Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) is one of the most remarkable achievements in all music, and Siegfried, the third in the cycle, contains some of the greatest moments in Wagner’s entire output. Wagner conceived Siegfried as a heroic ‘man of the future,’ and his fantastical tale is one in which the human dramas of treachery and violent struggles for power become magnified in a world of gods, dragons and magic. The previous opera in this cycle, Die Walkure, was acclaimed in The Guardian as “thrillingly vivid... easily maintains the high standard and promise of Das Rheingold.” (Naxos NBD0049).
The Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden once again has assembled an international cast with a background of Wagnerian stage appearances. Siegfried is sung by the New Zealand-born Simon O’Neill, one of today’s most sought after Heldentenor’s, his forging scene, at the close of the first act, superbly sung after the rather pedestrian opening tempo. David Cangelosi is the type of whining Mime that was given birth by Gerhard Stolze in Solti’s recording, and has been copied ever since, and as such he is a perfect foil to O’Neill’s vibrancy. Matthias Goerne’s Wotan, who here appears on earth as ‘The Wanderer’, is smooth, dignified and without exaggeration. In Werner van Mechelen’s Alberich we have a vocally likeable character whose second act enraged confrontation with The Wanderer becomes a beautifully sung sociable meeting. I particularly enjoyed Valentina Farcas’s Forest Bird, and, later in that act, her immaculate intonation comes with the ideal silvery sound that is required. In the third act Deborah Humble’s Erda is suitably tired and old as she counsels Wotan as to his future, and maybe Goerne had been ‘saving’ his voice for the subsequent angry encounter with Siegfried. The Australian dramatic soprano, Heidi Melton, sings Brunnhilde, her big and powerful voice heard at its best in the outgoing passages, and, with O’Neill’s voice untiring, the finale scene is as good as I have heard in recent times.
It hardly seems fifty-four years ago that I was reviewing Solti’s revelatory recording, and there have been so many more to review since then. Now Hong Kong is placing a performance on disc that is a major achievement, and in unparalleled recorded sound.