“The Highest Developments of Civilised Life”: Performances of Wagner in Colonial Melbourne

Brown paper cover musical concert program, early 20th Century
Souvenir, Wagner centenary orchestral concert, 28 June 1913. Rare Music, Archives and Special Collections, University of Melbourne.

Dulcie Hollyock Room, Ground Floor, Baillieu Library

  • Events

When Thomas Quinlan’s touring opera company performed Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung (the Ring Cycle) in Melbourne in 1913, audiences were so enthusiastic they persuaded the company to do a repeat performance. This talk traces how that love of Wagner was created, not necessarily through staged performance but through performance of excerpts of his music by choral societies as well as orchestral concerts and to a lesser extent informal performances of a more popular nature. Join Professor Kerry Murphy and Research Fellow Sue Cole from the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music as they trace Wagner’s significant presence in Australia, chiefly Melbourne, prior to World War I.

Speaker Bios:

Kerry Murphy is Professor of Musicology at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, The University of Melbourne. Her research interests focus chiefly on 19th-century French music and music criticism and colonial Australian music history, and she has published widely in these areas. She is currently researching the impact of travelling virtuosi and opera troupes to Australia and the Australian music publisher and patron, Louise Hanson-Dyer.

Sue Cole is an Honorary Research Fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, at the University of Melbourne.  Her primary research area is revivals of early English choral music, but she was also published on the Melbourne and Metropolitan Liedertafels in nineteenth-century Melbourne, with a particular focus on the reception of Wagner and his music.

“Illustrating Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung”

Baillieu Library, Ground floor,  On display from 20 February 2023

Curated by Jen Hill, Curator, Rare Music, Archives and Special Collections

“Illustrating Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung” features depictions of characters and incidents from each of the four operas, drawing on material held in the Rare Music, Rare Books and Prints collections of the University’s Archives and Special Collections. The gods, valkyries, giants and dragons of the operas have proved potent sources of inspiration for visual artists since they were first performed. The exhibit centres on the period 1887–1913 when Jugendstil (the German equivalent of Art Nouveau), with its elaborate borders and sinuous lines, was the dominant visual aesthetic. The exhibit is timed to coincide with the performances in Bendigo of the complete Ring cycle by Melbourne Opera, the first time it has been heard live in regional Australia and with the beginning of Semester 1 at the University of Melbourne.

Jen Hill has been curator, Rare Music, Archives and Special Collections since 2016 and is also an Honorary Research Fellow at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. Exhibitions she has curated at the University include Bowerbird to Lyrebird: The Louise Hanson-Dyer Music Collection (with Richard Excell); Becoming Wagnerites: Richard Wagner and Australia; and Dark Imagining: Gothic Tales of Wonder (with Susan Thomas).

For information about Melbourne Opera's production of Richard Wagner's mammoth Der Ring Des Nibelungen (Ring Cycle), 24 March - 2 April 2023, visit the website