Opera Australia Blog

Climbing Opera’s Mt Everest: Wagner’s Ring Cycle

After three years of planning and more than 800 hours of rehearsal, the curtain rose on Opera Australia’s Ring cycle in November 2013.

It was a history-making production, Opera Australia’s first Ring cycle, and a testament to the immense talent of the six hundred artists, musicians and staff who worked on the project.

We’ve gathered together insights from the creative team, the best of the production photos, a mini-documentary including musical highlights, reviews and quotes to provide a window into this unique project.

The production

Watch and listen to some highlights of the show with insights from director Neil Armfield, Associate Conductor Anthony Legge and Opera Australia’s Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini.

The music of the Ring

Pietari Inkinen. Photo by: Jeff Busby

Pietari Inkinen. Photo by: Jeff Busby

Conductor Pietari Inkinen gave a fascinating interview before he arrived in Australia to begin rehearsing the Melbourne Ring Orchestra. In it, you can see Wagner’s music through the eyes (and ears) of a man who has been utterly won over by his talent.

“It’s more like – after you’ve heard it, at least for a while, you can’t listen to anything else. You are so soaked in this world. It’s not in your head, it’s in your whole body. You’re covered with it.” – Maestro Pietari Inkinen

Read the full story here.

The creative concept

Director Neil Armfield with Barry Ryan, Susan Bullock and Daniel Sumegi. Photo by Aidan Corrigan

Director Neil Armfield with Barry Ryan, Susan Bullock and Daniel Sumegi.
Photo by Aidan Corrigan

From the very start, director Neil Armfield was determined to create a Ring cycle for a world the audience understood.

For Armfield, the meaning and moral of Wagner’s epic tale is very clear: it’s a parable about the destruction of the world by humankind. It follows the human impulse that can cast aside love and pursue greed to its logical conclusion: the end of the world. His interpretation of the tale shies away from spectacle and avoids cliché images of horned helmets and bronzed breastplates.

“I see the director’s job as revealing the music. The audience listens with their eyes. If you put vague or distracting images on stage, you can actually muddy the communication of the music. Conversely, by pursuing clarity and in my case, using a kind of spareness, you can lead the audience to hear the music in a very pure and clean way, the way in which meaning becomes the most resonant.” – Director Neil Armfield

Read more about Neil Armfield’s vision here.

The design team strove to create a contemporary, familiar world.

“I don’t necessarily want to create the kind of traditional fantasy that people are accustomed to seeing on stage. I create pictures of a world that we know and that we live in. The aesthetic is made up of recognisable archetypes of our society.” – Costume Designer Alice Babidge

In practice, that concept gave us Rhinemaidens depicted as showgirls: an instantly identifiable symbol of desire, a famous image of the performer. The Valkyries are dressed in nondescript, combat green, rescuing fallen heroes from among a crowd of dishevelled, aimless, refugees – the victims of war.

The Gods are set apart, wearing furs and heels, symbols of the wealthy elite. The Gibichung palace is decked out with the best of everything: from the gold-framed oil paintings to the designer, top-of-the-line exercise equipment by Technogym that sits pride of place in the royal hall.

Read more about the design aesthetic here.

Production photos

DAS RHEINGOLD

Dominica Matthews, Jane Ede and Lorina Gore as the Rhinemaidens. Photo by Jeff Busby

Dominica Matthews, Jane Ede and Lorina Gore as the Rhinemaidens.
Photo by Jeff Busby

Warwick Fyfe and dancers. Photo by Jeff Busby

Warwick Fyfe as Alberich and dancers. Photo by Jeff Busby

Richard Berkeley-Steele. Photo by Jeff Busby

Richard Berkeley-Steele as Loge. Photo by Jeff Busby

The Rainbow Bridge. Photo by Jeff Busby.

The Rainbow Bridge. Photo by Jeff Busby.

DIE WALKÜRE

Jud Arthur as Hunding, Miriam Gordon-Stewart as Sieglinde, Stuart Skelton as Siegmund. Photo by Jeff Busby

Jud Arthur as Hunding, Miriam Gordon-Stewart as Sieglinde, Stuart Skelton as Siegmund.
Photo by Jeff Busby

Stuart Skelton as Siegmund. Photo by Jeff Busby

Stuart Skelton as Siegmund. Photo by Jeff Busby

The Valkyries. Photo by Jeff Busby.

