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San Francisco Opera’s Ring closes today and marks Verna Parino’s 61st Ring cycle

Ring aficionado Verna Parino, 94 years young, at San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House prior to the June 14, 2011 performance of “Das Rheingold,” her 59th Ring cycle. Photo: Geneva Anderson

 As the curtain closes later today on San Francisco Opera’s production of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen, it will mark Verna Parino’s 61st Ring cycle and I could not pass up the opportunity to talk with her about what makes a Ring memorable.  Parino, now a spry 94, first heard Wagner on the radio when she was about 16 and was mesmerized but it wasn’t until 1971, when she was 54, that she actually saw her first Ring cycle. 

She made up quickly for lost time.  In the past 40 years, she has travelled to 18 countries and seen 61 cycles in places as far flung as Shanghai and Adelaide, and has befriended Ring “trekkies” all over the world.  Not only did she embrace the Ring, she embraced opera as well and for years headed the Marin chapter of the San Francisco Opera Guild’s Preview Program, retiring just last year.  I caught up with her in mid-June at Das Rheingold of Cycle 1, which marked Ring No. 59 for her, and again a week later at a Wagner Society of Northern California Ring symposium and she was full of exuberance for Wagner’s musical epic.

You’ve see so many Rings now, what type of production do you prefer and what makes it exciting for you?

The first thing to determine is if goes along with Wagner.  Something that is not Wagner, like last year’s Los Angeles Opera production, I didn’t like at all and I complained bitterly about that.  You can be innovative and modernize the setting but make it apply to what Wagner was writing about. 

And if you don’t react to the staging, it’s not a good production.  For me, if I don’t cry when Wotan has to punish his child, then it’s not a good production because as a parent it’s very painful to punish your child and you do cry.   When Speight Jenkins staged his first Ring at the Seattle Opera, I didn’t cry at that father having to punish his child and I didn’t think the production was very good.  With his later productions, I did cry and it all came together.

It’s Wagner’s music that tells you what’s going on, not always the words.  Here, at this Ring, I am trying something that is quite different for me—I am trying to find an ending in the music.  Wagner spent a lifetime searching for the answers to civilization’s problems.  He used the universal language of myth to portray man’s foibles and composed some of the most glorious music ever to represent the deepest emotional reactions of love and parental discipline.  But, after sixteen hours of the most monumental work of art ever envisioned, Wagner was still searching for an ending of how to govern the world.   Several solutions were dismissed and he finally gave us the answer through his music.  It’s the churning music, representing the convoluted story of mankind, that brings about a positive conclusion with a rebirth, a renewal, as indicated in the source materials of the Norse Poetic Edda.   The music itself is so exciting—it tells you that life is really hard and the answers are difficult to come by but that’s why I keep coming back time and time again trying to find the answer.  

Who are the heroes for you?  

Many people say that all the women represent the truth and that ‘love conquers all’ and that it’s Brünnhilde and that it’s the men who let the world down with their greed and negative attributes.   Brünnhilde wasn’t true to herself.  She goes after revenge and that’s not the answer.  Of course, Brünnhilde grew–she understands what has happened but she’s betrayed herself.  She finds out too late what the truth is and by then it’s all set in motion.  Wotan, well, he just accepts that he’s done it all wrong and that he can’t fix it any more. 

It’s interesting to analyze the characters because with each director, in each new production and portrayal, you might see something that has been added that makes sense to you.  I attended a talk last night and was struck with a realization about Alberich.  He was evil, and greedy, and power-driven but he admitted it and he was therefore true to himself, honest about his nature.  It is Wotan who pretends that he is righteous when he’s not–he is really driven by greed and takes advantage of other people and ultimately pays the price.  Siegmund is the only true hero, the only one who remains true to himself and to his love Sieglinde.   That was new to me that Siegmund was the true hero.  

And then, of course, you have to bring your own thoughts in too and ask yourself what you see in it all.  It depends on where you come from and we all have different backgrounds.  I’m Swedish and I married an Italian and I love German and I’ve had many adventures around the world.  Wherever we come from, we bring all that with us when we sit down and watch what’s on stage.  I just can’t wait to see it all unfold again.

What’s your overall impression of Francesca Zambello’s production, now that you’ve seen all three cycles?

