Asher Fisch
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
November/December 2004
Festival Theatre Adelaide
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
SiegfriedGary Rideout
MimeRichard Greager
WotanJohn Bröchler
AlberichJohn Wegner
FafnerDavid Hibbard
ErdaLiane Keegan
BrünnhildeLisa Gasteen
WaldvogelShu-Cheen Yu

What are the requirements for a convincing Siegfried? Stamina, obviously: then the ability to suggest youthful exuberance, but also to progress from childlike gaucherie and aggressiveness to adult passion and perception. It’s not surprising that even those singers who can cope with the physical demands of the part often fail to offer much in the way of persuasive characterisation. But American tenor Gary Rideout must be one of the best exponents of the role at the moment. He sings tirelessly, with burnished tone: this is one of those rare performances where you don’t feel that the Act 1 Forging scene is something to be endured with gritted teeth. Later, the lyrical music tends to come across as rather generalised, without the ideal flexibility of phrase and tone to do justice to all aspects of the text, and there are a few effortful patches in the long soliloquys of Acts 2 and 3. But it’s an attractive and accomplished performance in most respects.

On this occasion, Rideout has the great advantage of a conductor who paces the music well, with little or none of the rushed fences I found in the two earlier Adelaide sets. In particular, Asher Fisch shapes the mighty span of Act 3 superbly, and the closing scene, with Lisa Gasteen commanding as Brünnhilde, and with exemplary diction – no “Sargfrieds” for her – ranks high among modern (post-1950s) recordings. Also impressive are Richard Greager’s well varied, chillingly villainous Mime and Liane Keegan’s majestically world-weary Erda. What seems to me the Adelaide cycle’s main weakness, a relative lack of intimacy and understatement when such things are possible, is very clear in the exchanges between the Wanderer and Alberich in Act 2, where the effect is of a hectoring public meeting rather than a tense, closely confined dialogue. Even so, there is rather more light and shade in John Bröcheler’s singing than I found in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre. His abrupt, inevitable yielding to Siegfried is very well done.

As with its two predecessors, some aspects of the recording – an intermittent tendency to flatten perspective and to focus on forwardly placed singers at the expense of orchestral detail – can be questioned. Then there are such minor oddities as a range of eccentric incipits (and incorrect timings) for tracks: and the break between the two discs for Act 3 comes between the second and third of the orchestral surges which accompany Brünnhilde’s awakening. Nevertheless, there is a great deal to enjoy and admire. As it moves towards its ending, the Adelaide Ring assumes an increasingly imposing profile.

Arnold Whittall | Issue 8/2007 (I)

Just what is any potential first-time purchaser of Wagner’s epic Ring cycle, in sound or video, to do? The choice facing them is daunting.

I can recall in just the last two to three years, and in no special order: DVDs conducted by Lothar Zagrosek, Bertrand de Billy, Daniel Barenboim and Hartmut Haenchen, as well as CD issues of the Zagrosek (this time on Naxos), Haenchen (confusingly though not the same one as on DVD, but a set taken from the following season), the legendary 1955 Bayreuth cycle under Josef Keilberth, another reissue of a set by Hans Knappertsbusch, and last, and by no means least, the unfolding cycle on Melba, here being considered in its third instalment. What’s more this list is far from exhaustive.

Moreover this survey takes no account of the cycles already in existence, directed by such distinguished Wagnerians as Bodansky, Furtwängler, Krauss, Moralt, Böhm, Solti, Karajan, Goodall (in English), Janowski, Sawallisch, Levine and Haitink.

Let us assume that despite this plethora of choice you have been seduced by the attractive book-style packaging of the present Melba issue and have taken the plunge. What exactly will be found within the covers?

Well, I am bound to say at the beginning that the choice will not have been a bad one. This is a Siegfried which, taken as a whole, measures up well against recent competition …. and that isn’t damning with faint praise.

Firstly, perhaps contrary to more usual practice, some words about the orchestral contribution. Asher Fisch may not be an especially familiar name to British audiences, unless you regularly tune in to the Saturday matinee broadcasts from the New York Met, where he has been employed conducting what one might term the “bread-and-butter” operas. If memory serves, I last encountered him conducting “Bohème”.