The Valkyries. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Susan Bullock as Brünnhilde and Terje Stensvold as Wotan. Photo by Jeff Busby

Susan Bullock as Brünnhilde and Terje Stensvold as Wotan. Photo by Jeff Busby

SIEGFRIED

Stefan Vinke as Siegfried. Photo by Jeff Busby

Stefan Vinke as Siegfried. Photo by Jeff Busby

Jud Arthur. Photo by Jeff Busby

Jud Arthur. Photo by Jeff Busby

Terje Stensvold as Wotan, Stefan Vinke as Siegfried

Terje Stensvold as Wotan, Stefan Vinke as Siegfried

GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG

Sharon Prero as Gutrune. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Sharon Prero as Gutrune. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Susan Bullock as Brünnhilde and Sharon Prero as Gutrune. Photo by Jeff Busby

Susan Bullock as Brünnhilde and Sharon Prero as Gutrune. Photo by Jeff Busby

Jane Ede, Lorina Gore and Dominica Matthews as the Rhinemaidens, Stefan Vinke as Siegfried. Photo by Jeff Busby

Jane Ede, Lorina Gore and Dominica Matthews as the Rhinemaidens,
Stefan Vinke as Siegfried.Photo by Jeff Busby

Stefan Vinke as Siegfried and Susan Bullock as Brünnhilde. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Stefan Vinke as Siegfried and Susan Bullock as Brünnhilde. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Reviews

“Musically rich, theatrically enthralling, conceptually provoking and visually gorgeous…” – Sydney Morning Herald

“A euphoric audience response proved that Armfield and Inkinen, as well as their cast, had the enthusiastic approval of their public” – Financial Times UK

“Though Ring cycles have proliferated throughout this Wagner bicentenary year, Opera Australia’s is rather special” – The Guardian

The buzz

With the Melbourne Ring Festival in full swing across Melbourne, social media was abuzz during the period of the Ring. Explore the chatter here.

In conclusion

Curtain Calls for the Melbourne Ring Cycle 2013. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Curtain Calls for the Melbourne Ring Cycle 2013. Photo by Jeff Busby.

As the Ring cycle closed, Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini had nothing but praise for the artists that had made this Ring so special.

 “I am incredibly proud of the many artists involved in Opera Australia’s first Ring Cycle. They have shown unwavering commitment, focus and sheer stamina in the long process that has taken place to bring the Ring to fruition. And their performances have been simply outstanding. For many of our artists, this has been a turning point, and their futures will never be the same. They’ve been part of the biggest opera in the repertoire, and part of a transformative journey. I think many of them have achieved more than they ever thought possible of themselves – though I had faith in them from the beginning. They have a lot to be proud of!” – Lyndon Terracini


Principal artists of the Melbourne Ring Cycle included:

Jud Arthur, Susan Bullock, Rachard Berkeley-Steele, Jacqueline Dark, Taryn Feibig, Warwick Fyfe, Deborah Humble, Graeme Macfarlane, Stuart Skelton, Terje Stensvold, Mirian Gordon-Stewart, Daniel Sumegi and Stefan Vinke.

The conductor was Pietari Inkinen, with Associate Conductor Anthony Legge.

The creative team included Neil Armfield (Director), Robert Cousins (Set Design), Alice Babidge (Costume Design), Damien Cooper (Lighting Design), and Kate Champion (Associate Director and Choreographer).

The Melbourne Ring Orchestra comprised players from Orchestra Victoria, The Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, the Sydney, Melbourne, Queensland, Tasmanian and West Australian Symphony orchestras, the Orchestra of Beethovenhalle Bonn; the Lucerne Symphony; and the Oslo Philharmonic.

The Chorus was the Opera Australia Chorus. The ‘Sea of Humanity’ comprised generous volunteers from in and around Melbourne.

The Melbourne Ring Cycle ran from Monday 18 November to Friday 13 December 2013.

3 Responses to “Climbing Opera’s Mt Everest: Wagner’s Ring Cycle”

  1. Barbara Champion

    Congratulations to everyone involved. It was a brilliant achievement and I am looking forward to the next run already.

    Reply
  2. Les Thurgood

    Never thought i would get to A Ring Cycle. What an amazing time. Enthralled with it all, and special congrats to Orchestra Victoria. Nice touch to meet the singers in the foyer at the end. And a lot of terrific Australian talent. Bravo OA

    Reply
  3. John Steinle

    My wife & I were enthralled and enchanted by the Melbourne Ring. It topped off a life-changing experience during our first visit to Australia. The Aussie take on the Ring proved that the Ring can actually be FUN! Magnificent performances by all the singers, the conductor, and the fantastic orchestra created an overwhelmingly impressive Ring Cycle. And let’s not forget the Wheelers!

    Reply

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