Thanks to my sister, I scored a free ticket to the Philadelphia Opera Company's Wednesday evening performance of The Abduction from the Seraglio, presented at the Academy of Music. I had a very good time, but, then, I had a very good time at the Met's HD broadcast of Götterdämmerung a couple weekends ago, and I am informed by a reliable source that the production was a mess, with hasty conducting and an embarrassing, "pitchy" Brünnhilde in the person of Deborah Voigt.
OK, America, now you know: my reactions to opera are unreliable. I never claimed to be an expert, but, since experts never seem to have a good time at the opera, I can't understand why anyone would aspire to expertise. In this case, ingorance is indeed bliss. Or maybe complaining is part of the fun. Who knows?
I am also informed by this same source that there is, in fact, no ideal recording of the Ring cycle. She didn't say so in so many words, but that appears to be the subtext of her comments online. To be sure, each one has its strengths. Some are well-sung, some are well-recorded in sumptuous stereo-sound, some have fine orchestral playing, and some are "well-conducted" (though I'm having trouble imaging just why the conducting would make a difference if the singers, the orchestra, and the sound quality are no good), but none combines all of these qualities in a single package. The trick to purchasing complete Ring, she informs me, is to figure out which of these qualities means the most to you, and make your decision accordingly. The bottom line is that you spend $150 to $175 on a set of 15 CDs, and it's essentially a crap shoot. The real Ring snobs spend thousands to get them all, which earns them the right to tell you which ones to avoid.
One thing is for certain, and that is the recording I have decided upon — based largely on reputation and price — is not to be borne. Fair enough. But I figure if it doesn't have outstanding singing, conducting, or playing, it has all of them to at least a middling degree, and for something I'm going to listen to at most once every five years, that's probably enough.