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A Melbourne staging of Wagner’s four-opera epic Der Ring Des Nibelungen was announced in 2010 as a co-production between Opera Australia and Houston Grand Opera, to be directed by Neil Armfield. But by September of last year it was becoming apparent the collaboration was in trouble. Last week, HGO artistic director Patrick Summers announced his 2013-14 season, but made no mention of the Australian production of the Ring Cycle. Instead, he has quietly programmed the first part of a tried and tested staging by La Fura dels Baus from Valencia. Rumours have also circulated of artistic difficulties between Armfield and Terracini concerning the conceptual staging of the Melbourne Ring.
Opera Australia’s artistic director Lyndon Terracini has played the story down. “It’s disappointing, but in the scheme of things they were a minor partner,” he told The Australian. The level of financial commitment from Houston was $1 million, which, says Terracini, OA will absorb.
The relationship between the two companies has apparently been cooling since the departure of HGO chief executive Anthony Freud for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Patrick Summers has been noticeably less enthusiastic about the project than Freud. Terracini justified Summers’ decision claiming that “Fundamentally, they were keen to do something different, rather than something that we’d done here.” However, the 2007 Valencia production is hardly new, having been seen in many other countries in recent years.
The news comes as another blow for OA which has had to replace two of its three main singers in the Melbourne Ring over the past month. The Norwegian baritone Terje Stensvold, who will be 70 by the time of the performances, replaces Juha Uusitalo as Wotan. Gary Lehman, meanwhile, is replaced as Siegfried by Stefan Vinke, whose vocal performance in OA’s production of Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt received decidedly mixed reviews last year.