Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The German Opera Project: Wagner's Ring in San Francisco

Achtung, Ring nuts!

It would be remiss of the Blogger not to advise all of you who have been following my self-directed German Opera Project, which you can read here and here, that the San Francisco Opera’s production of Wagner’s giant economy sized magnum opus Der Ring das Nibelungen has commenced performances very recently.

Scheduled to run from May 29 to July 3, director Francesca Zambello’s staging of the lengthy opera will be presented in three cycles that will allow opera fans to see the Ring in the intended chronological order. These cycles will play from June 14 to 19, June 21 to 26, and June 28 to July 3. The production, said to cost $4.6 million, will play a full length of 17 hours per cycle. The early reviews have been nothing short of phenomenal, and without the nasty backlash that accompanied the troubled LA Opera production that lost millions last year.

Off to play tennis with F. Scott Fitgerald.
Following in the grand tradition of modernist readings of the play, this new production is visually styled to capture the looks of the twentieth century. The look can best be described as a cross of the Titanic and The Great Gatsby. In other words, nary a Viking helmet or a spear will be seen, although it will be less visually experimental than the LA Opera’s Cirque du Soleil-go-on-an-acid-trip milieu. The gods in Valhalla are dressed as if they are out to go for tennis with F. Scott Fitzgerald himself.

Rough day at the office.
The look is heavily industrial and has a heavy Art Deco slant, but as the chronology unfolds, the looks evolve as well. The giants are dressed like construction workers dangling on a scaffold over Manhattan. Brunnhilde (played by Nina Stemme, the famed Swedish soprano who has drawn raves for her performances) appears in full business gear when not dressed in her Aviator-inspired armour, and would have undoubtedly rocked a board meeting or two. The result would have made Alexander McQueen proud and would look only mildly out of place on Project Runway (although one has yet to see Heidi Klum embrace her Teutonic roots on the show by appearing in full Viking gear). Much has been made of Chereau’s centennial Bayreuth production as a critique on modern capitalism 30 years ago. The implications are considerably more explicit here, as the art direction strongly recalls the Eurythmics’ seminal “Sweet Dreams” video, with a touch of Ayn Rand’s living room for good measure. 

This is not to say that the production is catered only to dedicated Wagnerites and opera fans. The SF Opera has launched a number of initiatives in order to make the Ring Cycle more accessible to the public, including a public symposium, online interviews and previews, and even an online learning course. 

Ring nuts
For those new to the Ring Cycle, the SF Opera has been hosting a number of educational outreach programs designed to initiate neophytes to this grand work. Worthy of note is a free online learning course that will introduce the work, its characters, narrative arc, and Wagner’s influences. This course is available online, but students can register only until June 15, 2011 to access these courses. Such an initiative speaks to the SF Opera’s dedication to educating the masses on high culture, and making the experience accessible, even if one cannot make this particular staging. This, folks, is how you cultivate your future audiences (and, by extension, donors and patrons to the company). More information can be obtained here

The SF Opera’s production will be a grand affair and, understanding that the opera is a rather hearty one, they will also serve hearty meals. The theatre will host full-scale German buffets in the lounges at a cost of $34.95 per person. There will even be an actual biergarten where a combo meal will be available for $14. For those who would like to make an economical experience of it, boxed lunches will also be prepared. More information on dining at the Ring, and local restaurants close to the theatre, is available here

The SF Opera’s presentation of Wagner’s Der Ring das Nibelungen will take place at the War Memorial Opera House, located at 401 Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco, one block from the SF Opera’s corporate offices. Click here for ticket information. As a whopping 92% of all tickets have been sold to date, you will want to book your seats today!