The Ring is undoubtedly a step up from this repertoire and it’s a promotion in general that he handles well. As the opera progressed the comparison which kept coming to mind was with the work of Sir Reginald Goodall. True, although he can be deliberate at times, Fisch is normally not as expansive as his predecessor, but there is nevertheless a similar warmth and care over detail that is reminiscent of his older colleague. Listen for example to the Act 2 prelude where he catches Fafner’s breathing so well in the lower strings, or indeed how well he sets up the atmosphere at the very opening of the opera. With beautifully graded and articulated brass, lower strings and bassoons the orchestra creates a real atmosphere of the dark, forbidding forest of Mime’s cave. Into this he mixes a sense of the malevolent frustrated brooding of the twisted dwarf, and his dreams of wresting power from the awesome presence of the dragon Fafner. Yet in gentler more reflective music, for example the Forest Murmurs in Act 2, he also makes his mark. These are quite beautifully done, with some particularly attractive woodwind playing anticipating the appearance of the Woodbird.

However whilst conductor and orchestra are very important in Siegfried, it is an opera after all and not just a gigantic instrumental tone poem. So the question is begged … what about the singers?

The obvious inquiry is: how does our eponymous hero fare? Well Gary Rideout is a pretty decent singer although not always to my taste. His reproduction is of a rather “covered” variety that to my ears can sound slightly throttled under pressure … but … and it’s a big but …. he does at least sing the role, and doesn’t bark or screech it. And what’s more he doesn’t seem to tire appreciably; very welcome when he’s pitted in Act 3 against a Brünnhilde who’s spent the first two and a half to three hours in the dressing room!

True, from time to time, I also had some doubts about the power and “reach” of his voice. In the Act 1 forging scene, despite Fisch’s care (as elsewhere) over balances, Rideout often seemed to be overwhelmed by the orchestra …. albeit not an uncommon result in live performance. However I have to report that this initial conclusion was drawn listening to the discs on a conventional CD player. Switching to a SACD compatible machine – albeit reproduced only in two channels – the tenor seemed to ride the heavy orchestration more clearly. Indeed there was now more depth of perspective to the sound and a more palpable sense of involvement in a theatrical performance. Conclusion … whilst it’s perfectly acceptable as a CD, try if you can to hear the recording in SACD format (two or multiple channels).

There are other characters who dominate the first two acts. Mime, Siegfried’s “father by default” is prominent as is his brother Alberich whose enmity to Mime is marked; earlier in the cycle he foreswears love to obtain the gold from which the Ring is forged. Wotan – here styled as “The Wanderer” – leader of the gods who also craves the Ring, has realised its corruptive powers, and has put in train a series of events – including Siegfried’s birth – to try to restore order.

Richard Greager is a most effective Mime, characterising without caricature ….. not always a given with singers in this role. Moreover he does sound sufficiently different from Rideout to prevent the two roles from being confused. Again this is not always guaranteed; in the Levine Ring (Deutsche Grammophon 429 407 2GH4) for instance Rainer Goldberg’s hero really does sound like he could be Heinz Zednik’s son!

Alberich meanwhile is in the capable hands of John Wegner. I thought him a little plain in his first exchanges with the Wanderer at the beginning of Act Two, but he quickly gets into his stride. He is particularly effective in his confrontation with Mime in the third scene of Act 2. There the two argue over the gold and Siegfried’s fate in front of the cavern of Niedhole and the dragon’s corpse. Meanwhile Fafner, the slain reptile, is well sung by David Hibbard, who sounds suitably menacing without – it appears – any obvious electronic assistance to the voice.

The third and last act of the opera, at least its final sections, inhabits an altogether different sound-world. This is not just because the scene has moved from the foothills and the world of men to the rarefied air of the mountain-tops. As is well known Wagner broke off more than once from the composition of Siegfried. Act Three was completed after he had brought both Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger to fruition …. and it shows. The harmonic invention evident in the hero’s journey through the magic fire, his discovery of Brünnhilde, her awakening and their subsequent love duet is demonstrably in advance of the earlier part of The Ring. Fortunately, although there are others who eclipse her, the experienced Lisa Gasteen does not let the side down at this point. She proves to be a bride worthy of Siegfried’s efforts. Comparing her performance with her recent appearance on BBC television, as part of the Covent Garden Ring, I felt there were minor pros and cons. Her voice sounded a mite easier and more mellifluous in Australia, whilst her characterisation was a fraction deeper in London but to be honest there wasn’t much to choose between them.

Incidentally we meet Brünnhilde (Heil dir Sonne, Heil dir Licht!) just after the side breaks between discs three and four. Act 1 is complete on the first disc, whilst act two occupies the second. Since the timing for Act Three is around 84 minutes it precludes fitting on to one CD. A sensible arrangement. Meanwhile the packaging, as I’ve already suggested, is quite lavish. There’s a good synopsis but there isn’t much background to the score. Whilst Mike Ashman’s essay is interesting, it is aimed more at listeners already familiar with the work. Although it’s welcome to have decent information about the cast and conductor included, a little more context would have helped, especially any impecunious newcomer.

