Opera Australia announced today that it has postponed its digital production of Wagner’s epic tetralogy Der Ring des Nibelungen because of the ongoing travel and social distancing restrictions caused by the coronavirus crisis.

Directed by Chinese-American Chen Shi-Zheng, the production was scheduled to run at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC) from November 10 to December 5. Ever since the pandemic hit Australia in March, Opera Australian Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini has held onto the hope that the Ring Cycle would go ahead, but the time had come when a decision had to be made, says OA CEO Rory Jeffes.

Director Chen Shi-Zheng with one of the set models for his digital Ring Cycle for Opera Australia. Photograph © Rhiannon Hopley

Instead of cancelling the Ring, it has been postponed and will now be staged at QPAC in 2021 – which is quite an achievement given the number of partners involved in getting the epic production to the stage.

“We’ve combined some of the world’s best talent both on and off the stage for this first digital Ring Cycle so it’s fabulous news that we’ve been able to secure dates for next year,” said Terracini.

“A great deal of work has already been completed in preparation for the Brisbane season, and this will certainly not go to waste, which is a great relief to all involved.”

Jeffes said he trusts that ticket holders “will appreciate the reasons for this decision and are as delighted as we are that we can provide certainty with the rescheduled season in late 2021. We’ll be able to announce those dates in the coming days.”

“However, this announcement effectively means the Company is unlikely to be returning to the stage in 2020, which of course is incredibly disappointing for everyone,” added Jeffes.

Davide Livermore’s digital production of Aida, which was scheduled to be performed in Brisbane alongside the Ring Cycle, has also been postponed to 2021, while Lucrezia Borgia in Concert, starring Jessica Pratt, which was programmed for Sydney and Melbourne in October, will be rescheduled, with new dates to be announced later.

Speaking to Limelight, Jeffes says he has set up a project management framework to work out “the latest point in practical terms for when we make decisions. We can only see as far as the horizon, and every time the horizon gets nearer there are new challenges that we are facing. So we always said the end of July would be the decision point for the Ring, and with everything that’s happening I think it’s the right decision [to postpone]. It’s been a massive job to reschedule it. We have about 45 external partners involved in this and we have managed to line it all up.”

“I have to say the Queensland Government has been wonderful in helping us do that [as have] QPAC, Opera Queensland, and all our partners – the hotel partners, the travel partners, the restaurants, everyone. It’s just a huge job but everyone has got behind it so we are very confident we will be able to deliver it next year at the level we want to,” says Jeffes.

Chen Shi-Zheng with designs for the OA digital Ring Cycle. Photograph © Rhiannon Hopley

The majority of people who have bought tickets live outside Queensland. With Queensland’s borders currently closed to people from Victoria and parts of New South Wales, and with international travel restrictions ongoing, the ability to even get to Brisbane was uncertain for ticket holders.

Asked if this was the primary reason for the postponement, Jeffes says: “It’s all sorts of reasons. It’s the impact of physical distancing in the theatre, if that was in place. It was having the confidence of getting the international artists into the country – though they had all agreed to come and quarantine for two weeks – but, yes, it’s the border restrictions and social distancing restrictions that create too high a risk for people.”

“Putting the Ring on is the Mount Olympus of the opera world and we want it to be Mount Olympus, we don’t want it to be halfway up Mont Blanc, so it was looking at the range of unknowns and really deciding this was the right call. And now is the point we have to make that call because otherwise we would have to start undertaking work that would not be something we can store for a year. And we would have to start rehearsals. I think people will understand that this is really a great outcome to be able to postpone it for a year.”

Jeffes says that he has discussed the situation with many of the company’s patrons and has been met with “nothing but complete understanding” and says that “everyone’s really delighted, and feeling confident that in a year’s time, come hell or high water, we will be over these restrictions and we will be able to do it in a way we would want to. And people will be able to enjoy it in a way they would want to.”

Anna-Louise Cole, Shane Lowrencev and Jacqui Dark at rehearsals for the Ring Cycle at the Opera Centre, Sydney in March 2020. Photograph © Rhiannon Hopley

Audiences can look forward to the same production that Chen Shi-Zheng had envisioned for 2020. “We have the same cast, we have the same creative team, we have the same theatre, we have the same audiences coming. In a way, I feel people are really resigned to the fact that 2020 is going to be a year of interim hibernation for all of us, and I think that people now look to 2021 and think that is going to be not just a recovery year but a celebration of everything we missed in 2020,” says Jeffes.

As to when OA will be able to announce its 2021 season, Jeffes says: “Again we are taking the same approach which is to leave firm decisions as late as we can. At this point we are not looking to make any firm decisions until the end of September, so we would hope to be able to give a confident launch of our season after that, but it won’t be in August as usual.”

“The difficulty people have is living with ambiguity, and what this pandemic has really thrown to all of us is we need to learn to live with uncertainty and ambiguity, and leave decisions as late as we can. Any decisions one makes now are either based on hope or on fear because nobody knows exactly what the environment is going to be in a month’s time let alone six months’ time,” says Jeffes. “We are confident that whatever we are putting out [in 2021] will be something we are able to do, and at a level which will provide people with relief from this awful time.”