Opera Australia is to stage a new production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen in Brisbane – and this time it will be a fully digital production incorporating giant LED screens and state-of-the-art lighting. Presented in partnership with the Queensland Government and Brisbane City Council, three cycles of the epic tetralogy – Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung – will be performed at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre between November 10 and December 5, 2020.

Image supplied by Opera Australia

OA had a big success with Neil Armfield’s Ring Cycle, which played in Melbourne in 2013 and 2016 under the baton of Finnish maestro Pietari Inkinen. Chen Shi-Zheng, who was born in China and now divides his time between Shanghai and New York, will direct the new production. Chen is known to Australian audiences for his popular 2016 production of Turandot for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour.

“Creating a Ring Cycle is an extraordinary adventure, it’s exhilarating, challenging, stimulating and incredibly rewarding for all those involved, whether in the audience or on the stage or behind the scenes, it’s an amazing ride for everyone,” said OA Artistic Director Lyndon Terracini.

“And for Brisbane 2020 we’ve amassed an incredible team to bring this production to the stage. Not least our fantastic Director, Chen Shi-Zheng, along with a cast of the finest singers, specialists in their interpretations of Wagner’s characters, and an amazing orchestra that we have created in partnership with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra and the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University.”

Describing the Ring Cycle as the “Everest” of operas, Terracini told Limelight that it makes sense to take a digital approach to Wagner’s towering, demanding work. “As we know the Ring Cycle is always expensive and there are always limitations. How do you have a fake dragon coming out, and all of that sort of stuff?” he says.

Opera Australia staged its first fully digital production in 2018 when Davide Livermore directed Aida on a stage featuring 10 giant LED screens. Terracini then programmed three new digital productions in OA’s 2019 season: Madama Butterfly, Anna Bolena and Whiteley. The Ring Cycle is an extension and a refinement of all that has been learned on these productions, with huge LED screens suspended from the ceiling that can be moved seamlessly around the stage.

Chen Shi-Zheng and Lyndon Terracini. Photograph © Prudence Upton

“With the Ring, as we all know, it needs to be on a grand scale. The audience need to feel when they go into the theatre that this something extraordinary, and with this sort of technology we can do that, we can create that imagery for the Ring that we need to be able to do as if we were doing it on a movie,” says Terracini.

Chen recently spent two weeks in Sydney rehearsing with the Aida panels. “The panels will be another character so it’s important they don’t just go up and back, but that they are actually choreographed so they can perform on different angles… and they can go up into the flies, and do all sorts of things. Where we had 10 in Aida, we will have 12 for the Ring and they will each be seven metres high and two and a half metres wide,” says Terracini.

Chen and his team are now developing the digital content and deciding how it will work within the Cycle. “Will some of that content come back? Or will we use new content in every opera? So at the moment we are still developing that but it is a tremendously exciting time,” Terracini tells Limelight.

Chen is an internationally acclaimed theatre, opera and film director, who has built a reputation for fusing Eastern and Western traditions. His many credits include a 1996 production of Euripides’ The Bacchae, in which he combined Greek tragedy and Chinese opera, and a 20-hour production of the Chinese masterpiece The Peony Pavilion at New York’s Lincoln Center in 1999. Not only will this be Chen’s Ring debut, but he will be the first Chinese director to take on a Ring Cycle at this scale. He plans to bring the mythological Norse storyline into the future with a nod to Chinese mythology woven into the production.

“One of the reasons for having Shi-Zheng, apart from the fact that he is one of the great directors in the world, is that Chinese mythology is not a long way away from the Norse mythology in terms of the dragons and all that sort of stuff, so it’s not a radical departure from Wagner’s intentions, it’s just looking at it through Asian eyes,” says Terracini.

Chen has also indicated that he will be incorporating Indigenous Australian themes into the production. “It will involve Indigenous performers but not necessarily performing in a traditional way, but they will certainly be part of the dramaturgy and part of the overall direction of the piece as it unfolds,” explains Terracini. “So, Indigenous artists as well as artists from very different ethnicities will be part of it. And that’s part of the fundamental philosophy of what we are trying to do this time – it’s actually a 21st century interpretation of the Ring but still remaining true to Wagner’s initial intentions.”

Terracini believes the new Ring Cycle will work “extremely well” in Brisbane. “I was there for 10 years running the festivals [Brisbane Festival and Queensland Music Festival] and Brisbane has got fantastic events there now [by companies like] the Bolshoi and La Scala. They are attracting audiences from all over,” he says.

The conductor and cast will be announced in June. German tenor Stefan Vinke is tipped to return to the role of Siegfried, which he played in Armfield’s Melbourne Ring.“There are some pretty exciting people,” says Terracini. “There are some young Australians making their debuts in important roles, so I am excited about that, but also some of the great singers of this repertoire in the world. Obviously we want people to come to Brisbane to see it and I have no doubt they will.”

Opera Australia will present three cycles of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Queensland Performing Arts Centre in 2020. Cycle 1 will play November 10 – 17; Cycle 2 will play November 19 – 26; and Cycle 3 will play November 28 – December 5

Tickets will go on sale to the public on July 2, 2019, with pre-sales from June 13, 2019

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