Ok, the truth,
please. Is the 1998 Adelaide production the first Aussie performance of
Wagner’s four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, or isn’t
it? Wasn’t there one early this century? What about the Australian
Opera’s venture in the 1980s? And surely there’ve been concert
Taking the last
question first — yes, there have been numerous concert performances of
parts of the Ring. In relatively recent times at the Sydney Opera
House, for example, concert performances of Götterdämmerung were
given in the late '70's conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras with Rita
Hunter, Alberto Remedios and Bruce Martin. And in 1996 the Sydney
Symphony Orchestra under Edo de Waart gave concert performances of Das
Rheingold, followed by Die Walküre in 1997.
As for staged
performances, Australia has seen very few of any of the four Ring
music dramas, let alone a complete cycle. One I remember personally was
the Carlo Felice Cillario/Rita Hunter performance of an Australian Opera
cut-down version of Die Walküre in 1983. This was intended to
lead eventually into a complete Ring by the Australian Opera. The
idea received a great boost when the German Ambassador to Australia
announced that Germany would be donating $1m towards a Bicentennial
staging of the whole tetralogy. The AO subsequently did put on Das
Rheingold, which is said to have been a terrible flop. From then on,
the whole project was doomed and never surfaced again.
And, of course,
over the years numerous Ring extracts have been performed in
recital in Oz. The most celebrated of these marked the 1973 opening of
the Sydney Opera House. I myself was in that audience, and have more to
say about the occasion in Is There a Believer in the House?
But for the
definitive answer on whether there had ever been a full Ring on
stage in Australia I just had to find out from the experts. Bill
Gillespie (Artistic Director) and Stephen Phillips (General Director)
from the South Australian Opera were both kind enough to email me with
plenty of information to fill out the historical perspective.
Well, there was
an earlier staging of the Ring in Australia. The British Quinlan
company brought a production here in 1913. One cycle was staged in
Melbourne, and two cycles in Sydney. The singing was in English, not
German. All of the scenery, costumes and props were imported, as were
all the singers and the orchestra. There were no known Australians in
the cast or in the touring company.
Now, when The State
Opera of South Australia launched its $8m Ring project at
Adelaide’s Festival Theatre, they were careful to state that this
would be the first complete Ring produced by an Australian
company, and that it was the first ever to be sung here in German.
But guess what?
Some parts of the media failed to make these distinctions, and many
people are still under the impression that this is the first production
of any Ring in Oz.
There will be some
"imports", though. The most prominent is Jeffrey Tate, who is
currently principal guest conductor at the Royal Opera House, Covent
Garden and the Orchestre National de France, as well as principal
conductor of the English Chamber Orchestra. Others include Pierre
Strosser, director (it was he who devised the original 1994 French
production on which the Adelaide Ring is based), and three
singers in the leading roles — Edward Cook (Siegfried), Janis Martin (Brünnhilde),
and John Keyes (Siegmund).
Yes — the whole
production (with its ten shipping containers of stage set) is that of
the Théâtre du Châtelet, in Paris. Despite the size of the set,
Strosser’s concept plays down the spectacle and avoids taking the
traditional mythical symbols too literally — i.e. the Rhine, flying
horses, giants, dwarves, dragon, etc.
Anyway, by now
Australian Ring fever has reached its peak. In fact, as early as
last March, when Bill and Stephen wrote to me, 95% of the $1,000 seats
had already been sold, two-thirds of them to overseas visitors. They
have come from places like Belgium, Brunei, Canada, Finland, Fiji,
France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Mauritius, New Zealand, South Africa,
the United Kingdom and the United States.
Some of them, I
understand, are wealthy enough to do little else but peregrinate the
planet watching the Ring. Not content with the once-in-a-lifetime
dream of going to Bayreuth that you and I might entertain, their love of
the work takes them on a perpetual pilgrimage wherever Alberich raises
his ugly head. A Los Angeles ophthalmologist, Dr. Sherwin Sloan, for
example, will attend his 47th Ring in Adelaide!
glitterati will be present, like Leo Schofield, Margaret Whitlam, Donald
McDonald and Elizabeth Evatt. I was interested to learn, too, that Bob
Willis, former English test cricket captain, is here both for the Ashes
and the Wagner.
By the sound of it,
Adelaide is making the whole thing a real Wagner Festival, with a
special rose being grown (“Magic Fire”), and a special exhibition of
jewellery being arranged (the “Ring Collection”). Adelaide’s Lord
Mayor has even given permission for Meeting House Lane, behind the Town
Hall, to be renamed Richard Wagner Gasse (= Lane) for the duration of
the Festival. This will be a central meeting-place for Ring
In keeping with the
Bayreuth tradition, the last three operas of the Ring are having
one-hour intervals, during which much gourmet dining and wining will
take place, presumably at a gourmet price.
media coverage has been proceeding apace ever since the venture was
announced in 1995. This has included numerous performances of the Ring
on radio, mainly in excerpts, but also in full, such as on Sydney’s
been academic interest too, with a flurry of seminars, art
installations, book exhibitions, etc. One 1997 conference was A
Glimmer of Gold, a three-day affair at Adelaide Uni. Speakers
included Leo Schofield, English critic Barry Millington, Wagner singers
Lauris Elms and Rita Hunter, and Roger Parker, who worked on the
historic Decca Solti Ring recordings. The conference was later
covered by Julie Copeland on ABC Radio National, with Millington giving
insight into how you can actually detect musical evidence in the Ring
of Wagner’s anti-Semitism.
Later in 1997 a
half-day seminar entitled Wagner on the Couch was held in Sydney.
Its purpose was to provide a “critical, historical and
psychoanalytical perspective” on the mind of Wagner. Speakers were
John Milfull, Professor of European Studies at the University of N.S.W.,
music critic John Carmody, OA director Elke Neidhardt and psychiatrist
Another talk show
(also running for three days at Adelaide Uni) is this month’s International
Wagner Symposium. The keynote speakers are Professor John Deathridge
from London, Barry Millington again, Professor Dietrich Borchmeyer from
Heidelberg and Dr. Georg Oswald Bauer from Munich.
lecture (this time featuring Dr. Ronnie Taylor and Robert Gibson) is The
“Madness” of Richard Wagner, to be held by the RANZCP Section of
Psychotherapy at the State Library of NSW, 10 December, 7.30 p.m. Book
via (02) 9684 0888. $10.
So much for the
setting. On with Bikwil’s response to the music.