The overall sense of the project is one of deserved community and company pride in an enterprise which can stand its ground with pretty much anything elsewhere. I welcome the issue and look forward to encountering Götterdämmerung!

Ian Bailey | 7 September 2007 (II)

The first Australian Ring cycle on CD – and indeed on any carrier – is being issued at a steady pace. It was recorded during live performances at the Adelaide Festival Theatre during four busy weeks at the end of 2004 and attracted a lot of attention for the stunning SACD Surround Sound. The listener is transported to the recording venue, the atmosphere fully caught and the orchestra’s magnificent playing faithfully reproduced in a well balanced production that gives the orchestra its full due while practically never swamping the voices. Stage movements sometimes inevitably upset the balance but on the whole it presents a well integrated sound-picture. More disturbing are the stage noises, atmospheric and necessary no doubt in some of the scenes, such as the forging of Notung, where the beats of the hammer are composed into the score. In some instances these are irritating when as a listener one can’t figure out what is going on. I am not going to make heavy weather of this since the advantages of live recordings often outweigh the disadvantages, creating a real feeling of the theatre.

Reviewing the first two instalments I praised the conducting of Asher Fisch as well as the superlative playing and I don’t withdraw a syllable of this concerning Siegfried either. It is true that he is sometimes a fraction slow – lax is too strong a word – at least in comparison with Lothar Zagrosek’s recording for Naxos which I reviewed recently and found much to my taste. There is compensation galore, however, not least in his handling of rhythms and the forward drive in key passages. Notung! Notung! Neidliches Schwert! (CD1 tr. 20), one of the central scenes, is for instance measured in tempo but the rugged rhythm, unbending as the rock, depicts the force and the overpowering determination of young Siegfried. The prelude to act two (CD2 tr. 1), dark and brooding, pictures the still sleeping Fafner. The wonderful high strings opening CD4 and leading over to Brünnhilde’s Heil dir, Sonne! has the right magical sheen and the jubilant final bars of the opera functions as a glowing exclamation mark. Instrumental solos are well handled and I must mention the hilariously out-of-tune English horn in act two, deputizing for Siegfried’s reed pipe and the notoriously difficult French horn solo, with not a hint of a fluff.

As for the singing I am happy to report that the high quality of Die Walküre is in the main retained here. Readers with good memory may recall that I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about Das Rheingold, but here most is satisfactory. Richard Greager’s Mime has a strong personality, expressive, pointing his words, sometimes even verging on caricature. This Mime is however a really nasty character and without ever having seen him one gets a vivid picture of the dwarf. The supreme Mime of recent times, Graham Clarke, for both Barenboim and Haenchen, may have a more attractive voice but Greager runs him close. His brother Alberich is portrayed as uncommonly neurotic and high-strung by John Wegner and the dialogue between the brothers in act 2 (CD2 tr. 15) is a really heated affair.

David Hibbard’s Fafner is imposingly black and sepulchral and Shu-Cheen Yu is actually the loveliest Woodbird I have heard: lively and bright and warbling. At the other end of the female spectrum Liane Keegan is an excellent Erda, pouring out steady tone. I have admired John Bröchler’s Wotan both in the Haenchen DVD Ring and in the earlier instalments in the present one. He can be over-emphatic at times and as Der Wanderer he tends to shout and bark at climaxes, pressing his voice beyond its natural limitations. At the same time he has authority and there is some bloom to his tone and very little of the wobble many Wotans and Wanderers produce.

Lisa Gasteen was Brünnhilde also on the Zagrosek Siegfried and do I detect a slight deterioration in voice quality here? There may be a fraction more wear on the tone and hasn’t the vibrato at forte and above widened ever so little? Against that can be set unflinching power and also a great deal of sensitive warm-hearted soft singing – just try Ewig war ich, ewig bin ich (CD4 tr. 4).

