This week's music event hints at conductor Edo de Waart's grand plan to present opera's biggest opus If there is anyone around here with the credentials to present the great Romantic German opera composer Richard Wagner, it would have to be Edo de Waart, artistic director and chief conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. When the Philharmonic presents its all-Wagner evenings this Friday and Saturday, you can be sure Maestro de Waart will be in his element. The concerts, billed as a 'Wagner Gala', include an orchestral suite based on Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg), the composer's only comic opera, an aria from Tannhauser, and two excerpts from his monumental four-opera, 16-hour epic, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). Amsterdam-born de Waart has conducted Wagner operas at the prestigious Wagner festival in Bayreuth, Germany, and has led Wagner Ring cycles in San Francisco and Sydney. The music of Wagner cast its spell very early in de Waart's career. He has described his first encounter with Der Ring des Nibelungen as an 'out-of-body experience' when, as a young man barely in his '20s, he saved money and bought the box of 15 to 16 long-playing vinyl records of Georg Solti conducting the entire cycle. From the first moments of hearing The Ring, de Waart was spellbound. 'Wagner's music is simply magical,' de Waart enthused. 'You think you know the music inside out, but then you listen to it more and realise there is another layer of music that the composer had added miraculously.' Hong Kong music lovers, and Wagnerites, in particular, will be wondering whether the gala is a sign of big things to come. So far, no one in Hong Kong has considered attempting the colossal Ring. The Ring has been performed many times in Japan in recent decades, it was presented for the first time in Taiwan in September last year, and a Thai impresario plans to give an exotic, 'oriental' reading of the Ring in Bangkok over the next few years. Is Hong Kong ready for The Ring? Maestro de Waart thinks we are. 'Although Wagner's music might not be tremendously popular in Hong Kong, and it has not been widely performed, I would like to bring his music to Hong Kong - and it has to be the Ring cycle, for the sheer power of the music,' de Waart said. 'We have plans to give concert performances of the Ring operas, one per year, starting in the 2008/2009 season.' Not long ago, de Waart gave highly successful opera-in-concert performances here of two of Richard Strauss's most powerful stage works. 'I was overwhelmed by the reception of Salome and Elektra,' de Waart said. 'I won't say I am testing the audience with the Wagner gala concert, but it certainly serves as a good indication of what they can expect when we eventually perform the Ring cycle in concert.' The gala will also serve as a dry run for the Hong Kong Philharmonic in working through those heavy, heady, multilayered Wagner scores. 'For the benefit of our musicians, it is also a good opportunity for them to know what it takes to perform this repertoire of music and have some real stage experience with it,' he said. Wagner's revolutionary approach to opera writing marked the end of the distinction between orchestra and singer, thus elevating the orchestra's importance from the pit to the stage. 'There is something unique about story-telling in operas such as Wagner's Ring cycle,' de Waart explained. 'It has a special place in the repertoire because the story of the opera is told as much by the orchestra as it is by any action on stage. 'Wagner developed a technique of operatic composition which uses a different theme for each character, event or place, and those themes, which come to life in the orchestral writing, tell the story. 'The orchestra is a much bigger part of the action in these operas than it is in the operas of Mozart or Verdi. Having the orchestra on stage in the concert hall rather than in the orchestra pit of a theatre means that the richness and detail of the orchestral score is fully revealed.' Purists concerned that de Waart might have something fancy in mind, like the future Bangkok production with its promised Asian slant and oriental trappings, need not fear. 'How many times have you been to the opera and been horrified by this week's enfant terrible director's distorted, updated version of the opera?' de Waart said. Wagner's Ring will be delivered in its purest form, in concert format, with the full orchestra on stage and the singers arrayed in front of it, facing the audience, no stage props and lighting effects to detract from the music. 'When opera is performed in concert, the audience's imagination is given full freedom to respond to the composer's creative vision,' he said. 'When I conduct the Ring cycle in the near future in Hong Kong, this is the type of performance I would like to give.' The two excerpts from The Ring on the gala concert programme are the 'Ride of the Valkyries' from Die Walkure, the second opera in the four-part Ring cycle, and the Funeral March and Immolation scene from Gotterdammerung (Twilight of the Gods), The Ring's closing opera. Does de Waart have anything to say to concert-goers who are awaiting an introduction to Wagner? 'I suggest you open your mind and be prepared to be taken to a place you've never been before.'