By Ralph McAllister
Melbourne at this time of the year, fluctuates in terms of weather, as much as Wellington.
One day 15 degrees, the next 30.
What doesn’t change?
~ the friendliness of the locals
~ the quality of the restaurants
~ the joy of walking along the river bank on your way to the glorious Melbourne Arts Centre.
A big time commitment but well worth it!
This particular visit, booked a year ago, was to see and hear Neil Armfield’s stunningly creative interpretation of Wagner’s Ring Cycle or Der Ring Des Nibelungen.
For those who may need some background, the Ring was conceived to take place over four days, starting with Das Rheingold, a preliminary evening in one act which lasts, usually, two and a half hours without an interval.
Die Walkure follows, two or three days later, when the performance begins at five in the afternoon and finishes about eleven at night.
The same pattern continues with Siegfried, more than five hours long, and, to conclude this mighty project, Gotterdamerung begins at four in the afternoon and most people don’t get home till after midnight.
Wagner had his own theatre built at Bayreuth for the Ring and insisted that performances were given on holidays so that audiences could prepare for the demands of this journey.
Worth it? You bet!
One of my great musical experiences
This was one of the most memorable musical experiences of my life.
The plot concerns:
- the Rhinemaidens losing the Ring (Rheingold)
- Wotan the immortal trying to regain it,(Valkyrie) where he creates a son even though incest is involved
- son Siegfried falls in love with Brunnhilde (Siegfried)
- and everything goes up in smoke at Valhalla (Gotterdamerung) when the Ring is handed back to the Rhinemaidens.
The production values were of the highest order, with sublime singing from all of the principals including a Brunnhilde (American Lise Lindstrom), whose slight body gave the lie to traditionally well-built sopranos who usually perform the role.
This was her first realisation of the role and she will surely remain the finest Brunnhilde for years to come.
Siegfried (Stevan Vinke), sang with ringing clarity and passion in what is surely the longest role in the operatic repertoire.
New Zealander Jud Arthur doubled as nasty husband Hunding in Valkure and then as giant Fafner, killed by Siegfried and lying naked for over forty minutes in the penultimate opera.
What some will do for art!
But the final brilliance lay in the glorious sounds from the Melbourne Ring Orchestra, players drawn from all over the world, who offered searing renditions to the challenges laid down by Wagner, all under the baton of mighty, pint-sized Pietari Inkinen who was NZSO chief conductor for eight years.
I guess many prefer Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones but, for me, and many millions, Wagner reigns supreme and will continue to do so, like the gods, forever.