A fine effort from an esoteric source, perhaps a presage of things to come.
WAGNER: Das Rheingold (complete opera) – Matthias Goerne (Wotan)/ Kim Begley (Loge)/ Michelle DeYoung (Fricka)/ Deborah Humble (Erda)/ Peter Sidhom (Alberich)/ Anna Samuil (Freia)/ Kwangchul Youn (Fasolt)/ Stephen Milling (Fafner)/ David Cangelosi (Mime)/ Charles Reid (Froh)/ Oleksandr Pushniak (Donner)/ Eri Nakamura (Woglinde)/ Hong Kong Philharmonic Orch./ Jaap van Zweden – Naxos Hi-Ref Blu-ray NBD0049 (PCM 2.0 + DTS-HD 5.1), TT: 2:33:22 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
Though Das Rheingold was the first opera to be written in Wagner’s Ring cycle, it was the last to be completed libretto-wise. Wagner realized the need for a prequel to the Ring, and so it comes as no surprise that the work often serves as a standalone performance in many instances, seeing as how it is the shortest of the cycle and in many ways the simplest in terms of musical references and overall presentation.
However, Wagner was not one to waste time on superfluous activity, so the personality development and initial debut of characters is paramount for what was to follow, even if the opera can stand alone. For this reason I can recommend this new surround sound release (especially if you have a Blu-ray player), especially because of the surprisingly adroit and versatile performance of baritone Matthias Goerne, with Peter Sidhom’s colorful Alberich a close second. The other positions are ably-filled, noticeably the Fricka of Michelle DeYoung, though not as consistently cast as some other more recent recordings. It is a concert performance, and therefore there are no stage sounds, but the voices, probably because of the miking, are somewhat close, reducing the impact of the orchestra, which is something that Wagner himself would have had issues with.
Nevertheless, the sound spread is nice and wide, and this is an enjoyable, though quite leisurely, tour through the Rhine Gold. As alternatives I would be remiss in not mentioning Janowski on Pentatone SACDs, Gergiev on Mariinsky SACDs, or most importantly, the newly-remastered Blu-ray issue of Solti’s classic recording, still regarded by most as the greatest ever. But Zweden is certainly worth a try.