Melbourne Opera presents Ring Cycle cultural festival

Distinguished International Maestro Anthony Negus has arrived from the UK to conduct Wagner’s Siegfried in concert at the Melbourne Recital Center on 25 September. Siegfried is the third opera in Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle, one of the greatest productions of all the performing arts and the greatest challenge for any opera company.

The company began tackling the Ring cycle in 2021, staging the first two of four Ring operas in their entirety over two years, to resounding acclaim from critics and audiences alike. The Melbourne Opera’s staging is the first wholly Australian-generated production since 1913.

Made possible by Melbourne’s most distinguished and committed arts patrons, led by Chief Patron Lady Primrose Potter, the society is delighted to bring the Ring Cycle Cultural Festival, an Australian regional premiere to Bendigo in March-April 2023. The Ring Cycle Cultural Festival is also made possible through the generous sponsorship of Henkell Brothers.

The festival features three Ring Cycles as well as recitals featuring star singers, gala dinners on stage, lectures, exhibitions and a one-day Wagner Symposium. The four Ring operas will be staged in their entirety at the Ulumbara Theater with its impressive acoustics. Catching the attention of international opera-goers, more than half of the full cycle tickets have already been sold, with 30% to interstate and international buyers.

The non-profit arts organization’s $5 million production will employ more than 250 Australian singers, musicians, creatives and technicians. The exclusively regional production is expected to generate major tourism in Bendigo with three full cycles of the ring being performed over six weeks from March 24 to April 30, 2023.

Australian opera lovers and curious new audiences have one last chance to get a glimpse of the Melbourne Opera Ring via a special Sunday performance of Siegfried in Concert. The concert features the 90-piece Melbourne Opera Orchestra and directly follows Wagner specialist conductor Negus’ highly successful productions of Die Walküre with English National Opera at London’s famous Colosseum and its acclaimed Longborough Festival Opera.

A superb Australian cast has been assembled for Siegfried in Concert, with Warwick Fyfe as Wotan, Lee Abrahmsen as Brunnhilde, Simon Meadows as Alberich, Deborah Humble as Erda, Steven Gallop as Fafner, Bradley Daley as Siegfried, Rebecca Rashleigh as Woodbird and Robert Macfarlane as a mime.

Anthony Negus describes how the score for Siegfried references The Ring’s first opera, Das Rheingold, which he traveled to Australia to conduct at the Regent Theater in February 2021.

“The mysterious opening to a long, deep timpani roll and Mime’s brooding bassoon thirds lead us to relive the great build-up of Rheingold’s fourth scene, where gold is brought to Wotan and Loge by the Nibelungs,” explains Negus.

Siegfried follows a quest for identity, culminating in the third act; “there is enormous elation in this final scene in which Brunnhilde’s resistance is finally overcome, and the mountaintop is bathed in blazing light in C major”, Negus says.

The Ring Cycle Cultural Festival features an all-Australian cast accompanied by internationally renowned singers and led by talented director Suzanne Chaundy. Suzanne is thrilled to cap off her huge offbeat staging of Wagner’s Ring epic with an even bigger undertaking, a season of three full cycles. She discusses her conducting of Siegfried, before the concert.

“Siegfried emerges – both literally and metaphorically – from darkness into light as he pieces together who he is and meets his destiny. We will tell this story like an adult fairy tale, full of mythical horror and aspiration deep psychological,” says Chaundy.

Wagner’s Ring totals 17 hours of stage time across four operas and is known to be the inspiration behind many great themes, stories and soundtracks throughout the ages. The plot is understood to have inspired Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and the score includes highlights such as the Rhine journey and Siegfried’s funeral march, Wotan’s farewell and the infamous ride of the Valkyries, known modern audiences for its memorable use in such iconic movies as Apocalypse Now.

Each Ring Cycle will be performed over two weekends at the Ulumbara Theatre, encouraging longer stays in the booming Bendigo area, which has hosted a range of international art and cultural exhibitions and events in recent years.

Melbourne Opera continues its success as one of Australia’s busiest opera companies with a touring, site-specific production of The Marriage of Figaro at the Australian Club on October 16, and Mozart at the moonlight in the Royal Botanic Gardens in partnership with the Australian Shakespeare Company in February 2023.

Darcy J. Skinner