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By all accounts, the Seattle Opera’s ‘Green’ Ring cycle, produced by Stephen Wadsworth for the first time in 2001, is a masterpiece of realism: balm for those who want to see Wagner’s stage directions followed and not necessarily interpreted. Seattle’s cycle has gained much praise for its musical values, and these discs capture the performances given in August 2013. But a purely aural experience has to be judged as such, so whatever strengths or weaknesses the visual aspect offered are irrelevant. And that aural experience, to be blunt, is of variable quality.

Asher Fisch conducts the Seattle Symphony Orchestra with mixed results. One positive is that this Ring gains strength as it progresses, the negative being that it doesn’t start with much conviction. There is no sense of an overriding scheme to the cycle as a whole, so as episodes pass they succeed or fail by the singers’ contributions, and speeds are on the lugubrious side of slow. The orchestra is good, but often blowsy; the brass section is especially woozy – the Ride of the Valkyries sounds like a Bierkeller sing-along. By Götterdämmerung, things are generally improved, though the closing pages sound heavy going. The sound doesn’t help, sometimes favouring the voices, then orchestra, then both in balance. Stage noise is sometimes intrusive, the end of Act II of Die Wälkure being a particularly lurid example with shrieks, gasps and maniacal laughter.

Greer Grimsley’s Wotan dominates, with noble, stentorian tone and a true sense of power; he manages to sound emotionally rather than vocally drained as the Wanderer. Stuart Skelton’s Siegmund is finely voiced, Stefan Winke’s Siegfried less so, often just shouting in tune. Alwyn Mellor’s Brünnhilde is often beautifully sung, but suffers from some wayward top notes under pressure, as does Margaret Jane Wray’s Sieglinde – the women could have swapped roles perhaps, as Wray’s voice possesses more steel. Stephanie Blythe’s Fricka brooks no argument, Daniel Sumegi’s Hagen is suitably inky and Richard Paul Fink’s Alberich blusters somewhat. The Rhinemaidens have fine voices but squall slightly when singing together; compared with the over-enthusiastically shrieking Valkyries they are a model of vocal charm.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Opera Now, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing