By Tim Douglas and Mark Schliebs
November 26, 2013
ELKE Neidhardt, the actress turned opera visionary who went on to become the first director to stage Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle in Australia, died yesterday, aged 72.
The German-born actress and director appeared in the television series Skippy and 1973 film Alvin Purple early in her career, but Neidhardt was most celebrated for directing the 2004 production of Ring Cycle.
The Adelaide production was the first Australian adaptation of the opera, and it was praised by critics around the world.
Three years earlier she had directed another Wagner opera, Parsifal, to similar fanfare.
Fellow director Noel Staunton, who worked alongside Neidhardt and had been a friend for many years, said her passing was a loss for opera in Australia.
"She had an enormous contribution to opera in Australia, and left it with some great productions," Staunton said. "In the opera world, she was a big influence. She will be sadly missed." Neidhardt recently had an operation after the discovery of several tumours but friends last night said they were uncertain of the cause of her death.
A graduate of the Stuttgart Drama and Opera School, she had her first experience directing as an assistant director at Zurich State Opera before appearing in productions around Europe.
The actress first made her name on Australian screens in 1968 as Anna Steiner in Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, before being appointed in 1977 as resident director at Opera Australia, a position she held for 13 years.
After taking on the directorship at Cologne State Opera, Neidhardt became well acquainted with Wagner's Ring Cycle, staging the work there three times. The 16-hour epic is currently being staged by Opera Australia in Melbourne. She returned to Australia and became the first director to stage the four-opera work in this country in the State Opera of South Australia's critically acclaimed production.
Neidhardt, also known as a judge on the ABC's amateur opera reality show Operatunity, married Australian actor Christopher Muir in the 1960s.
They had a son, Fabian, but divorced in 1967. Neidhardt went on to have a 35-year relationship with actor Norman Kaye, who died in 2007.
Born: 1941 Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany
Died: 11/25/2013, Melbourne, Australia
Elke Neidhart’s western – actress:
The True Story of Eskimo Nell – 1975