Upon reflection today, thinking about the reasons this San Francisco Ring is such a positive success, and why people leave the Opera House smiling and saying it was great, most important is the fact that it is true to Wagner.  It was not some director’s concept of what he thought Wagner might have said.  It was not a ‘glitsey’ controversial, sensationalized staging for the sake of controversy or publicity.  Although Wagner used giants, dwarfs, gods, and dragons, they are symbols or archetypes of the people we know around about our worlds–our neighbors, even ourselves. We identify with them. We read about them in today’s news. 

The direction was humanized. Wotan was bored with his wife Fricka’s complaints so he picked up the newspaper and read. Then Fricka, bored with Wotan’s explanation of the extended view of world leadership, also picked up the newspaper and read. Francesca Zambello welcomed suggestions from the cast so that performers were part of a team, acting in ways that seemed normal.  It seemed as though there was a communal joy and presenting this Ring.

Wagner appreciated the natural world as illustrated many times in this epic story. The destruction of our environment—water, air, earth—has formed the basis for the sets of many productions (Cologne + Rhein River pollution, Berlin + junk yards, Arizona + Colorado River diversion, Oslo and Warsaw + barren trees).  In San Francisco’s Gotterdammerung there were piles of junked plastic bags that the Rheinmaidens picked up.

New questions to ponder:  Was Siegmund really a hero if he was willing to slay his bride and unborn child because they could not go with him to Valhalla?  Was Brünnhilde really a heroine, and really true to her inner self, if she was willing to conspire with Hagen for her husband’s death?   Is a yellow ‘sail’ that balloons into the air and finally dissolves into the river, a likely gold that can be stolen?  If Gutrune is so willing to jump into the king-size bed with Hagen, while waiting for Siegfried to return to marry her, should she participate so prominently in the finale supporting Brunnhilde’s memorial dedication?

And, this being a music-drama, the music itself was simply outstanding.  Leading the outstanding cast was Nina Stemme, today’s world-famous Brünnhilde. Returning to conduct the San Francisco Opera Orchestra was Donald Runnicles, internationally acclaimed for his work with Wagner.  The music of the finale is positive, so that using again a child planting a small tree representing a new beginning, is logical. Wagner’s early revolutionary ideas took many philosophical turns. How should the world’s ending be portrayed?  ‘Tis a puzzlement’ that Wagnerians will continue to ponder.

July 3, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sonoma Chapter of the San Francisco Opera Guild readies for the Ring…Cori Ellison speaks Thursday at Kenwood Depot

Cori Ellison, dramaturg and consultant for Francesca Zambello's new production of the Ring cycle currently at San Francisco Opera, will lecture on Wagner's Ring cycle to branches of the SF Opera Guild. Photo: Carol Rosegg

 This Thursday, June 9, 2011, the Sonoma Chapter of the San Francisco Opera Guild will host Cori Ellison, dramaturg, New York City Opera, who will offer an in-depth look at Wagner’s Ring cycle operas.  Ms. Ellison will speak at 10:30 a.m. at the Kenwood Depot in Kenwood, CA.  San Francisco Opera Guild preview lectures bring renowned musicologists to the greater Bay Area for an in-depth look at the season’s operas.  Cori Ellison was a consultant to Francesca Zambello in the new production of the San Francisco Opera’s Ring cycle which is beginning next Tuesday, June 14 and running through July 3, 2011.  Ellison is also speaking this week at the Marin, San Jose, Peninsula, San Francisco, and East Bay Chapters of the San Francisco Opera Guild.   She will also talk about female protagonists in the Ring in an all day Ring Symposium (“Wagner’s Ring: The Love of Power, the Power of Love—Cycle 1 Symposium.”) sponsored by the Wagner Society of Northern California on Saturday, June 18, 2011.

Ellison’s talk in Kenwood will establish why Wagner’s Ring is so popular and important.  She will situate the 4 operas contextually in Wagner’s career, in European history, and in philosophical thought, also discussing his source materials.  She will introduce Wagner’s idea of “Gesamtkunstwerk” or “total work of art” that aims to make use of all or many forms of art.  She will also give signposts that the audience can grab onto throughout the production to help them get the most out of their experience, with emphasis on leitmotifs.  She will also share special details about the production based on her experience as part of Francesca Zambello’s core creative team.

