This is a fine follow-up to the same group’s Die Walküre released on Naxos last year (see reviews). Maestro Jaap van Zweden is again in the pit, and his marvelously-rehearsed Hong Kong Philharmonic, while not having this music “in their blood” as do the Vienna, Berlin, or even Met Opera forces, plays with accuracy, brilliance, and color. I commented on the beauty and sadness of the Walküre performance, and here, added to those two qualities is, by the third act, passion.
The first act’s three scenes move along efficiently, telling us three parts to a long story, with the arc always in sight. The back-and-forthRead more in the three duets is marvelously conversational. The second act is more jumbled, with much coming and going, but the vocal characterizations are vivid and the Forest Murmurs makes for a luscious interlude before Siegfried commits his two murders. And the last act, from the grumbling, low strings to the highest violin notes, as Siegfried climbs and climbs, touches the heart in many ways.
Simon O’Neill may not be the most intuitive Siegfried on disc, but he’s among the brightest-toned and most solid, showing no flatting even at the end of his bout with Brünnhilde. In Act 1 he occasionally sounds a bit like the Mime of David Cangelosi—a compliment to the latter rather than a critique of the former—but his Forging Song is a wild romp rather than a chore, and his sensitive singing in the Murmurs section is introspective and lovely. Cangelosi sings, rather than mugs, the role of Mime. And where he is nasty, the Alberich of Werner van Mechelen is sniveling. Quite the pair.
Heidi Melton, a marvelous Sieglinde last year, is an excellent Brünnhilde. There’s a slight tremble on quiet, middle-notes that I found bothersome, but I suspect I’ll be alone: she is a marvelous singer/actress and she uses her half hour to transform with clarity. Utterly convincing. Matthias Goerne occasionally sounds at the end of his vocal tether as the Wanderer. Few singers have gotten as “into” this character as he—he’s brilliantly insightful, ever the Lieder singer—but he does not toy with Mime in Act 1 as he should, and the wit in their exchanges lacks the sarcasm and one-upmanship one wants.
By the last act his severe, relentless purposefulness is put to better use: Erda (handsomely sung by Deborah Humble) just wants him to go away, and his pointed use of the text and ravishingly spun tone make Siegfried’s dismissal of him a truly sad moment. Valentina Farcas is a perky-peppy Forest Bird, giving good directions.
A synopsis is included, but no libretto; the German is available online. The side break before Brünnhilde’s opening line is unfortunate—other labels manage 83-minute-plus CDs. And while I felt that the orchestra/voice balance in the first act of Walküre was out of whack, here I just wish everything were just a bit louder, a complaint I don’t believe I’ve ever had in a recorded Siegfried before. Did the engineers hold back to get the balance right?
The price and overall quality make this a brilliant choice; as a first Siegfried, I’d have to go with the Keilberth/Testament (despite the imperfect sound) or with the whole Cycle led by Clemens Krauss (Opera d’Oro—cheaper than this single Siegfried). But van Zweden, et al, prove their mettle, taste, and polish here, and I suspect there will be few who are disappointed.