Das Rheingold

Asher Fisch
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra
Date/Location
December 2004
Festival Theatre Adelaide
Recording Type
  live   studio
  live compilation   live and studio
Cast
Wotan John Bröcheler
Donner Timothy DuFore
Froh Andrew Brunsdon
Loge Christopher Doig
Fasolt Andrew Collis
Fafner David Hibbard
Alberich John Wegner
Mime Richard Greager
Fricka Elizabeth Campbell
Freia Kate Ladner
Erda Liane Keegan
Woglinde Natalie Jones
Wellgunde Donna-Maree Dunlop
Floßhilde Zan McKendree-Wright
Stage director Elke Neidhardt (2004)
Set designer Michael Scott-Mitchell
TV director
Gallery
Reviews
Gramophone

The second instalment of the 2004 Adelaide Ring has similar strengths and weaknesses to the first, Die Walküre (8/06). The sound is resonant but homogenised, the voices forwardly placed, and orchestral detail can go for too little, especially in scene 2, where some of Wagner’s most subtle instrumental touches don’t register adequately. Spatial effects are rare, and not always successful – the three Rhinedaughters are too distant in the final scene – though in general there is a stronger feel of an actual theatrical event than with the Walküre.

Positively, there is a good deal of fine and well characterised singing, with no serious weaknesses. John Wegner’s Alberich is admirable in scenes 3 and 4, quite without the reliance on shouting and barking that often counts for acting with the voice in Wagner. Andrew Collis is an outstanding Fasolt, lyrical but never unduly lachrymose, and well supported by the wily Fafner of David Hibbard. Elizabeth Campbell is an engaging and eloquent Fricka, while Liane Keegan’s Erda is surely as fine as any to be heard on disc: an instantly formidable yet beautifully modulated presence.

As in the Walküre recording, I don’t warm to John Bröcheler’s aggressively domineering Wotan. From his initial greeting to Valhalla – more grim than exalted, the first syllable of “Götterburg” over-stressed, “Schau” far too short – there’s no lack of power but too little light and shade, too little sense of the nobility that coexists with the deviousness. Christopher Doig is an equally strong-voiced Loge, and there’s a lack of conspiratorial intimacy in his exchanges with Wotan. Pushing so hard so consistently puts the upper register under strain, though this is undoubtedly a dangerous Loge, more than a match for the no less forceful Wotan.

Das Rheingold is an even greater test for the conductor than Die Walküre, and although Asher Fisch occasionally drives the music forwards in rather too brusque a fashion, his avoidance of exaggeration and portentousness are welcome. This Rheingold is more powerful than poignant, and not a challenger to the top recommendations in this crowded field. Yet several of the individual vocal performances are to be savoured, and Wagnerians will be glad to hear them.

Arnold Whittall | Issue 2/2007

musicweb-international.com

Half a year ago the first instalment, Die Walküre, in the first SACD Ring cycle was issued and reviewers around the world lavished praise on it. What impressed me most of all was the superb sound with its wide dynamic range and its absolute clarity that allowed the listener to hear all the strands of the orchestral fabric. Surround sound added a feeling of actually being there in Adelaide Festival Theatre. Recorded during the same period, this Rheingold has the same sonic characteristics. Having been taped during actual performances some stage noises are unavoidable but by and large they are not very disturbing and the presence of an audience is only audible in the shape of some applause at the end.

Another feature of the Adelaide Die Walküre was the superb playing of the city’s Symphony Orchestra and the eminently sure-footed conducting of Asher Fisch, the hero of the recording. That is even more true of Das Rheingold. This is felt from the barely audible beginning of the prelude, which grows in a relentless crescendo up to the rise of the curtain. I m presume there was a curtain in Adelaide; I have only seen a couple of stills in the booklet and these indicate that it was a very modernistic production. Fisch’s firm grip of the proceedings continues throughout this 2½ hour-long “introduction” to the Ring in a decidedly dramatic reading. The orchestral interludes are his true province and he revels in the stormy music (CD1 tr. 6) that takes us from the bottom of the Rhine to – at least in Wagner’s original concept – the mountain top where Wotan and Fricka are still asleep. This is indeed a masterly transition and would make perfect film music, accompanying a continuous camera-tracking. The wild descent to Nibelheim (CD1 tr. 21) is another orchestral tour de force, but most of all Fisch impresses through the constantly responsive and considerate support to the singers; reminding us that a purely orchestral Ring des Nibelungen would still be a riveting experience. Asher Fisch has to be counted among the front-runners of recorded Ring conductors. On the merits of the playing and conducting this Rheingold definitely has a place in the top layer.

When it comes to the singing I am afraid I have to put forward some reservations. About Die Walküre I wrote – which is also quoted in the booklet for this set – “not a weak link among the soloists”. Unfortunately there are several here. John Bröcheler’s Wotan is a well-known quantity. He took the part also in Haenchen’s Amsterdam Ring, released on DVD earlier this year (see review) and he sings here with sturdy authority and occasionally with heartrending warmth and lyricism, but he is also at times severely strained and can be a bit unsteady. On the whole, however, this is a fine reading, somewhat in the Tomlinson mould (Barenboim). The other survivor from the Walküre, Elizabeth Campbell’s Fricka, is deeply involved. She spits out her sarcasms with venom against Wotan, but her tone is too often wobbly and acidulous. This latter attribute also applies to her sister Freia, Kate Ladner, who characterises well the anguish when facing the prospect of being taken hostage by the giants. On the other hand this lovely creature should radiate more warmth. Liane Keegan as Erda, has this and expresses the nobility of the Wala in her all too brief appearance, rounding off her warning to Wotan with an impressive meide den Ring! (yield up the ring!). Timothy DuFore is a vehement Donner, singing powerfully but he is prone to press too much, which also mars Andrew Brunsdon’s Froh. His is, as far as I can judge, a fairly lyrical voice. I wish he could have retained those qualities in his solo Zur Burg führt die Brücke (CD2 tr. 19), one of the most magical moments in the whole cycle. Christopher Doig is an expressive Loge but even he has his squally points.

