So how did Opera Australia’s Ring Cycle measure up against the great productions of history?

Wagner is never more Wagner than when difficulties multiply tenfold,” said Friedrich Nietzsche in his  Untimely Meditations, written in the 1870s when the composer was completing Der Ring des Nibelungen. Through the power of music and his ingenious system of emotional reminiscence Wagner sought to “subdue contending masses to a simple rhythm,” as Nietzsche put it. But the  Ring’s superabundance of ideas continually threatens its unity. Stage directors have often exploited the work’s tendency to fragment, and Neil Armfield in his Melbourne production for Opera Australia is the latest to do so.

The traditional approach to staging the  Ring – at least before Patrice Chéreau’s centenary production at Bayreuth – was to surrender to the centripetal force of the music, matching the leitmotiv-rich musical fabric with a similarly consistent and unifying visual language. This process was aided by the extraordinary lengths to which Wagner went to impose unity on his enterprise, demonstrated with complete mastery in  Götterdämmerung. As others have observed, there is scarcely a bar in that work that does not refer forward or back or sideways or all three, as well as to the situation in hand. No...