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Performances

01 Dec 2004

Who Said Wagner Didn't Have a Sense of Humor?

Australia forges a 'Ring' with confidence By Shirley Apthorp Published: November 30 2004 Where do the Valkyries meet between battles? At the Wunder Bar, of course. Schwertleite, Grimgerde and sisters are leather-clad punks with a crass sense of humour,...

Australia forges a 'Ring' with confidence

By Shirley Apthorp
Published: November 30 2004

Where do the Valkyries meet between battles? At the Wunder Bar, of course. Schwertleite, Grimgerde and sisters are leather-clad punks with a crass sense of humour, quaffing blue cocktails from beer mugs in their slick neon watering-hole.

The Gods they serve are socialite airheads in fashion-shoot white, though Wotan's garb gets grubbier as the epic progresses. The Niebelungen wear black. Siegfried is a lout in a Mambo T-shirt, the Gibichung vassals sport army fatigues, and Gunther resembles George W. Bush on a bad day.

In the course of its complex performance history, Wagner's Ring has been many things, from sacred myth to racial drama. It was never really comedy. Until now, that is.

Australia's first-ever Ring distinguishes itself on a great many levels. Perhaps most remarkable is the way the State Opera of South Australia's bold new cycle gains a local flavour without compromising on the universality of its themes. Like the city of Adelaide, perched on the southern edge of the island continent's arid centre, and like contemporary Australian culture, this Ring rests lightly on the old earth beneath.

When in doubt, it plays for laughs, not depth. The light is harsh, the colours rich and the visual effects all-important. Though it never takes itself too seriously, it is executed with unfailing excellence. Afraid of falling below European standards, Australia sometimes surpasses them, often without noticing.

[Click here for remainder of article (subscription to Financial Times online required).]

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