Vocally it is the evil powers who are the winners in this performance. John Wegner’s Alberich is an especially impressive impersonation. He is an experienced Wagnerian, well-known also to Bayreuth visitors. His is a blackish heroic voice, very expressive. He makes Alberich a dangerous nobleman with nothing of the grotesque parodic elements often encountered in the part. After being captured and forced to hand over the gold he sings with such sorrow and pain that he invokes the listeners’ compassion. Even his curse is spat out with a certain dignity (CD2 tr. 11). I am really looking forward to hearing him in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Richard Greager is a splendid Mime – a dream role for a character tenor – and this is another impersonation that whets the appetite for Siegfried where he will get even wider exposure. Andrew Collis and David Hibbard are imposing giants and the Rhinemaidens are neither better nor worse than most of their sisters on other recordings.

The presentation is in the luxury class with a 150 page hardback book including all the information one could wish. While not quite reaching the heights of Die Walküre this is still an impressive achievement and it is worth Wagnerians’ attention, especially for Fisch’s reading of the score, the superb playing of the orchestra and also for some better than average singing.

Göran Forsling | January 7, 2007

Sydney Morning Herald

The opening performance on Tuesday of Das Rheingold, the first of four parts of the new Adelaide staging of Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung, was an extraordinary triumph that will take its place most honourably in the international annals of Wagnerian production.

If the remaining three parts of the work achieve in the next few days a similar standard of intelligent realisation, resting on securely prepared orchestral playing and singing, the immediate efficiency and overall success of the enterprise will be one rarely paralleled since the first complete Ring was staged at Bayreuth in 1876.

Although there were some tentative entries in the vast initial swell of orchestral tone and arguably too heavy an average of slower tempos in Asher Fisch’s discerning musical direction, the playing of an augmented Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was almost always a steadfast and eloquent ingredient in the performance and one reliably in step with an accurate, sometimes small-voiced team of voices.

Elke Neidhardt as director and her designers (Michael Scott-Mitchell, Nick Schlieper and Stephen Curtis) have produced a sceptical, amusing, effectively characterised Rheingold that manages to be thoroughly up to date without seeming perverse or surly. A constantly flowing curtain of water solves the problem of how to set the opening scene in the bed of the river Rhine. The Rhine Daughters (Natalie Jones, Donna-Maree Dunlop and Zan McKendree-Wright) wear swimming goggles and wetsuits with coloured panels, and behave in a playfully tarty way reasonably implicit in Wagner’s text.

Valhalla, the gods’ newly built McMansion, comes into view in the final scene as a swish nightclub, with the rainbow bridge represented by a set of rising floodlit steps. Nibelheim is a cramped loft populated by child labourers, and Alberich’s transformation into a dragon is a delightful adaptation of Asian puppetry. Neidhardt and her allies have shirked the traditional scenic challenges in Das Rheingold only in one respect: the giants Fafner and Fasolt are not in the least gigantic. They enter in a toy electric car and wear road worker safety jackets.

Das Rheingold, as prologue, is the section of the cycle least dependent on singing of exceptional brilliance and size, though in John Wegner’s Alberich, chief of the earth-delving Nibelung race, it has a performance that would command attention in any company. There is nothing dwarfish nor contorted in this Alberich’s stance, manner or vocal timbre. The black malevolence of his voice rings out with primary force and consistency, matching his lank, black hair and his costume of unrelieved black leather.

A shaggy Wotan, not yet brought into full dramatic and musical focus by the warm-voiced John Brocheler, looks and sounds (no doubt deliberately) out of place among the garden-party smartness of a set of lesser gods and goddesses.

Fricka, Wotan’s traditionally nagging wife, is a Mrs Thatcher-style figure in a beehive hairdo who engages the giants in a few moments of handbag diplomacy in defence of her threatened sister, a vacuous blonde bobby-soxer of a Freia (Kate Ladner). The bright lights in Elizabeth Campbell’s beautiful mezzo-soprano voice help to bring out the note of plangent complaint in Fricka’s comments; and the way she shimmies ingratiatingly in sympathy with a wheedling solo violin when the prospect emerges of converting Alberich’s gold hoard into jewellery is just one example of how Neidhardt bases detail of movement and gesture on a close reading of the text.

Richard Greager makes a wonderfully chaotic and apprehensive personage out of Mime, the blacksmith dwarf. The cast’s other assets include Christopher Doig’s steady-voiced, incisive, resourcefully scheming Loge, the shining authority in the singing of Liane Keegan’s Erda, David Hibbard’s bluff Fafner and Timothy DuFore’s Donner.

The State Opera of South Australia deserves generous praise for its co-ordination and presentation of this first part of Wagner’s tetralogy. And now for the other three parts.

November 18, 2004

Rating
(6/10)
User Rating
(3/5)
Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
1280×720, 1.1 Mbit/s, 1.2 GByte (MPEG-4)
Remarks
Possible dates: 16, 26 November, 6 December 2004
This recording is part of a complete Ring cycle.