wotan. As Hagen he too resorts to bluster and even shouting at times, though fortunately not for his crucial final line. Elizabeth Campbell impresses as Waltraute, but Jonathan Summers’s Gunther is prone to excessive ranting and raving.

The profit and loss account could be extended, but I can discount a good number of incidental deficiencies when a performance of Götterdämmerung manages as inspiring an account of the Funeral Music and the closing scene as this one. Warts and all, the Adelaide Ring delivers an unusually powerful punch.

Arnold Whittall | Issue 2/2008


There are so many great recordings of the final instalment of Wagner’s Ring that any new version must have something to make it stand out from the crowd. In the case of this issue, indeed of the whole Adelaide Ring, that unique selling point is the recorded sound. This is one of the first recordings of the opera to be available on SACD (Melba have just been pipped at the post by Hartmut Haenchen’s new recording on Et’Cetera) and despite the fact that it was taped live at the Adelaide Festival Theatre (in late 2004), there’s very little in terms of stage noise or other problems to affect one’s enjoyment of it in pure sonic terms.

The playing of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under Asher Fisch is also very fine. Although they inevitably lack some of the sheer luxuriousness of sound of say the Berlin or Vienna Philharmonics in the famous Solti or Karajan accounts, they play with considerable virtuosity and commitment in what’s a very impressive account of the score (there’s consistently excellent work from the trumpets, in particular). And the detail that is available when listening as an SACD is, at times, breathtaking. It offers the opportunity to marvel anew at the sheer imagination of Wagner’s orchestration, picking out details that you’d be hard-pushed to hear even at a performance in the opera house. I don’t know how they managed it, either, but there’s very little indication that the singers themselves moved around much. In most live opera recordings the singer might turn the other way and then the microphone will lose them, here this hardly happens at all.

The question remains, then, as to whether this recording offers more than just impressive sonics. And I’m glad to be able to report that it definitely does. First of all, plaudits must go to Fisch who draws a highly fluid and convincing account of the score from the Adelaide orchestra. His is a naturally paced reading which, although not quite as incandescent as some, is refreshingly free of mannerism and artifice.The cast is headed by Lisa Gasteen, captured three years ago in much better form as Brünnhilde than, by all accounts, at her recent reprisal of the role at Covent Garden. She might not have quite the steely edge that Nilsson brings to the role but is all the more human sounding for it. Her voice has heft and penetration but retains a distinctly womanly character; it’s not the most agile instrument but she manoeuvres it with skill. And although she inevitably tires towards the end of the immolation scene, this is a vocally impressive account. She also brings out the human side of the character so that in the exchanges of the second act, she comes across as simply the wronged wife, touchingly detached from the epic narrative that’s unfurling around her. Her horror at Siegfried’s appearance as Gunther in the first act’s final scene is similarly real.

American Heldentenor Timothy Mussard is not the most vocally attractive Siegfried, sometimes sounding strained, but gets through the role admirably. He’s full of swagger in the early scenes, suitably naïve in the second act and is urgent and moving in his death scene, helped by Fisch’s affecting reading. His German doesn’t always sound totally idiomatic but it’s a solid performance.

I was a little disappointed by Jonathan Summers’ Gunther. He has a slightly generic vocal snarl for much of the opera and does little to flesh out the character. Duccio dal Monte, who sings Hagen, has an appropriately dark voice and certainly sounds evil. For me though, he also sounds almost too thug-like and his Italianate, sometimes buffo tone slightly serves to undermine the guile and scheming that make character such a threat. That said, though, there is an unsmiling darkness to his voice and delivery that still makes this a thoroughly chilling and convincing portrayal.

John Wegner, himself an experienced Wotan, makes a brief contribution as Alberich but is the only member of the cast to have his singing undermined by the actual sound; the staging at this point seems to prevent the microphones picking up his voice as well as the others’. Many of the other parts are taken by members of the State Opera of South Australia, including some names that are new to me. Elizabeth Campbell makes a good impression in her short but pivotal appearance as Waltraute, painting a moving picture of Wotan’s pathetic state and portraying convincingly her character’s despair. Gutrune is obviously a far less interesting character, but Joanna Cole does as good a job as any of her more illustrious predecessors in fleshing out the role even though she does sound a little out of her depth in the second act. The Rhine maidens and norns are also well represented.

