Hello! Sorry for that hiatus. I’ve been off the road, in the writing jail, and in the media space of launches and hunches. I’ve been busy too with some of our visiting artists who have been in town, sneaking about, thinking up their schemes. George Bures Miller has been in our midst, popping in and out of laneways and byways in The Rocks – more on that later. Pipilotti Rist has been here plotting out her new commission. We are soon to welcome more … in fact more than 70 artists will be in town during the Biennale … exciting!
In-between, all and everything, I did manage to pop into two of the dress rehearsals for The Ring Cycle at Opera Australia in Melbourne. Given that I, too, am producing a kind of gesamtkunstwerk (word of the moment!) I was in thrall of the massive scope of the production. I loved Valhalla, depicted as a kind of utilitarian, slightly Eastern Bloc, Soviet-styled, defunct ramping containing the debris of Noah’s Ark. It conveyed all the weariness the Gods must feel as they plot and scheme the lives of the mere mortals.
Reinforcing this, the army surplus gear the Valkyries had to get about in … poor Brünnhilde … if it’s not enough she has to be locked in a fiery ring and eventually immolated, she has to try and be a strong, sexy kind of best-daughter Goddess with garb that’s very janitorial. Sometimes it’s good to have some horns, or at least some winged helmets to hand!
Some of the critics have been a bit tough on Susan Bullock, but I thought, given the unglamorous circumstances she did a pretty decent job. I did feel sorry for Siegfried who was made to go about looking like the second hobbit … hard to imagine he and Brünnhilde really having such a fiery passion between them. Myth stuff is tough!
As one does, over the many hours and home made chicken sandwiches experienced Ringers bring, you tend to get to know your fellow travellers. I sat next to a charming young man – Christian – who informs me he is training to sing the part of Wotan. Really I said … when will you get to play such a role? In about 35 years time he told me. 35 years! That’s commitment and an indication of the stamina, body training and voice perfection opera performers work towards to be able to sustain themselves in the circumstances of this most mammoth of events.
Undoubtedly there will be rumblings and mumblings about this Ring … good, bad, indifferent … but finally, no matter what, it is a wonderful gift to everyone – especially the next generation. To experience the grandeur of such an event and to feel the ambition of it – to be given the motivation to stretch their own ambitions.
Wagner (ok, we could go anywhere with this but let’s just stick with The Ring Cycle) was working with the received ideas of Norse myth and so you can forgive the nutty plot and strange persecutions of God and family life (perhaps not so unfamiliar to some). His music … spacious, magical, and wonderfully hysterical (the Ride of the Valkyeries, totally fabbo) is a sustained marvel. You have to admire the sheer energy it takes to conceive of, and of course to play this entwined set of leitmotifs, landscapes and moods. The orchestra did a wonderful job… even if, to my ear, the brass was a little less bright than it might have been. Wagner understood the woodland instruments well … the oboe is such a star. Whatever one thinks of Wagner (and many people think many things, reasonably) it’s hard to not be in awe of the grand imagination that composed and conceived of Der Ring des Nibelungen … and Hoyotoho! Heiaha! to that.
All this Norse stuff wrapped up a month that started in the calm place of another Nordic creative, Jorn Utzon, whose architecture was the setting for our Biennale launch. I felt very privileged, and a bit in touch with the father place (as detailed in my Guardian article). Ok better ride on … the gesamtkunstwerk never sleeps!