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German-Australian actress and opera director Elke Neidhardt has died, aged 72. She is perhaps best known for directing Australia’s first complete Ring Cycle in Adelaide in 2004, a production that received wide critical acclaim.
Opera writer and dramaturg Peter Bassett, who worked alongside Neidhardt on the production, expressed his sadness at her passing: “I found her to be open to ideas and possessed of a strong sense of humour and style," Bassett said. "She was determined to engage with audiences and, for her, boredom was a crime. She did not subscribe to the self-obsessed school of directing or the trend towards ugliness that disfigures many contemporary German productions."
"Her Ring was hailed as visually resplendent – and it certainly was. She was an opera director of real stature and a formidable personality. It is ironic that her death coincided with the Melbourne Ring Cycle. She will be sadly missed.”
Born in Stuttgart in 1941, Neidhardt graduated from the State University of Music and Performing Arts Stuttgart, and later directed operas in Zurich, Amsterdam, Aix-en-Provence, Salzburg and Vienna. In 1967 Neidhardt moved to Australia, and the following year made her first appearance on television screens in the role of Anna Steiner in Skippy the Bush Kangaroo.
In the following decade, Neidhardt appeared in several other Australian television series including The Link Men (1970) and Shannon's Mob (1975). She also starred in a small number of Australian feature films, including Libido (1973), Alvin Purple (1973) and The True Story of Eskimo Nell (1975).
In 1977 Neidhardt was appointed resident director at Opera Australia, a position she held for 13 years. Following her tenure, she returned to Germany for six years to take on directorship at Cologne State Opera. In 2001 Neidhardt staged the Australian premiere production of Parsifal in Adelaide, followed by her celebrated Ring Cycle with the State Opera of South Australia in 2004.
Neidhardt is also particularly remembered for her provocative Tannhäuser for Opera Australia. Her Il trovatore for the Opera Conference, which has never been out of the repertoires of Australian companies, will be staged again by West Australian Opera in 2014.