“One of the wonderful things about Wagner and the Ring is that it really sparks deep thought and conversation in a way that other operas don’t,” said Ellison. “One of the biggest challenges in talking about Wagner, which I’ve done all over the country for a number of years, is that you are pretty much in a little red school house situation where some of the people are themselves experts and the others are novices.  Bridging this divide is tricky—I’ll try to find thoughts that will be of help to both groups.”

“What interests me most about Francesca’s production in San Francisco is that she has so wisely revealed the threads that speak to the American experience in particular.  Of course, every character speaks to forces within each of us, but she’s managed to make us see America too.  That’s why she’s a visionary–no one sees the big picture the way she does.”

Swedish Soprano Nine Stemme, one of the finest Wagner sopranos of our day, has received rave reviews for her Brünnhilde in the San Francisco Opera’s premiere productions of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Francesca Zambello’s new production emphasizes the role of the spiritual feminine and Brünnhilde emerges as the true hero in the four epic dramas. Photo: Cory Weaver

“And without Wagner’s even realizing it, this is so much a story about women and the way they are treated by society and how what’s unique in the feminine can save the world,” added Ellison.  “This is not superimposed by Francesca–it’s organic in the work, but it took Francesca to see that and tease it out in this remarkable way.  It’s like looking at a vast tapestry where there are millions of details and she finds one of those details that she feels is a basic.  She shines a light on it and, of course, that leads to what she’s know for–some very psychologically probing interpretations.”  

The Sonoma guild has roughly 1,500 members, 250 of whom are active participants.  “We’ll have a turn-out for this lecture because of the group’s interest in Wagner,” said Neva Turer, who’s been running the group for several years now.   The guild’s educational component is one of its most important functions.  “We host 6 annual music education lectures for our members and the community with experts selected by the San Francisco Opera,” said Turer.  “Even if people don’t make it in to the operas themselves, they will get a lot out of these wonderful talks.  We also do education programs in about 25 local schools to provide the important foundation that they can’t anymore with all the cuts they’ve had.”

It was Turer who worked with Ky Boyd to bring the very popular Met Opera: Live in HD opera broadcasts to the (former) Rialto Lakeside Cinemas.  The series, now in its 5th season, is currently held at the Jackson Theatre at Sonoma Country Day School and is a program of the Jewish Community Center of Sonoma County by arrangement with Rialto Cinemas.  “I had to plead with Ky to get them to bring this here and I promised that we’d fill the seats,” explained Turer. “Now, it’s become a phenomenon with a life of its own.”   Attendees have had their Wagner appetites whetted this season with two ambitious Robert Lepage productions in the Met’s new Ring Cycle. Das Rheingold, which opened the 2010-11 Met Opera: Live in HD season and Die Walküre, which it closed with in May.

“We have members in our group who live for Wagner and some new ones who are excited to get into it,” explained Turer.  “We are all looking forward to this SF Opera production.  Several saw Zambello’s 2008 production of Das Rheingold in San Francisco and we’re waiting to see how it all comes off.    

In San Francisco Opera’s new production of Götterdämmerung (Act 3, Scene 2), the three Rhinemaidens—Woglinde (Stacey Tappan), Wellgunde (Lauren McNeese) and Flosshilde (Renee Tatum) are dressed in filthy gowns and are surrounded by washed up plastic bottles as they mourn the lost Rhine gold and plead with Siegfried (Ian Storey) to act now and return the ring to avoid the coming crisis. Photo: Cory Weaver.

David Marsten of Calistoga is one member of Sonoma group who has seen the Ring over 20 times and has a passion and breadth of knowledge that is inspirational.   When I called him, he was just running off to St. Helena with books and recordings to share with a member who was new to the cycle.  Marsten tries to catch all the major performances and has found camaraderie in the group.  In 2009, when his granddaughter was being born, he suddenly found himself with a spare ticket to a Ring cycle in Seattle, so he persuaded another member, who he didn’t know at the time, to spontaneously travel with him to see the performance.  He also went to the Los Angeles Opera’s cycle in 2010.

