Opera Australia celebrates the great man’s birthday with a life-sized Valkyrie helmet cake.

Mid-way through the first phase of rehearsals for Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle, Opera Australia paused to pay tribute to Wagner the man, for whom May 22 marks the 200th anniversary of his birth. Around the world, opera and music companies are celebrating the day, and the year, with special events and musical projects that commemorate the significance of the composer.

Opera Australia have taken a rather unique approach with a life-sized Valkyrie helmet birthday cake created by Sydney-based “Sweet Art” to bring a touch of fun to the celebrations.

Meanwhile, Australian ex-pat artists including Daniel Sumegi, Stuart Skelton, John Wegner, Miriam Gordon-Stewart and Deborah Humble have been rehearsing in Melbourne for several weeks now. Director Neil Armfield is apparently happy with the progress of rehearsals so far, with the first two operas marked out and the third underway.

Design elements are still under wraps but Director Neil Armfield describes the philosophical framework for his Ring Cycle to be one that emphasizes the music and the ideas of Wagner’s masterpiece. The production will evoke the fascination with the natural world that was beginning to inform scientific thinking in Wagner’s era, and the prophetic elements about ecological destruction that Armfield identifies in the Ring Cycle.

“I can’t tell you too much about Neil’s vision”, Musical Director Richard Mills told Limelight at the weekend, “but I can say that it’s very musical – which is always a relief for a conductor – and it’s intensely human”.

The first stage rehearsals for Das Rheingold and Die Walküre take place next week in the State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne. The cast then break for several months as Opera Australia completes set, props and costume construction, before reforming in October, to rehearse the final two operas: Siegfried and Götterdämerung.

Opera Australia’s Melbourne Ring Cycle runs November 18 – December 13. A Ring Festival will complement the Cycle through related concerts, film screenings, exhibitions and comedic performances.