The curse of the Ring strikes Opera Australia again as Greer Grimsley pulls out due to ill health.

Greer Grimsley has withdrawn from Opera Australia’s Melbourne Ring Cycle on the advice of doctors. The American bass baritone was to have played Wotan and the Wanderer in the forthcoming revival of Neil Armfield’s 2013 production opening in November, but will now be replaced by fellow American, James Johnson. A prominent Wagnerian singer, Grimsley is a leading interpreter of Wotan, a role he has sung for many opera houses in productions including Robert Lepage’s controversial cycle for the Metropolitan Opera and Stephen Wadsworth’s acclaimed one for Seattle Opera.

Last week, subscribers to the Melbourne Ring received an email informing them that: “Greer Grimsley has suffered a serious health issue which, unfortunately, means that he will not be in sufficient physical condition to perform in the Melbourne Ring Cycle.” His name was subsequently replaced on the OA website with Johnson’s. Grimsley is currently playing Sweeney Todd in Sondheim’s musical for the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York and is scheduled to play Jochanaan in Salome at the Met in December.

Speaking to Limelight, OA Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini confirms Grimsley’s withdrawal saying: “He was very, very ill some time ago and had to cancel a couple of things so I spoke to his agent and his agent said, ‘he’s OK, he’s fine’. He was recovering and he’s been able to do smaller things but then he had another incident so the doctors have said to him, ‘look you can’t travel and you have to be very careful in what you do in the future’.

“He can do things like Jochanaan [in Salome] – it’s not long and fundamentally you sing with a microphone off-stage – but he can’t do Wotan… It’s a great shame because he was fantastic,” says Terracini. Opera Base, however, still has him listed as playing Wotan in Die Walküre in Tokyo in October and in Siegfried in Tokyo in June 2017.

James Johnson and Irene Théorin in the Copenhagen Ring

Johnson, who has replaced him, is known primarily for his interpretation of the helden baritone roles of Wagner and Strauss including Wotan and the Wanderer, Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Telramund in Lohengrin. He performed in Die Walküre and Siegfried in the famous, so-called “feminist” Ring Cycle in Copenhagen, directed by Kasper Holten, which culminated in 2006.

“James is great. He’s a bit like Terje Stensvold [who played Wotan for OA in 2013]. In fact, I flew to Los Angeles for the day just to make sure he was in really good shape and he was terrific,” says Terracini. “He’s the right age, he’s a big guy, a very good actor and a fantastic singer.”

Opera Australia also lost its original Wotan in 2013 when Finnish singer Juha Uusitalo pulled out due to illness and was replaced by Stensvold. In fact, the production was plagued by a series of artists withdrawing. Australian conductor Richard Mills left just months ahead of the event, citing a lack of both “chemistry between cast and director” and “unity of vision”, with Finnish conductor  Pietari Inkinen picking up the baton (as he will do again this year). German tenor Stefan Vinke replaced American singer Gary Lehman as Siegfried, while Warwick Fyfe stepped into the role of Alberich three weeks before opening when Australian baritone John Wegner was forced to pull out due to illness.

“As always with The Ring, just when you think it’s plain sailing something else happens. Every time!” says Terracini. “This time we had everything lined up. Someone said to me, ‘it’s great, everything is going smoothly’ and I said, ‘don’t say that, something will happen.’ Really, with these things it’s how you manage disasters. That’s what The Ring is about. You just have to assume that things will go wrong and make sure you’re covered.”

The Melbourne Ring Cycle will be performed three times at the Arts Centre Melbourne between November 21 and December 16.

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