“When you’ve done this for awhile, and needless to say, you have recordings of all the major performances—you find that there’s an enormous breadth of interpretation, different versions of the same opera, and that’s exciting.  It’s amazing that Götterdämmerung, for example, can be as short as 5 ½ hours and as long as 6 ½ hours and that’s without intermission, just straight musically.   You come to the realization that this breadth can encompass very slow conducting to more rapid versions—and generally it’s all valid.  And what makes it work is that concept of Gesamtkunstwerk—a unity of the arts–when it all comes together poetically.”

“Wagner was one of the few operatic conductors who really did it all,” said Marsten.  “He wrote the story and then he put the text into a very curious verse form of the archaic German ‘stabreim’ (alliteration) which had the effect of liberating him from normal rhyme patterns.  Then, he wrote the music and created all sorts of incredible effects with a huge orchestra that he could only imagine.  In fact, in the case of the brass section, he invented three completely new instruments that didn’t exist previously—the Wagner tuba, bass trumpet and bass trombone.  The most amazing thing about this was that he imagined the sound he needed to complete the tonal range and it was written on paper and lived inside of his head for 25 years until he actually heard it in the rehearsals in 1876.   He was just a remarkable visionary…. It’s not so easy, but step by step, you enter and you begin to see that beyond the genius of the music itself, it’s all a gigantic metaphor, like a Tibetan sand mandala, that operates on many levels that you can work your way around and into.”

Marsten’s recommendation: buy and read William Cord’s An Introduction to Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.  Cord is a former music professor at Sonoma State University and has written extensively and insightfully on Wagner and the Ring

Enjoying Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung with Speight Jenkins is a 2 CD set, one per opera, of the 1954 Bayreuth performance, with each playing about an hour that presents some of the major themes and leitmotifs in the Ring.

M. Owen Lee’s (University of Toronto) Wagner’s Ring: Turning the Sky Round, an excellent introduction to the Ring cycle.

Details:  Cori Ellison will speak Thursday, June 9, 2011, at 10:30 a.m. at the Kenwood Depot, 314 Warm Springs Road, Kenwood, CA.  Admission is $10 at the door.  Refreshments will be served.  For more information, contact Pat Clothier at (707) 538-2549 or Neva Turer at (707) 539-1220.     

Visit sfopera.com/calendar and select “Ring Festival Event” from the “All Events” dropdown menu to explore upcoming events by month.

June 6, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the eve of twlight—SF Opera premieres Götterdämmerung with a new Siegfried, as its Ring Cycle continues this Sunday, June 5, 2011

In Götterdämmerung’s prologue, Brünnhilde (Nine Stemme) and Siegfried (Ian Storey) emerge from their cave and sing a rapturous duet and then Brünnhilde sends Siegfried off to perform more heroic deeds. He leaves her the ring as a sign of his faithfulness and she gives him her horse, Grane. Photo: Cory Weaver

I can’t wait for Sunday’s premiere of Götterdämmerung, (literally “Twilight of the Gods”), part of  San Francisco Opera’s new production of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), which will run through July 3, 2011 and feature  three complete cycles of the four-opera cycle.  This is where it all comes together—over 5 hours with two short intermissions—in a highly anticipated finale by acclaimed stage director Francesca Zambello.  Naturally, the actual production details are a secret but based on last Sunday’s premiere of Siegfried, the third Ring opera, we know that Zambello is making a bold statement about environmentalism, global stewardship and loss of values with an American emphasis. Brünnhilde’s evolution into a true hero in her own right is also emphasized as part of a strong story arch emphasizing the power of the feminine.  Most notably the opera will feature Swedish powerhouse Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde, probably the best Wagner soprano working these days.  Tenor Ian Storey as Siegfried takes over the role from tenor Jay Hunter Morris, who sung Siegfried without fanfare in last weekend’s premiere of  Siegfried.   I am hopeful that Storey will inject some energy into this final drama and that there’s passion and naughty heat between him and Stemme which is what makes this all credible.  From what I’ve heard…there’s a lot to look forward to–  

“It’s the Sistine Chapel of music.  We’ve got Runnacles, the Wagner conductor, and Nina Stemme, the Brünnhilde—it’s an extraordinary triumph,” said Kristina Flanagan, a former Petaluma resident and one of the one of the three chairpersons of the SFOpera Ring committee that raised the $24 million for the production.  Flanagan has sat in on most of the rehearsals for Siegfried and Götterdämmerung and knows all the details about the delights to come.  “This production is so to the point.  The final scene in Götterdämmerung… I will not spoil it now… but there will not be a dry eye in the house.  It will slay you.”

