John Wegner AO (16 January 1950 – 17 November 2019)
The great Australian Heldenbaritone, John was born in Germany and came to Australia at the tender age of 5. He started working life as a teacher, but became involved in amateur musicals in his spare time. This led to a choral part in Meistersinger for Australian Opera, and he later joined the company (initially as a Bass) at the behest of Richard Bonynge. Eventually, he became a prominent Wagnerian, here and across Europe: inter alia, Klingsor in Parsifal, Wotan in the 1998 Ring in Adelaide (and at Düsseldorf), Telramund in Lohengrin and Kurwenal in Tristan and Biterolf in Tannhäuser (all at Bayreuth), the Dutchman, etc. [*His full list of credits is linked below]. His great specialty as villains belied his warm, kind and generous nature.
He really came into his own as Alberich in Elke Neidhardt’s inspired Ring in Adelaide (2004); clad head to toe in shiny black leather – a fetishist’s dream – with his dramatic bearing, intense eyes, physical charisma and great voice, he made the role his own, accentuated the role appropriately, and brought the house down. It was a great pity that his illness – Parkinson’s disease – kept him from appearing in the Melbourne Ring of late 2013.
He was sublime in The Flying Dutchman, (2009) and The Varnished Culture last saw him in Tosca in Melbourne in 2010, a production we particularly detested. But John’s Baron Scarpia was sensational, a revelation among the shambles of that evening. Modernised in a trench coat, his threatening advance toward Tosca – step by step (like a game of ‘grandmother’s footsteps’), thrilled and repelled, showing how Wegner embraced his art completely. With a ruthless economy – no gesture wasted, theatrical but never gratuitous – he conveyed genuine menace, something much easier said than done. As an actor, John sublimated and then dared the kind of characterisation that stayed with the audience long after curtain. What one would have given to see his Klingsor in Parsifal!
John was the patron of the Richard Wagner Society of SA. In the recent RWSSA Newsletter**, Penny Hewson wrote: “John had one of those voices that you were always drawn to and recognised. The timbre would give you tingles up your spine and then there was his interpretation. If he was singing on ABC Classic FM, you would say ‘That’s John’ and you would listen more attentively.” And Lee Brauer wrote: “John Wegner received a Churchill Fellowship for Operatic Studies in Europe 1986, a Bayreuth Scholarship in 1987, numerous awards in Australia and Europe over the years, and in 2016 was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for “distinguished service to the performing arts as a world renowned operatic bass-baritone and as an ambassador for the cultural reputation of Australia.” The Richard Wagner Society of South Australia was honoured to have him as our Patron….So very many will miss John Wegner, and our deepest sympathy goes to Mignon and his extended family. Vale.”
“Doch mit dem Hort, in der Höhle gehäuft,
denk’ ich dann Wunder zu wirken:
die ganze Welt
gewinn’ ich mit ihm mir zu eigen!“***
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