This Ring, released in 1983, was the first to be digitally recorded. I recall that each CD contained only two or three tracks–certain technical aspects of the production were very primitive. Now it has been re-issued in a mid-priced incarnation on 14 CDs, with plenty of tracks and a booklet that contains good scene-by-scene synopses, an essay, and cast and track lists (but no libretto); it has stood the test of time remarkably well. The one drawback is the Brünnhilde of Jeannine Altmeyer: She is by no means bad, but her voice hasn’t the necessary weight or breadth, and as an artist she hasn’t the stature to carry and take over her major scenes. The voice is pretty and used well, but she’s light, period. The Siegfried of René Kollo also is not exactly heroic, and parts of Götterdämmerung tax him, but he’s otherwise excellent, singing with spirit, pointed diction, and clarity, with a youthful sound throughout most of his very demanding role.
The rest of the news is all good: Theo Adam’s Wotan/Wanderer is first class, from arrogant to fallen, from mighty to tender, reaching true heights in the final confrontation with Siegfried. The young Jessye Norman and Siegfried Jerusalem are wonderful Walsung Twins, she singing perhaps with little of the insights she would later gain, but with remarkably fresh tone, which she would later lose. Kurt Moll’s Hunding is grand and frightening, as is Matti Salminen’s Hagen. At times Salminen sings with no vibrato, which somehow makes the character seem even less human. Peter Schreier’s Loge is as good as his Mime in Siegfried, the former sung with wile and wisdom, the latter actually sung and not caricatured. Yvonne Minton’s Fricka is a bit British in its reserve but is nonetheless nicely portrayed, and while Norma Sharp’s Woodbird is the most bird-like on CD, her Gutrune is a bit light. Ortrun Wenkel’s gloom-filled Erda is very effective, and Siegfried Nimsgern’s Alberich is evil and troubling without exaggeration. Luxury casting includes Lucia Popp as a Rhinemaiden and Cheryl Studer as a Valkyrie.
The Staatskapelle Dresden plays spotlessly for Marek Janowski, who does not impose his will on the score in any way. He is content to tell the stories and present the music without affectations or “interpretations”; the result is an excellent “Ring” experience. Siegfried’s Rhine Journey rejoices with its shiny triangle sound and in the rise and fall of the river with its surging strings, and his Funeral Music is suitably tragic: these two orchestral interludes serve as ideal bookends to his glory. The chorus is impressive in Götterdämmerung.
As you might guess, the sonics are clear and utterly clean: at the time, digital recording was so new that there was no compulsion (or means) to fuss with it. In sum, this is a very good bet for all moments of the “Ring” that don’t include Brünnhilde. And frankly, Altmeyer never is an overt problem–she’s just nowhere near Varnay, Flagstad, Nilsson, or even Behrens. And importantly, she doesn’t spoil an otherwise grand achievement. At budget-price, you can’t go wrong.