One could easily get bogged down in lengthy comparisons with illustrious singers and conductors of the past and it’s probably fair to say there’s no single performance on this present version that comes close to eclipsing performances the great Wagnerians of yesteryear. Solti’s famous Götterdämmerung, probably the most universally successful recording in his Ring cycle, is in no danger of being dislodged from its perch as the standard, ‘library’ choice for this work. This is still, though, a very fine achievement and also seems to capture some of the pioneering spirit of Solti’s own recording of the cycle. In a time when recordings of opera are becoming increasingly thin on the ground it is particularly encouraging to have a new Ring from Australia, on an independent Australian label, generously supported by that country’s government. This is also an enjoyable performance that is recommendable for more than its exemplary sound quality.

One slight reservation regards a couple of editorial choices in the luxuriously presented booklet. First is the decision to publish a singing translation which, inevitably, loses much of the sense of Wagner’s original. Second is the fact that Wagner’s detailed and pivotal stage directions have been ommitted. Both these decisions will make it more difficult for anyone getting to know the work through this recording to follow the action.

Hugo Shirley | December, 2007


The previous three installments in the State Opera of South Australia’s 2004 live Ring cycle hold considerable allure by way of opulent, vividly detailed surround sound and sumptuous orchestral playing, propelled by Asher Fisch’s strong and decisive podium presence. In Götterdämmerung Fisch’s splendid ear for textural differentiation and dramatic pacing keep the music’s epic narrative flow alive most of the time, save for an overly brisk Funeral March and much dragging throughout the Immolation Scene. However, uneven casting choices come close to undermining Fisch’s fine work.

In place of Gary Rideout, whose light, youthful, flexible tenor graces the opera Siegfried’s title role, we have Timothy Mussard’s dry, monochromatic voice in not so effortless fettle as the Götterdämmerung Siegfried. As Brünnhilde, Lisa Gasteen’s sure sense of character and excellent diction pay off in Act 1’s scene with Waltraute, alongside Elizabeth Campbell’s solid, dark-hued mezzo. Elsewhere she’s hampered by inconsistent intonation and an insecure, wobbly top range, notably in the Immolation Scene and throughout the Prologue’s Love Duet, where she dodges the high C with a shaky A-flat.

Joanna Cole’s Gutrune fares best in soft, intimate moments, such as her crucial transitional scene in Act 3. Jonathan Summers’ gruff, one-dimensional Gunther contrasts to Duccio dal Monte’s hefty and well-characterized Hagen. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the respective Norn and Rheinmaiden trios had been extensively rehearsed. What’s that wolf-whistle we hear about 44 seconds into Act 3, track 3? Is that Siegfried ogling the Rheinmaidens, or a randy audience member? If you want to sample this cycle, stick with Walküre.

Artistic Qualitay: 6
Sound Quality : 10

Jed Distler


There is a quotation from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on the front cover of this set saying “Adelaide can be proud”. I would like to endorse that statement with all possible enthusiasm. After the glorious start with Die Walküre (see review) one and a half years ago the cycle has proceeded along the same exalted lines. I didn’t rate Das Rheingold (see review) quite as highly as Die Walküre but still found it impressive and Siegfried was a wholly engrossing experience (see review) that could compete with the best.

There are three things in these Adelaide recordings that have received almost unanimous praise:

• the quality of the recording – this is the first Ring cycle in SACD sound. In surround mode the realism is tangible and truly atmospheric, the clarity and pinpoint details of the orchestra and the dynamic magnificence overwhelming. The balance between stage and pit is what I would expect to hear from a good seat in an opera house. I haven’t been to Adelaide Festival Theatre though.

• the playing of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, which places this ensemble on a par with the most prestigious orchestras in the world: luminous strings, warm woodwind and powerful brass – so important in Wagner and especially in this particular work.

• the conducting of Asher Fisch. “Asher Fisch has to be counted among the front-runners of recorded Ring conductors” I wrote in my review of Das Rheingold and even though I made adverse comments on some of his choices of tempo in Siegfried this verdict still applies. With its heavenly length this drama is difficult to keep together and since it moves forward mainly at measured speeds there is always a risk of longwindedness. Fisch nevertheless has a firm grip of the proceedings and he makes the most of the purely orchestral moments which are quite numerous in Götterdämmerung. The Dawn music in the Prologue is mighty, the Rhine journey majestically surging, the Funeral march solemn but still defiant. The final flooding of the Rhine is magnificent and spectacular but also warm and touching with that wonderful string melody. As an orchestral Götterdämmerung this reading is a tour de force.

