On the 1 st of December Wagner’s epic opera, The Ring Cycle will open at QPAC. It’s recognised as the pinnacle of Opera and comprises 16 hours of extraordinary music split over four evenings. Ardent fans from around the world will be descending on Brisbane to experience it for themselves. History will be made with the use of towering LED screens to create a visually stunning landscape. The incorporation of the latest technologies will result in a breathtaking immersive and innovative version of the Ring Cycle unlike any ever seen before.
Queensland Symphony Orchestra’s French Horn player, Lauren Manuel is a great talent. This is her third ring cycle so She Society were keen to hear about playing 16 hours of music, the rehearsals, the music and so much more. Here’s what she had to say.
1. What’s it like to be involved in The Ring Cycle?
Being involved in The Ring Cycle means you are immersed in a story, a sound and a whole world for months, which is a totally different ‘beast’ to our typical programming. Luckily for me this will be the third time I’ve been involved in a cycle having first performed a small off – stage role while still a student in Adelaide’s 2004 production. I got to watch the whole production either in the audience or side of stage and it blew my mind. In 2014 I got to play a bigger part and play 4 th horn (out of 8) in the OA production with Orchestra Victoria in Melbourne.
2. You’ll have a huge role to play in the cycles. How are you preparing when you have about 16 hours of music to play?
The horns do get a bit of a leading role to play throughout Wagner’s score! Many people know that Wagner employed the use of leitmotifs (recurrent themes) to indicate characters or objects. Those leitmotifs appear again and again woven through all four operas, so 16 hours’ worth of music is actually a series of familiar themes presented in different ways.
3. How much work do you need to put into boosting your physical stamina ahead of the four concerts per cycle – especially with some of those concerts more than six hours long?
Anyone who plays an instrument knows that preparation is a long game. So, I think the key is to start early and work consistently to build stamina. Having said that we started rehearsals 8 months into a busy year at QSO. So, I’ll be approaching the Ring Rehearsal period with a good level of ‘match fitness’. Then there’s an 8-week rehearsal period to wrap our heads and bodies around the material before first cycle begins on December 1. I think for many players the physical stamina is a challenge. I’ve heard that Gotterdammerung is pretty brutal for the string players. But for me, it’s absolutely going to be getting my head around all the million and one different keys Wagner writes his horn parts in, one phrase may be in D… the next in C…and then 12 bars later you’ll be transposing in Bb. But by far the trickiest, is horn in B (natural, bass clef and hand stopped). Sometimes I feel like I need 10 mins, a coffee and a calculator to work out what note I’m supposed to be playing. And I’m really looking forward to hanging out with with my QSO friends and colleagues in the long breaks between acts, going out for lunches, dinners, walks along the river. It’s always fun debriefing with your mates who are sharing the same experiences.
4. What are you most looking forward to when it comes to this epic first fully staged production of The Ring Cycle in Brisbane?
Like I mentioned earlier, it’s really quite exciting and unique to be involved in an all – encompassing project for a few months. You really get to sink your teeth in and enjoy the experience. Usually, we are busy trying to prepare for several QSO projects back-to-back, so there is definitely a bonus to having a single focus for a period of time. The other really cool thing about The Ring is that the orchestra blows out in size, so we get to welcome loads of guest musicians, friends and colleagues from around the country and even a few players from overseas. It takes on a festival atmosphere and there is plenty of time for socialising (mostly at the pub after a long opera!)
5. Any secret tips for brass players?
There is a saying in brass playing, “one day off (playing/ practising) you notice it, two days off, the band notices it, three days off, the audiences notice it.” It’s pretty harsh, but there is some truth in there. Consistency is key when it comes to brass playing. Couple that with a good warm up, hydration and plenty of rest and the chops will hopefully be in top form. It all comes down to process and preparation. But if you know me, you know I don’t always practise what I preach. Sometimes you need to be kind to yourself.
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).