Opera UK, May 2013
Hugh Canning
Twilight of the Gods - The Ultimate Wagner Ring Collection
The DG album's title will immediately be recognized as commercial hype of the most cynical kind. At first glance, it is hard to work out who this 'Ultimate Wagner Collection' is for, but it soon becomes apparent when you read Mike Ashman's booklet note, 'The Ring in Late Mythologies', which attempts to persuade its purchasers that the Ring is relevant because it is a forerunner of the Star Wars saga and the film version of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings'—for which read: 'Perhaps you saw the Met's Ring in the movie theatre. Now buy the potted souvenir version on CD.' It is surprising to find Ashman, one of the more readable and most knowledgeable British writers on Wagner, making tenuous comparisons between Siegmund and Sieglinde and Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, and between Mime and Yoda.

The DG selection begins with Levine unfolding his plush orchestral underlay to support some wonderful singers in Rheingold and Walküre. Eric Owens's trenchant bass Alberich is a bit too nasal for my liking, and his German vowels sound odd, but he is a vivid presence cavorting with a euphonious trio of Rhinemaidens, and powerful in his Curse. Patricia Bardon delivers a lyrical Erda's Warning with sensuously beautiful tone, devoid of contralto hootiness, and Bryn Terfel's majestic Wotan presides over an excellent family of Gods: Dwayne Croft, especially, makes a star turn of Donner's 'Heda, Heda, Hedo', but we hear far too little of his brother Richard Croft's guileful and sweet-toned Loge. The highlight from Die Walküre is Jonas Kaufmann's 'Winterstürme' and the succeeding exchanges with Eva-Maria Westbroek's impassioned Sieglinde. With Terfel, these are singers to compare with some of the finest on disc. Levine's Valkyries, too, are an impressive troupe.

The vocal standard plummets after Deborah Voigt's threadbare though reasonably accurate war-cry, and neither her later contributions, nor those of Jay Hunter Morris's Siegfried—who may not be Mime's son, but sounds very much like Gerhard Siegel's Nibelung — are really what one expects from a house of the Met's international stature. Morris was a late-ish replacement for Gary Lehmann, who replaced the originally announced Ben Heppner, and he gets through the role without accident, but Voigt's timbre sounds too light for Brünnhilde, and her once big and bright jugendlich-dramatisch soprano now sounds worn and effortful.

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