Vocally it is also in the main on a very high level. The chorus sing extremely well and the male chorus, who have the heaviest burden, are superb in the swinging chorus that follows Hagen’s summoning of the vassals (CD3 tr. 10). There is a good trio of Rhinemaidens and the three norns are highly expressive – something that is common to all the soloists. It is often one of the blessings of live performances where all the participants are involved in their roles and also have a director’s concept “built-in” into their readings. A special rosette should be awarded to Liane Keegan, whose contralto has depth and exemplary steadiness. I have already praised her Erda in both Das Rheingold and Siegfried and this is another feather in her cap. Elizabeth Campbell is another mainstay in this set, singing Fricka in the first two parts of the cycle. Here she returns for a short guest appearance as Waltraute, a role that Loane Keegan took in Die Walküre. It is a strong reading of the narration and there is real panic in her voice when she sees the cursed ring on Brünnhilde’s hand. Vocally she starts unsteadily but grows in confidence during the scene. This is also the case with Joanna Cole’s Gutrune, whose first act appearance is dramatic but less than ingratiating to the ear. In act 2 she emerges as an utterly transformed singer – possibly recorded on a better day.

Her brother Gunther is sung by Jonathan Summers, who makes this character strong and hot-tempered, not the usual meek cypher. He has retained his full-bodied, incisive voice – a little less steady than when I used to hear him at ENO some 15 to 20 years ago. Otherwise the ravages of time have been very merciful to him.

John Wegner is just as high-strung and neurotic an Alberich as he was in the earlier parts; one of the best and most dangerous of dwarfs on any recent recording; Duccio dal Monte makes his son Hagen a formidable character. He isn’t quite as spitefully evil as Kurt Rydl on the Haenchen sets (see review & review) but he is much steadier and his is a large voice with impressive bottom notes. He is a bit uneven and the singing is sometimes marred by a heaviness and curious lack of sonority but at his best, as in Hier sitz ich zur Wacht! (CD2 tr. 7), he is by some margin the best Hagen of the last decade.

On the Walküre set the great find was tenor Stuart Skelton and on Siegfried it was tenor Gary Rideout as the eponymous hero. I had hoped to hear him as Siegfried here too but instead another American steps in. At first I thought that Timothy Mussard was another find. He is powerful, manly and with some sap in the voice. Along the road to his death I started to have second thoughts, however. He has stamina and he is expressive but the tone isn’t heroic, even if undeniably he has necessary power. Too often nowadays the hero could just as well have been singing Mime in the previous opera. That is also the feeling I have about Mussard. One could argue perhaps that Siegfried in this opera isn’t a true hero. After all he cheats and betrays Brünnhilde – even though this is achieved by witchcraft. One still expects more nobility of tone from the at least nominal hero. Siegfried Jerusalem on the Barenboim-Kupfer Bayreuth set is the closest to the ideal of latter-day attempts. I rather hope that Ben Heppner will be persuaded to record the part before it is too late. His recital last year with excerpts from the Ring was promising. Anyway Timothy Mussard is impressive in his own way and if one can accept him as he is, he gives a lyrical and expressive rendering of his narrative Mime heiss ein mürrischer Zwerg and a sensitive Brünnhilde, heilige Braut.

The crown of the whole performance is Lisa Gasteen’s Brünnhilde. I was a little worried about some spreading of tone in Siegfried. There are signs of this in the early stages of this opera too but as the drama unfolds she impresses more and more through her insight and her intensity. She tops everything else with one of the most glorious readings of the Immolation scene. Anne Evans on the Barenboim set is superb but falls short of the seemingly unlimited power of Lisa Gasteen. Birgit Nilsson, for both Solti and Böhm, is superhumanly strong and brilliant but lacks the warmth.

The 165 page hardback book with the CDs as an appendix is a luxury one doesn’t expect these days: full texts and translations, a deep-probing essay and a synopsis, biographies of the conductor and soloists and photos of them all plus some evocative colour-photos of the performance. Adelaide can be proud.

In my review of the Haenchen CD set I advised prospective buyers to wait for this release. With hindsight it was a good piece of advice. Of the four Götterdämmerung from the 21st century that have come my way – Haenchen on DVD, Haenchen on CD (different casts!), Zagrosek on CD (also available on DVD) and the present one – each and every one has good things to offer. However Asher Fisch and his Adelaide forces definitely carry off the palm. Adelaide can be proud!

Göran Forsling | 7 December 2007

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
192 kbit/s CBR, 48.0 kHz, 324 MByte (MP3)
A production by Elke Neidhardt (2004)
Possible dates: 22 November, 2, 12 December 2004
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.