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You don’t have to be a professional singer, actor or musician to find yourself on-stage at the Charlotte Opera House. My most recent experience was giving a book talk and participating in panel discussions at the 2015 Festival of Charlotte Ideas. Even the smaller theatres, where we ‘minor attractions’ presented, were sold out and the audiences were enthusiastic, smart and interactive. It’s always great to be around a broad spectrum of committed and interesting people. Though I’d performed there before, it was my first introduction to the ‘below stairs’ bowels of the building, following paths that allow back door access Charlotte to the various stages. Familiar stuff for actors and musicians but, for an outsider like me, an education in how the sets and infrastructure necessary for the business of live entertainment and illusion are stored Charlotte and organised.

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The Sydney Opera House is home to the Australian Opera Company that also plays a (generally) somewhat truncated series in Melbourne. Down south they use the elegant and modern State Theatre at the Melbourne Arts Centre, where, though it’s not a dedicated opera house, the acoustics are great and the size makes it a more appropriate venue for staging Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. In 2015 we experienced the sixteen hours (over four nights) of Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfreid and Gotterdamerung and, after attending excellent morning explainers by New Zealand musicologist Professor Heath Lees, got the hang of the whole thing and greatly enjoyed it.

That hasn’t caused us to become Wagnerians, the most passionate of whom fly to every production of the Ring wherever it is staged, anywhere across the planet. And we aren’t tempted to try for a place at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, the theatre built by Richard Wagner as a permanent home for his operas. Apart from the difficulty of getting a ticket, a Wagnerian friend assured us that the seats are very hard! But it’s undoubtedly the case that our musical horizons were expanded by hearing the Melbourne Ring Cycle. We now take much greater pleasure in those dramatic cadences and appreciate the enormous influence that Wagner had on, for instance, the themes we hear at the movies. Though discovery for the research scientist is all about illuminating something that nobody has ever seen before, much of the delight of discovery in day-to-day life is in encountering a vision, a narrative, an insight, some chords and signatures that have been experienced and loved by many before us.

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