Das Rheingold is the second installment (after Die Walküre) of Der Ring des Nibelungen, produced by the Australian label Melba and conducted by Asher Fisch. Such an ambitious endeavor might reasonably be greeted with skepticism -- there is no lack of recordings of the Ring, some of them extraordinarily fine, and the odds of a company with as little international recognition as the Adelaide-based State Opera of South Australia producing a competitive and distinctive version seem slim. This recording of Das Rheingold, though, is entirely successful, and while it may not displace the Solti or Boulez or Levine versions, it deserves a place beside them -- this is one of the most viscerally propulsive Rheingolds on disc. A large part of the credit goes to Fisch and the exemplary playing of the Adelaide Symphony. The orchestra has a gorgeous, warm sound, and is capable of all the sonic variety that Wagner demands. Fisch leads a dramatically taut reading that at the same time has the rhythmic elasticity to accommodate the singers' naturalistic delivery. The singers, without exception, are topnotch, and they create a remarkably urgent sense of drama as an ensemble. Christopher Doig is outstanding as Loge, creating a character whose wiliness is rooted in power. John Wegner's Alberich is a genuine menace, someone who could reasonably stand up to Wotan and threaten him; his portrayal reveals complexities in the dwarf's character that are frequently lost in caricature. As Wotan, John Bröcheler is appropriately commanding. David Hibbard, as Fafner, possesses a remarkably deep and powerful voice that also has a ringing top. Kate Ladner's Erda is young-sounding, but she sings radiantly and conveys real authority.
The recording was made at live performances in late 2004 and the sound is unusually clean and present for a live recording. The singers' movements on-stage create a good sense of the dramatic spatial relationships without sacrificing the excellent balance between the orchestra and the voices. There is some stage noise, but it's not the usual clomping around that one associates with live recordings; it's rarely distracting, and often enhancing, like subtly placed Foley effects. Anyone who loves Rheingold would do well to check out this version for the fresh musical and dramatic insights the performers bring to it.