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Go behind the scenes for insights on our recordings, our artists and our future plans. Follow our artists' schedules and share the excitement of their journeys.

Lords of the Ring update Wagner classic

Monday, 5 June 2006 - 12:00am

Lords of the Ring update Wagner classic


It is considered the Everest of opera - now, an Australian ensemble can claim to have successfully scaled the dizzy heights of Wagner's Ring Cycle.

Often defined in popular culture by signature tune 'The Ride of the Valkyries', the Ring is a mammoth masterpiece of four operas and was first recorded in stereo with legendary conductor Sir Georg Solti in the 1950s and 60s.

In the single largest recording project ever undertaken in Australia, the State Opera of South Australia, backed by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, performed the classic for a 15-disc CD production, which is now earning rave reviews among art critics around the world. As many as 65 microphones recorded 60 hours of performance during the production, which also involved 129 orchestral players, 70 chorus members, 27 principal singers and a 75-strong backstage crew.

Though the performance was initially recorded in 2004, it took producers and editors more than a year to whittle down the 60 hours to about 15 for the total box set.

Opera buffs crammed the Australian Club in central Melbourne for the launch of the four-CD set of the first opera, Die Walk├╝re, from the 2004 performance.

Maria Vandamme, chief executive officer of the Melba Foundation, which produced the Adelaide Ring, as it has been dubbed, said the $15.3 million production had provided the perfect opportunity to showcase Australian classical opera to the world.

"The greatest challenge Australian musicians face is isolation from the great centres of European culture. "Our artists are off the radar and can't easily be considered for inclusion in international projects.

"Great recordings like this advertise Australia's cultural maturity and act as a foil to the image of cricketers, sharks, deserts and barbecues."

Ms Vandamme said the Adelaide Ring was something of a triumph for the Melba Foundation, though the production almost went unrecorded.

After securing a $5 million federal government arts grant in 2004, Melba was approached by SOSA bosses to record the Ring - but turned it down because the project was considered too expensive and too risky.

Ms Vandamme said after a change of heart, the decision to create a new Ring recording was justified, not least by the reception among arts reviewers and critics around the world.