“You’re looking at the pursuit of power over love and straight at the power of the spiritual feminine to pull us through,” said Flanagan who will be speaking at the Commonweal Gallery in Bolinas on June 12 with Jean Shinoda Bolen and Francesca Zambello about Goddess-Archetypes in the Ring Cycle and in us.  “This production was conceived 5 or 6 years ago–before the crash, before the tsunami’s, before the tornado devastation and before the real solid evidence of the consequences of the Wotan in all of us.  I think that’s the way this must be taken—every character describes some force within us as human beings.  I think of American human beings in particular.  One could say that we have really lost our stature in the world as a result of the exact dynamic that Albrecht and Wotan are developing.  One could also say that this is a dynamic that is traditionally associated with the male.”  

With the fall of heroes, gods and the entire world, Götterdämmerung brings the cycle to the very cataclysmic end that our beloved planet Earth is fast-tracking.   And then there’s the music.  While still composing the Ring, Wagner took a twelve year break from Siegfried during which he completed Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.  When he returned to complete the third act of Siegfried and to write the music of Götterdämmerung, he had undergone a tremendous change in his musical thinking and compositional style and all of Götterdämmerung is written in this advanced style which is breathtaking by comparison.

The Ring Up Until Now…

Renouncing love, the dwarf Alberich – chief of Nibeluns – stole the Rhinegold from the Rhinemaidens, and had his brother Mime fashion it into a ring which gives its owner supreme power.  Wotan, the chief god, stole the ring from Alberich to pay-off two giants, Fasolt and Fafner, for building his fortress Valhalla.  Alberich cursed the ring and Wotan yielded it over to the giants; Fafner immediately killed Fasolt, then took the form of a dragon in order to guard it.

Wotan sired human (mortal) twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde, who committed incest, leading Fricka (Wotan’s wife and goddess of marriage) to demand retribution. Wotan presided over Siegmund’s death. Sieglinde died in childbirth and their son Siegfried was left as an orphan and raised by Mime, who was let down by love and has his own scheme for world domination.

Siegfried reforged his father’s sword, killed Mime and then Fafner, and acquired the ring, though he was unaware of its value. Wotan had also fathered nine warrior-daughters, the Valkyries.  Brünnhilde, his favorite, disobeyed him, and as a punishment, she was put to sleep, surrounded by fire.  Siegfried broke through the fire, awoke her with a kiss, and persuaded her that their love was of more value than her being a goddess.

Götterdämmerung: 5 hours 15 minutes, includes two intermissions, German with English supertitles

Lead Roles:  Swedish soprano Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde; Wagnerian tenor Ian Storey as Siegfried.  (In April, due to health issues, Storey slated to sing Siegfried in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, relinquished the role of Siegfried in Siegfried.) Italian bass Andrea Silvestrellli as Hagen. 

History:  Premiered at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 17 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of The Ring.  The title “Twilight of the Gods” is a translation into German of the Old Norse phrase Ragnarök, which in Norse mythology refers to a prophesied war of the gods that brings about the end of the world.

Götterdämmerung is the fourth drama in the Ring but Wagner actually composed the dramatic texts with Götterdämmerung first (in 1848) and then kept embellishing the story, following with Siegfried, Die Walküre, and then Das Reingold.  The musical compositions followed much later beginning with Das Reingold in 1854, then Die Walküre, Siegfried and ending with Götterdämmerung in 1874.  

Story: Hagen (Andrea Silvestrelli), Alberich’s (Gordon Hawkins) son, uses a potion and entraps Siegfried (Ian Storey), who betrays Brünnhilde (Nina Stemme) and is killed.

Important Moments:

Prologue:  Siegfried’s Rhine Journey:  At dawn, Siegfried leaves Brünnhilde and travels down from the mountain to seek adventure and heroic deeds.  This extended orchestral piece is often played separately.

Act II:  “Schläfst du, Hagen, mein Sohn?” (Are you sleeping my son Hagen?)  Manipulative Alberich enters the subconscious of his son Hagen who is sleeping and deeply disturbed. 

Spear Oath:  Siegfried swears on a spear that he has not dishonored Brünnhilde and dedicates the spear to his death if he is lying. Brünnhilde, Hagen and Gunter also swear on the same spear that that they will get rid of Siegfried.  