The find, for me at least, is Gary Rideout as Siegfried. Here is that rarity: a basically lyric tenor, light-toned and able to sing honeyed beautiful cantilena – not the first thing one expects from a Siegfried! At his first entrance his tone is almost indistinguishable from Mime, but just listen to CD1 tr. 8, where he sings Da sah ich denn auch mein eigen Bild so beautifully and again on tr. 18, ca 2:00, Sonderlich seltsam muss das sein! This is youthful lyric singing of the highest order. Add to this power enough to make something out of Notung! Notung! (tr. 20), admirably steady, sonorous and with a romantic timbre that is very appealing. It isn’t that larger-than-life baritonal voice of Melchior but he reminds me a little of Helge Brilioth, Karajan’s choice for Siegfried in his Götterdämmerung recording. I heard him in Siegfried in Stockholm 35 years ago and he also compensated for any possible lack of heft with elegance, steadiness and youthfulness. In the long final scene, with the newly awakened Brünnhilde, he delivers heroic singing with warmth and beauty, clearly inspired by the soprano. It isn’t a flawless performance but so much is admirable.

The presentation is first class. The four discs come in a 160-page hardback book with full libretto and English translation (Andrew Porter’s from 1976), synopsis, an essay on the work and artist biographies. The layout is practical: acts 1 and 2 cover one CD each while the third act is a few minutes too long to be squeezed in on one disc; therefore the last 33 minutes, starting at Brünnhilde’s Heil dir, Sonne, are on the fourth disc.

I still retain my admiration for the Zagrosek set but this Melba recording is at least on a par with the Naxos, has a magnificent Fafner, a splendid Mime and Gary Rideout as the most lyrical Siegfried I have heard – at least since Brilioth. Better than any is the Barenboim set from Bayreuth, available both on CD and DVD, with Jerusalem, Tomlinson, Clarke and Anne Evans.

The bottom line still reads: With much inspired playing and singing and superb SACD sound this is a set that can be warmly recommended. Those who have already acquired the first two instalments need not hesitate.

Göran Forsling | 7 April 2007

Sydney Morning Herald

Watchers bond as the drama builds

With the arrival of Siegfried, the third part of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung, audience members increasingly feel like sharers in a sustained enterprise. They are talking to their neighbours, exchanging musical gossip and reading their own enthusiasm meters in an experienced, knowing way. Wagner too, in this starkly focused drama at the heart of the quest, comes closest to his own dramatic ideal. With only two or three characters on stage at any one time, each act proceeds with iron logic towards a moment of convulsive or sublimating resolution.

The new Adelaide Ring continues to be effective in planning and amazingly trouble-free in delivery. The nearest approach to a mishap or expedient has been the replacement of the American tenor Timothy Mussard by a Canadian, Gary Rideout, in the title role. Mussard is to settle for the less extended and (in terms of vocal register) differently centred Siegfried in tonight’s Gotterdammerung.

Rideout’s freshly uneven voice and manner are well suited to portraying the young, innocent hero whom Fafner, now a treasure-guarding dragon, describes at the time of their fatal encounter as an insolent boy. Rideout and the director, Elke Neidhardt, clearly establish this Siegfried’s informality. He moves with coltish unpredictability, skips lightly over obstacles and would probably be on a skateboard if a Wagnerian tenor could be risked in this way. He is that rare phenomenon, a truly likeable Siegfried, and he convincingly makes a leap to maturity when he comes across the sleeping, fire-surrounded Brunnhilde.

Visual invention continues to flourish. The forest consists of suspended, grape-like clusters of green balloons. The dragon emerges as a gigantic and mobile steel claw in which each finger strikes like a spider fang. Mime’s rubbish-strewn camp could stand in convincingly for the dishevelled yards of some old-time Australian farm but is of somewhat lesser scenic potency.

Richard Greager, as the ruthless but oddly endearing Mime, proves a virtuoso in representing sustained comic agitation. John Brocheler’s Wotan, with his greying ponytail, looks like a still vigorous Coffs Harbour retiree as he admirably subsides in voice and presence from the rage of Die Walkure into a Wanderer in a red tennis shade and a final abdication. John Wegner’s superlatively sung Alberich, dashing enough to be mistaken for the epic’s hero, makes a brief reappearance; and Wotan’s red-haired progeny are extended by the appearance of Shu-Cheen Yu’s visible, accurate Woodbird, a charmingly agile, puppet-like figure from a Dufy beach painting.

Lisa Gasteen amply fulfils her destiny in coming to life in the third act with resounding eloquence. Asher Fisch, conducting with ever more point and energy, brings the devotedly performing Adelaide Symphony Orchestra with him, especially in the sheened high-string writing of the rapturous final scene: love music such as Puccini might have wished to write for the unattainable end of his Turandot.

November 22, 2004

User Rating
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
192 kbit/s VCR, 48.0 kHz, 324 MByte (MP3)
A production by Elke Neidhardt (2004)
Possible dates: 19, 29 November, 9 December 2004
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.