Melbourne Opera: Das Rheingold [Bendigo 2023]

Sparkling with 24 carats talent and artistry, Das Rheingold begins Melbourne Opera’s keenly anticipated, carefully constructed Ring Cycle in winning style.

Once the little engine that could, Melbourne Opera is now most certainly the mighty engine that can. Since 2016, when they first crossed Collins Street to venture beyond their comfortably established home at Athenaeum Theatre to the vast Regent Theatre, the company has been on an ever upward trajectory. From that very well received Tannhäuser, through further Wagner repertoire, with some wonderful bel canto along the way, they have arrived at the full Ring Cycle, an achievement that is surely seen as the absolute pinnacle for any opera company worldwide. 

The Melbourne Opera Ring Cycle began with Das Rheingold in early 2021, when cautious-yet-committed opera lovers were drawn back to the theatre, where they were rewarded with a visually striking production and splendid singing. Additional polish has been applied to prepare this staging for the full cycle, and the ensemble cast of Australian singers is an attraction in its own right.

The production sits grandly on the stage of the Ulumbarra Theatre, a performance space blessed not just with an orchestra pit large enough to hold 90 musicians but also with capacious, characterful foyers that can readily accomodate throngs of buzzing opera goers. 

Maestro Anthony Negus, he of the life-long devotion to The Ring, returns to helm the Melbourne Opera Orchestra. Negus draws particular oomph and expression from the brass, and the musical interludes are full of wonder. Another key feature of the Ulumbarra Theatre is its pristine acoustics, which make listening to the glorious music even more of a pleasure.

Director Suzanne Chaundy succeeds with her attention to crisp storytelling and to distinctive character details. The lust, avarice, and vengeance that underscore Das Rheingold play out with portentous significance; Alberich’s cursing of the ring lands with particular power. Devotees will enjoy Chaundy’s traditional yet thoughtfully considered approach, and newcomers will follow the plot with ease.

Andrew Bailey’s set design is a masterful feat of engineering, matched with extremely clever integration of the ring motif. A round platform sits centre stage, neatly met by the round hole in the mighty drawbridge that rises and lowers to conjure the mountaintop and the subterranean. A third circle is carved out of the backdrop, giving a sense of sweeping grandeur. 

Rob Sowinski’s lighting design is incorporated into the set, creating a literal gold ring on stage. Sowinski’s luscious lighting for the rainbow bridge to Valhalla brings the opera to a visually spectacular conclusion. Creative video design, by Chris Hocking, is all the more effective for its sparing use. 

Harriet Oxley has taken the chance to tweak her costumes, maintaining the modern sense of wardrobe whilst still supporting the traditional tone of the staging, balancing coloured zoot suits  with a good number of gently flowing robes. Oxley deftly supports Chaundy’s eye for character, providing unique looks that greatly help to bring each character to vivid life. 

Waylaid by border restrictions in 2021, Warwick Fyfe assumes the role of Wotan that he was originally intended to play. In superb voice, Fyfe commands the stage with his masterful vocal performance, unleashing particularly potent power for Wotan’s final invocation for the Gods to follow him to Valhalla. 

Simon Meadows is a marvel as maleficent dwarf Alberich, his tireless baritone ringing out in pure, unwavering tone. Meadows skilfully crafts an odious, yet curiously sympathetic character, drawing the audience towards Alberich’s longing. 

A hit in the 2021 season, James Egglestone returns to give us more of his louche Loge, a devilish firebrand who commands the attention of the audience and his fellow Gods alike. Loge unpacks much of the story, and Egglestone’s dynamic presence and excellent vocals make this far more entertaining than it might be otherwise. 

When sterling colleagues Fyfe, Meadows, and Egglestone share the stage, Das Rheingold is at its compelling best. 

Sarah Sweeting balances Fricka’s conceited pride with tender concern for her dear sister, Freia, singing her role with nimble accuracy. Heard all too briefly, Lee Abrahmsen sings with golden tone to match her golden goddess appearance as Freia. 

Deborah Humble joins the cast, raising interest levels at the eleventh hour with a finely calibrated, beautifully sung cameo performance as earth mother Erda. Erda may be warning Wotan about the danger of lust for gold, but the cracked, dry projection of her face suggests a deeper message of warning for the environment. 

Stalwart singing actor Steven Gallop returns to load brutal giant Fafner with cantankerous venom, singing the role with a seamless balance of characterful expression and smooth legato lines. 

An auspicious harbinger of further pleasures to come, Das Rheingold also stands alone as a wonderful artistic accomplishment. 

The Ring Cycle plays at Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo on select dates in March and April 2023. 

For tickets to The Ring Cycle, click here.

The Ring Cycle casting can be read online.

For details of the Ring Cycle Festival, click here.

To download the program to the Ring Cycle Festival, click here

To stream performances of The Ring Cycle on Australian Digital Concert hall, click here.

Man in Chair reviewed the Melbourne Opera 2021 premiere of Das Rheingold

Photos: Robin Halls

8 replies »

  1. OMG! I saw the 2021 production at the Palais in Melbourne (the day before we went into lockdown) and the production was great and it sounds even better now. I was a tad unsure of Mr Fyfe as Wotan after seeing his brilliant, amazing performance as Alberich in the Opera Australia production; it sounds as though he has grown into the role. He has a wonderful presence on stage. Generally I preferred the Melbourne Opera cast for The Ring over the Opera Aus especially the Heldentenor singing Siegfried instead of Herr Winke(?) who makes me feel tired just listening to him. I wish I could see the Bendigo production. I’m interested to read what their staging of Siegfried is like after their concert performance which musically was great. Thanks for your review. CJH.

    • Christopher, if you are interested, the Australian Digital Concert Hall (ADCH) is live streaming the entire cycle. If you were to purchase a ticket, you will be able to watch last night’s performance. Each live streamed performance remains accessible for your ticket/s for the following 72 hours.

      • Thanks for the offer but I don’t like watching ballet or opera on the small screen. I’ll just have to listen to the CDs …..very loud! 😊

    • Much as the 2021 season was strong, there has definitely been further polish applied for this high profile full cycle.
      Warwick Fyfe was unforgettable as Alberich for OA. He takes a very different approach for Wotan and is equally successful.
      Stefan Vinke is the singer who played Siegfried in Melbourne for OA.
      It is a shame you could not get up to Bendigo. There are still two full cycles to come after this first one…

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