Act III: Siegfried’s Funeral March: Siegfried’s final words to Brünnhilde and he is then carried off to the strains of a march.

Brünnhilde’s Immolation Scene “Starke schiete” ‘Let great logs be brought to the bank and heaped in a mighty pile. Let the flames…consume the noble corpse of this first of all men.’ Brünnhilde sings in the spectacular end not only to Götterdämmerung, but the entire Ring cycle. Wagner must not only fulfill the premise of his great drama, but close off one the largest harmonic structures in the history of western music.  As Brünnhilde rides her horse into the fire, Wagner reviews some of the cycles important leitmotifs in a tone poem that depicts the burning down of Valhalla, the flooding of the Rhine, the curse motif, and as the floodwaters recede, the Rhinemaidens taking possession of the ring, combined with the melody that Sieglinde has sung when first discovered she was pregnant with Siegfried.   

Ring Educational events:  An array of cultural and educational institutions have partnered with San Francisco Opera to present lectures, symposia, exhibits, musical performances and film screenings throughout the Bay Area for audiences who want to connect with Wagner and the Ring cycle in new and compelling ways.  Visit sfopera.com/calendar and select “Ring Festival Event” from the “All Events” dropdown menu to explore upcoming events by month. 

Wagner and his music can be explored in from angles as diverse as the intersection of science and the environment in the Ring (California Academy of Sciences); psychological, political and spiritual parallels found in the Ring (New School Commonweal); and Buddhist influences evident in the Ring (Asian Art Museum). Upcoming musical performances range from an orchestral concert of music from the Ring (San Francisco Conservatory) and organ transcriptions of Wagner’s music (St. Mary’s Cathedral) to the lighthearted operetta The Merry Nibelungs by Oscar Straus (Opera Frontier).  The San Francisco Opera is also partnering with the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and the Contemporary Jewish Museum to explore the Wagner’s anti-Semitism and the political impact of his music throughout history.

Half-day Ring Symposiums:  San Francisco Opera offers a half-day Ring Symposium on the Tuesday of each Cycle that includes a general introduction to Wagner and the Ring’s story, characters and music, and an exploration of the unique aspects of this new production’s distinctly American setting and its approach to issues relating to feminism and environmentalism. Members of San Francisco Opera’s music staff will discuss Wagner’s music and explore this production. Members of the creative team and production staff will share images of the sets, costumes, video projections and lighting and discuss how they collaborated with director Zambello. June 14, 21 and 28, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Herbst Theatre, Veterans Building. 401 Van Ness Ave.

Ring Preview Lecture: Sonoma Chapter SF Opera Guild:  The Sonoma Opera Guild’s Ring Preview Lectures will feature Cori Ellison, dramaturg, New York City Opera, offering an in-depth look into the Ring cycle operas.  Thursday, June 9, 2011, 10:30am, Kenwood Depot, 314 Warm Springs Road, Kenwood, CA. Admission is $10 at the door.  For more information, contact Pat Clothier at (707) 538-2549 or Neva Turer at (707) 539-1220.

Details: Single tickets for Sunday’s performance of Götterdämmerung are still available. Götterdämmerung also plays: June 19, June 26, and July 3, 2011.  San Francisco Opera’s May 29 to July 3 presentation of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen are priced from $95 to $360.  Symposia tickets are $40 (plus a $9 registration fee). All tickets are available online at www.sfopera.com , or in person at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., or by phone at (415) 864-3330.  

Schedule:  The Ring of the Nibelung

Premiere of new productions for “Siegfried,” May 29, 2011 “Götterdämmerung,” June 5, 2011
Cycle 1: June 14, June 15, June 17, June 19
Cycle 2: June 21, June 22, June 24, June 26
Cycle 3: June 28, June 29, July 1, July 3

June 4, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SF Opera kicks off its new Ring Cycle with a brand new Siegfried premiering Sunday, May 29, 2011

In Siegfried, the third of Wagner's four epic operas in the Ring Cycle, Siegfried forges a symbolic sword, Nothung, from shards and uses it to slay Fafner the dragon whose blood empowers him with the ability to understand the language of birds. Ian Storey is depicted here but Jay Hunter Morris will sing the lead role for the 4 premiere performances of Siegfried and then Storey will step in as Siegfried in Götterdämmerung which has its premiere a week later. Photo: Cory Weaver, courtesy of SF Opera

