Standing for Valhalla: the passion, endurance and strategy it takes to stand through the Ring at SF Opera
Those attending the full Ring cycle at San Francisco Opera will spend 17 hours just watching the 4 performances but for those who choose the standing room ticket option, the hours multiply. One hundred and fifty standing room tickets for last night’s opening performance of Das Rheingold went on sale at 10 a.m. yesterday morning at the War Memorial Opera House. An additional 50 tickets went on sale at 5 p.m. and all 200 were sold. Charlise Tiee, of Alameda, arrived “before 7 a.m.” and stood for 3 hours to buy the coveted #1 standing room ticket. That allowed her to stand again–at the side of opera house– and enter 70 minutes before the performance and select her place to stand for the two hour and 40 minute performance. Her standing-in-line to standing-in-performance ratio: roughly 2 to 1. “It will get better with the 4 and 5 hour performances.”
This is Tiee’s 6th Ring cycle and the 34 year old, who studied viola and piano, started her ring thing when she was 26. Tiee was a stand-out in last night’s line because she came dressed in a green satin brocade gown as Erda, the goddess of earth and mother of the three Norns. It is Erda who warns Wotan to give up the ring after taking it from Alberich. It is Erda who sees into the future and possesses great wisdom. “I’ve been planning this,” she said.
At 7:30 a.m., there were 4 people in line for the $10 standing room tickets. By 10 a.m., there were 40 people, and the line was growing. Tiee is an SF Opera subscriber but also enjoys the thrill of nabbing the first standing room ticket and the flexibility of standing “I can move around more.” Her strategy for the special evening was simple—she was going to stand on the orchestra level, on the right side by the pillar “to enhance the contrast with my outfit.” Tiee is also well known for her lively blog– The Opera Tattler—that tracks her experiences attending opera performances as a standee in San Francisco and beyond. Her writing is not limited to the performance but to what she sees and hears and “tattles” about the audience as a standee. Tiee also presides over the Opera Standees Association, a social club for people in the Bay Area who love opera and met in standing room. OSA meets and also financially sponsors a Merola Opera Program summer participant.
This really isn’t about saving money, it’s about experiencing opera,” said Tiee. “A lot of people who attend are in it for the social experience, which is fine. It’s not easy to keep standing and the people in standing room tend to be more serious and very well-informed about the performances. I have attended most of the dress rehearsals and will go to all three cycles. I am interested in how it all evolves–you hear and see things at one performance that you won’t experience again because it’s live art.”
Members of the standing group consider themselves “exceedingly lucky” because the SF Opera Company is so good and because the people in the box office are friendly and supportive of standees. This is not the case at other opera venues where standees are valued “at about the price they pay for their tickets.”
Lauren Knoblauch drove straight from Seattle on Monday evening, leaving right after work, and took a chance on standing room tickets, “Oh, I knew I could get them—they’ve got 200.” She decided to nap some but still managed to snag standing room ticket #119. Knoblauch has been to Rings all over the world and likes to travel light. Wotan has his spear and Siegfried has Nothung and she has her special ergonomic shoes—with separate toes—that make standing easy. “I haven’t heard too much about the production itself or Zambello,” said Knoblauch. “I know it goes from different ages—starting in one period and ending in another. I try not to let the production bother me. I go for the music and the singing and the acting and let the director do whatever he or she is going to do. Afterwards, I’ll tell you what I think.”
After securing her place inside the opera house on the orchestra level, Knoblauch began texting and lo and behold, Charlise Tiee, standing next to her was the recipient. As it turns out, the two have tweeted and texted each other about the performance for some time and met in person that evening. When asked about Das Rheingold’s opening video projection scenes, by Jan Hartley, of billowing clouds and waves of water, Tiee responded “I do like an interesting production. To me it looks like a video game and I’ve played a lot of video games and seen a lot of movies that feature CGI (computer generated imagery). That stuff is competing in the opera for our attention but it’s a much better match with the music than what they used in 2008.”
Ring Schedule Cycle 1: last night (June 15, 2011), Das Rheingold (2 hours, 35 minutes, no intermission); tonight, Die Walküre (4 hours, 30 minutes with two intermissions); Friday Siegfried (4 hours and 50 minutes with two intermissions); Sunday Götterdämmerung(5 hours and 15 minutes with two intermissions). The cycle repeats two more times, June 21-26 and June 28-July 3, 2011.
Standing Room for the Ring: There are 200 standing room tickets for each performance in the Ring cycle, and 150 of these go on sale at 10 a.m. the day of the performance at the War Memorial Opera House. The remaining 50 are sold 2 hours before the performance. Tickets are $10, cash only, and each person may buy 2 tickets. Standees may enter on the south side of the opera house, across the street from Davies Symphony on Grove Street, 70 minutes before the curtain time. The tickets are numbered and sold in order. One enters the opera house by number, and there is a numbered line painted on the ground outside. The standing room areas are on the orchestra level and the back of the balcony. For availability, call the Opera Box Office at (415) 864-3330