Royal Opera House 'shocked' as Terfel pulls out of Wagner

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It was due to be one of the highlights of London's opera season: a full staging of Wagner's four-part Ring Cycle, the first in the capital for more than a decade and featuring one of Britain's most celebrated baritones in a major role. Confirmation of the Royal Opera House's production of the complete Ring had sent a flurry of excitement around the world and, spurred on by the participation of Bryn Terfel, tickets had sold out within days. Seats for a single instalment were reportedly sold for more than £800.

But yesterday, a week into the eight-week rehearsal period, the opera company was forced to put out a stinging statement that provoked disappointment and fury in equal measure. Not for the first time in his illustrious career, Terfel had pulled out.

The singer, who was to play Wotan/The Wanderer, in the saga of gods and valkyries, had apparently attended one, nine-hour-long shift of rehearsals before deciding to cancel his performance. He cited a "particularly stressful family situation involving one of my children".

"Having begun rehearsals, it is clear to me that I would not be able to perform at the standard I would wish to and, rather than progressing through rehearsals in the hope I might make it, I feel it is better for the Royal Opera and the fantastic team working on this epic production that I withdraw at this stage," he added.

Terfel, who would have been performing in his first full cycle, performed in the indiviudal installments in 2004 when the ROH put on the four operas separately. A ROH spokeswoman said it would have been particularly satisfying for audiences to see Terfel, 41, complete the "epic journey".

It was not, however, the first time the singer has withdrawn from an ROH production. He pulled out of one performance in April 2000 because of a bad back, and changed his mind about appearing in another – this time not for the ROH – when his wife was about to give birth to their third child.

But, while the ROH generally takes resignations with good grace, its tone was markedly different this time round. Officially, a statement expressed the company's "shock and surprise" that he had cancelled, and spoke of the "disappointment it will bring to audiences who were looking forward to seeing him perform in a complete Ring Cycle for the first time."

Unofficially, cast members and musicians are said to be furious at his sudden departure. While Sir John Tomlinson, with whom he was sharing the role, will step into his shoes as Wotan, Sir John's dual role as Hagen will have to be filled in some performances. The move is said to have left the production's conductor, Antonio Pappano, also the ROH's musical director, particularly incensed.