I am a musical layman but I wouldn’t miss the San Francisco Opera’s new production of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung), which starts later today with a new production premiere of Siegfried and continues into July with three complete cycles of the four-opera cycle. Wagner is one of the crucial 19th-century theatrical innovators, a composer-poet who set out to understand opera as drama and in turn expanded the frontiers of both art forms.  The Ring is a 15 hour masterpiece that people have devoted their lives to interpreting and have flocked to for over 140 years.  The story, reduced to its pure essence pits the love of power (here power is gold) against the power of love.   In its 88 year history, the San Francisco Opera Company has presented the complete cycle just 5 times–1935, 1972, 1985, 1990, and 1999.

Acclaimed stage director Francesca Zambello is directing the new production at the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, and co-staging it with the Washington National Opera.  In an era of ever-inventive Ring interpretations, whose visual imagery may go so far as to override the basic story,  Zambello has been rather tight-lipped about the details in store for eager fans.  She has promised a creative production that is not tied to the 19th century and will be influenced by American history, environmental issues, and feminism.  She has also disclosed that Fafner, the dragon that Siegfried slays, is a large furnace-like device reminiscent of a locomotive engine.  One thing is certain, Ring fans are extremely opinionated and a tough skin is a prerequisite for any adventurous director who is trying to balance the desire to innovate with maintaining enough of the traditional elements to satisfy Wagnerian purists.  

Maestro Donald Runnicles, former music director and principal conductor of San Francisco Opera from 1992-2009, began his association with the SF Opera by directing two Ring cycles in 1990.  He will conduct an orchestra of over 100 in this $24 million production.   When a company delivers performances as demanding as the Ring–four operas over the course of a week–it can be grueling for the musicians.   Nevertheless. they are not going to be pulling overtime–they are paid an hourly rate as stipulated by their contracts.  Overtime kicks in if they exceed 7 hours in a day and/or 24 hours in a week.  The Ring cycle schedule does not meet either of these thresholds, so straight time pay is in effect.

The Ring has led to some pit changes in effect with Siegfried:  co-principal horn players William Klingelhoffer and Kevin Rivard are splitting up their horn duties:  Klingelhoffer is playing Principal Wagner tuba for the whole Ring cycle, while Rivard is playing Principal horn.  This is Rivard’s first Ring and he will be playing Siegfried’s rigorous horn call in Act II, a French horn solo which many consider the magical musical highpoint of Siegfried.  Rivard will have an assistant in the pit for the whole cycle, who will cover principal horn, when Rivard is out of the pit playing backstage for Siegfried and Gotterdamerung.

The four operas in the Ring unfold chronologically in the following order—Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and GötterdämmerungThey may be seen individually, or as the composer originally intended, in a complete cycle over the course of one week.  

Siegfried:  4 hours 50 minutes, includes two intermissions, German with English supertitles

Cast Change Lead Role:  On April 20, 2011,  it was announced that Wagnerian tenor Ian Storey, slated to play the title role of Siegfried in both Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, had been ill and that tenor Jay Hunter Morris would replace him in all performances of Siegfried.  Morris has played Siegfried lead role before at the Los Angeles Opera and Seattle Opera.  Storey will play Siegfried in Götterdämmerung which premieres next Sunday, June 5, 2011.

History:  Premiered at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 16 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of The Ring.  This part of the opera is primarily inspired by the story of the legendary hero Sigurd in Norse mythology in the Volsunga Saga.  

Siegfried is the third opera in the Ring. Wagner composed the dramatic texts with Götterdämmerung first (in 1848) and then kept embellishing the story, following with Siegfried, Die Walküre, and then Das Reingold.  The musical compositions followed much later beginning with Das Reingold in 1854, then Die Walküre, Siegfried and ending with Götterdämmerung in 1874.  Wagner worked on the orchestral score for Siegfried off and from October 1856 to February 1871, a total of 15 years.  

Important Moments: Act 1:  Siegfried (Jay Hunter Morris) has grown up into a young man without fear.  Siegfried forges “Nothung,” his sword (“Nothung! Nothung! Neidliches Schwert!”) from pieces that have been saved by his foster father Mime (David Cangelosi), the Nibelung dwarf, who got the shards from Siegfried’s birthmother, Sieglinde ( (Anja Kampe/Heidi Melton), upon her death in childbirth.

