Melbourne Opera is announcing the end of the world – in 2023.
The company is to climb opera’s Everest: Wagner’s Ring cycle. It starts February 2021 with Das Rheingold, the 160-minute bite-sized kickoff for the epic story of gods, giants and the curse of love. And it ends with opera’s longest work, the 4.5 hour-long Gotterdammerung (and a reprise of all four Ring operas back to back) two years later.
Some arts companies plan to inch carefully out of the shadow of the pandemic. Melbourne Opera is running a marathon.
“Someone has to get things started,” chuckles Melbourne Opera director and resident conductor Greg Hocking. “And there’s a hunger for large-scale mainstream opera.”
MO is not a state-sponsored company, instead relying on ticket sales and sponsors – including founding patron Lady Primrose Potter, who says the company “couldn’t be more proud” to be taking on the Ring.
Hocking says at least two of the four operas will be cast entirely locally. Rheingold will employ more than 140 Victorian singers, musicians, creatives and technicians, many of whom struggled to pay the bills over the long pandemic lockdown.
“It’s the responsibility of all local companies to keep the industry going by employing local artists,” Hocking says. “There is so little work at the moment for all the great Australian singers.
“In the post-pandemic climate, suddenly everyone’s discovering how good the local artists are. People are surprised at the depth of quality living in Melbourne.
“The tattered remnants of the cultural cringe may live on elsewhere… but we’re really proud to cast so strongly locally.”
For Rheingold Warwick Fyfe will play Wotan, alternating with Eddie Muliaumaseali’i. The production will be directed by Wagner specialist Suzanne Chaundy.
Renowned international Wagnerian maestro Anthony Negus will share the conducting with David Kram.
Well – as long as Negus can make it.
“He’s locked down in Wales,” Hocking says. “He’s such a great conductor and we hope he will be here – we have people spending entire days on the phone trying to get answers on visas, let alone everything else.”
They are betting pandemic restrictions will allow them to get at least 1000 people seated in the recently-renovated Regent Theatre, which has the scale to accommodate COVID distancing for both audience and orchestra.
The pandemic caused another unexpected problem. The 80-piece orchestra that will spill into the stalls from the Regent pit requires a rare and particular instrument: a Wagner tuba.
“There are three sets in Australia but suddenly – and understandably – no-one is renting their sets any more, it’s just too risky [because of coronavirus infection fears],” Hocking says.
So they rang the main manufacturer in England “and he said ‘sure, you can have it by March’. No, we need it by January. But he said no, everybody is ordering sets of Wagner tubas, because everyone is in the same boat.”
They finally found four “in a warehouse in Germany”.
“Wagner tuba builders are very happy right now,” Hocking says. “There’s always a silver lining. Well, a brass lining in this case.”