One hundred and seventy years after thousands of desperadoes and gold-cravers trekked to a place called Sandhurst, Wagnerites set off to Bendigo on Friday afternoon (in rather more orderly fashion it must be said, along the potholed Calder Freeway) for Melbourne Opera’s first full production of Der Ring des Nibelungen.

What a feat it is for this small, enterprising company – fast becoming Victoria’s most impressive one, given Opera Australia’s virtual retreat from local stages. What an achievement it is to stage not one but three full cycles in regional Victoria. Here, it’s worth remembering, as Lady Potter (Patron-in-Chief) reminds us in the excellent program, that ‘this production, a major event in the crucial constituency of regional Victoria, has received no Federal of State government support whatsoever’. (Meanwhile, we know that Opera Australia received $33,324,538 from the Australia Council in 2021.)

Suzanne Chaundy’s production is a triumph of lucidity, precision, and common sense. British conductor Anthony Negus returns to lead the first two cycles (David Kram will conduct the third). For many of us, Negus’s conducting was the highlight of Siegfried, which was presented in concert at the Melbourne Recital Centre last September.

Any reservations we might have had on Friday night about Sarah Sweeting’s volume as Fricka were soon dispelled during her great confrontation with Wotan in Act Two when Fricka fulminates against the incestuous twins and forces her philandering husband to eliminate Siegmund.

Lee Abrahmsen was every bit as good as she was in 2022. If anything, she was in more luxuriant voice, and her great outpouring in Act Three – which Wagner called the Glorification of Brünnhilde motif – filled the theatre.

Warwick Fyfe was simply magnificent. There seems to be no limit to his vocal power, yet he can also be subtle, intimate, almost conversational. Once again we could admire Simon Meadow’s Alberich, the bald, grubby dwarf. Somehow Meadows managed to better the celebrated performance he gave in 2021.

The long scene that ends the opera – when Wotan rejects his favourite Valkyrie and condemns her to be abandoned on a rock – was unforgettably powerful. Rare is it in the theatre – rarer still in an opera house (to be honest) – to watch two performers in complete and eloquent artistic accord.

I have seen Walküre many times, but none has impressed me more than this performance. For once, the conductor, the director, and the singers were in perfect sync. If you don’t have a ticket yet, buy one: you won’t see its like again.

Excerpt, review by Peter Rose. Read the full story on the ABR website.