|Stuart Skelton is performing Siegmund in the Melbourne Ring Cycle for Opera Australia in 2013. Picture: Lisa Tomasetti|
There’s a certain energy in the air out at the Docklands rehearsal studios, as the stars of the Melbourne Ring Cycle 2013 workshop their singing with conductor Richard Mills, and their gesture and movement under the watchful eyes of director Neil Armfield. While singers are quick to laugh when they duck outside for burst of sunshine, it’s clear that inside the cavernous rehearsal space, serious work is being done.
Star tenor Stuart Skelton says that anywhere the Ring is staged, the energy follows. “It is such a huge undertaking. You can’t come into one of these things with mid-level commitment or energy.”
The Melbourne Ring Cycle 2013 will be Stuart’s third of the year: the heldentenor is renowned for his stirring performances in Wagner’s epic, and in the composer’s anniversary year, he is more in demand than ever. He has just performed the role of Siegmund in the Ring for Opera National de Paris, and before he reaches the Melbourne State Theatre stage, he will also perform Siegmund for Seattle Opera.
But while each Ring is different, it’s not too difficult to come to the same character three times in three different ways. “There are certain monumental aspects of a Ring Cycle that don’t go away, it doesn’t matter who the director is,” Stuart explains. “But how each of those monumental aspects gets portrayed is different.”
|L-R: Neil Armfield, Stuart Skelton and Richard Mills |
in the rehearsal room. Photo: Jeff Busby
While the Ring has a huge cast, there are usually only two or three characters interacting on stage at any one time, Stuart said. “If you take the Chorus as a character, the Ring really is a very small, Ibsen-esque family drama. There’s always the relationship between two characters and a third, that comes in and goes out of that relationship.”
That’s where the director comes in. “Every director comes with a different idea and different approach to how they want to show all of the tiny little interactions in those relationships,” Stuart says.
“You have to be absolutely meticulous in how you prepare the music. You have to be prepared to work very hard and very long on very small sections as you go along. It’s not an easy thing to stage, it’s not an easy story to tell, because there is so much going on.”
But Wagner, and Wagner’s music, will always control part of the action. “Wagner was incredibly specific about where and how things happen. You’d never be left guessing what he wanted,” Stuart says. “Almost every thought, or phrase, or feeling or physical bit of prop and set and even every concept has a specific musical motif attached to it, called a leitmotif.”
If the music is portraying something that the characters aren’t acting, it would look at odds to the audience, Stuart says. It’s part of Wagner’s genius.
“The whole concept of these four operas being composed almost solely of leitmotifs, which give us a musical vocabulary for what we’re seeing or feeling on stage, is mind-bending!”
Stuart has been singing Wagner and the Ring for more than a decade, but his love for Wagner is not waning. “There’s not a note out of place. I never get tired of singing it, or seeing it.”
And while many of the international artists rehearsing the Ring in Melbourne are seasoned Wagner performers, there are some artists coming to the music for the first time, which is magical to watch, Stuart says. “It is big music and the opportunity for really big German repertoire doesn’t come along very often.”
Working with Neil Armfield is always a privilege, Stuart says, but the tenor won’t be drawn on Neil’s vision for the show. “At the end of the day his work speaks for itself. He brings the best out of the performers.”