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Wagner Would Love Jazz Treatment To Ring Cycle

Wagnerian opera and big band jazz “would’ve got on very well.”

One of the world’s greatest Wagnerian tenors believes German composer, Richard Wagner, would have enjoyed his arias receiving Rodger Fox’s big band arrangements.

Kiwi tenor, Simon O’Neill, and band leader, Rodger Fox, will put the musical masterpiece to the test when they perform Wagnerian jazz in four venues this month. Wagner Meets Big Band is launched in Palmerston North on Wednesday, October 21, followed by Wellington (October 22), Hamilton (October 24) and Auckland (October 25).

“Wagner would love a project like this. I think Richard and Rodger would get on very well,” Simon says. “Wagner took great excitement in performing his works with other musicians, like Franz Liszt for example.”

Next month O’Neill leaves for Germany to start rehearsing a new Wagnerian Ring Cycle, performing the title role in Siegfried.

The idea for Wagner Meets Big Band had its origins when, at Simon’s marriage, Rodger’s big band played at the reception and Simon saw the trailblazing concerts as payback for a perfect wedding day. While he’s never sung with the big band before, Simon was a “brass man” until the age of 24.

“I grew up with the big band sound and played piano in a dance band before moving on to tuba and upright bass in a standards band,” he recalls.

For the concerts in the four venues, Simon will sing new arrangements of arias from the Ring Cycle and complete the programme with Puccini’s Nessun Dorma. He holds Rodger Fox “in the highest echelon of not only jazz musicians but our whole music community.”

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Although Rodger conducts with every part of his body, Simon isn’t too worried about being brought in by his left leg. All he requires is a great Wagnerian motif from the trombones so he knows when to enter.

Simon has performed in the great opera houses and concert halls of the world including the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, La Scala, Berlin, Hamburg and at the Bayreuth, Salzburg, Edinburgh and BBC Proms Festivals.

Next year he’s scheduled for major performances in Europe, the UK, Asia and United States.

In the meantime, Simon welcomes audiences to grab a great Indian curry and roti takeaway and “come along and experience the hot spice of mid-19th century Germanic grand opera mixed with the Rodger Fox Big Band.”

“Your taste buds and ear drums will be treated to a great night out. You’ll experience two different styles of music being forged together.”

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