Identity/parentage: Siegfried senses that he is not the son of Mime, and wonders who his mother is. 

Riddles:  Mime and the Wanderer (Wotan, King of the Gods, in disguise) (David Delavan) ask each other three riddles, wagering their heads on the answers.

Act II:  Siegfried plays a melodic horn tune that draws the dragon, Fafner, out from his cave and slays him with a stab to the heart with Nothung, his magic sword.  Siegfried tastes the blood of the dragon and is thus empowered with the ability to understand the language of birds.

Forrest bird scene: following the instruction of a woodbird, Siegfried takes the Ring and the Tamhlem from the dragon’s hoard and he learns of a woman sleeping on a rock surrounded by magic fire.  Siegfried learns his true parentage, that Mime is not his birthfather.

Act III:  Siegfried passes through the magic ring of fire and discovers sleeping Brünnhilde (Nina Stemme), the first woman he has ever encountered.  He utters his famous line “Das is Kein Mann!” (“That’s no man!”) and then awakens Brünnhilde.  Not only a woman, she is the feminine in himself.    Brünnhilde embraces her mortal life “Ewig was ich.”

Ring Educational events:  An array of cultural and educational institutions have partnered with San Francisco Opera to present lectures, symposia, exhibits, musical performances and film screenings throughout the Bay Area for audiences who want to connect with Wagner and the Ring cycle in new and compelling ways.  Visit sfopera.com/calendar and select “Ring Festival Event” from the “All Events” dropdown menu to explore upcoming events by month. 

Wagner and his music can be explored in from angles as diverse as the intersection of science and the environment in the Ring (California Academy of Sciences); psychological, political and spiritual parallels found in the Ring (New School Commonweal); and Buddhist influences evident in the Ring (Asian Art Museum). Upcoming musical performances range from an orchestral concert of music from the Ring (San Francisco Conservatory) and organ transcriptions of Wagner’s music (St. Mary’s Cathedral) to the lighthearted operetta The Merry Nibelungs by Oscar Straus (Opera Frontier).  The San Francisco Opera is also partnering with the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and the Contemporary Jewish Museum to explore the Wagner’s anti-Semitism and the political impact of his music throughout history.

Half-day Ring Symposiums:  San Francisco Opera offers a half-day Ring Symposium on the Tuesday of each Cycle that includes a general introduction to Wagner and the Ring’s story, characters and music, and an exploration of the unique aspects of this new production’s distinctly American setting and its approach to issues relating to feminism and environmentalism. Members of San Francisco Opera’s music staff will discuss Wagner’s music and explore this production. Members of the creative team and production staff will share images of the sets, costumes, video projections and lighting and discuss how they collaborated with director Zambello. June 14, 21 and 28, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Herbst Theatre, Veterans Building. 401 Van Ness Ave.

Ring Preview Lecture: Sonoma Chapter SF Opera Guild:  The Sonoma Opera Guild’s Ring Preview Lectures will feature Cori Ellison, dramaturg, New York City Opera, offering an in-depth look into the Ring cycle operas.  Thursday, June 9, 2011, 10:30am, Kenwood Depot, 314 Warm Springs Road, Kenwood, CA. Admission is $10 at the door.  For more information, contact Pat Clothier at (707) 538-2549 or Neva Turer at (707) 539-1220.

Details: Single tickets for today’s performance of Siegfried are still available. Siegfried also plays: June 6, June 17, June 24 and July 1, 2011.  San Francisco Opera’s May 29 to July 3 presentation of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen are priced from $95 to $360.  Symposia tickets are $40 (plus a $9 registration fee). All tickets are available online at www.sfopera.com , or in person at the San Francisco Opera Box Office, 301 Van Ness Ave., or by phone at (415) 864-3330.  

Schedule:  The Ring of the Nibelung

Premiere of new productions for “Siegfried,” May 29, 2011 “Götterdämmerung,” June 5, 2011
Cycle 1: June 14, June 15, June 17, June 19
Cycle 2: June 21, June 22, June 24, June 26
Cycle 3: June 28, June 29, July 1, July 3

May 29, 2011 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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