Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel (pictured) has wrought havoc at the Royal Opera House by pulling out of all performances of Covent Garden’s first staging of Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle in more than a decade. The cycle - the first production of which, Das Rheingold, opens in less than a month (on 2 October) – has been sold out for more than a year, with top-price tickets costing more than £800.

In a statement issued by his agent, Terfel cited personal reasons for his last-minute withdrawal: "I am deeply sorry that I feel it necessary to cancel my performances at Covent Garden this autumn. I have had a particularly stressful family situation involving one of my children this summer which has affected the time I had put aside to prepare for this challenging role. 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 rehearsal in the hope that 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."

The ROH responded with a press release yesterday in which it “expressed shock and surprise at Bryn Terfel's cancellation, acknowledging the disappointment it will bring to audiences who were looking forward to seeing him perform in a complete Ring Cycle for the first time.”

The role of Wotan/the Wanderer will now be sung by Sir John Tomlinson, who earlier this year won the Special Award at the Oliviers for “his definitive interpretations of a wide variety of roles for the bass voice across the operatic repertoire”. Tomlinson was originally scheduled to sing the role of Hagen in Götterdämmerung. This will now be sung by Kurt Rydl.

The Ring Cycle comprises four operas - Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung - which are performed at the Opera House in German with English surtitles. Terfel appeared in Keith Warner’s productions of the first two parts, originally staged in 2004 and 2005.

This isn’t the first time that Terfel has committed a no-show at Covent Garden. In 2000, he pulled out of the ROH production of Wagner’s Der Fliegende Holländer following a back injury. In July, he played the “demon barber of Fleet Street” alongside musical stars Maria Friedman, Philip Quast and Daniel Evans in the star-studded concert presentation of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, which ran for four performances only at the newly reopened Royal Festival Hall (See News, 14 Jun 2007).

- by Terri Paddock