San Francisco Opera undertakes a production of epic proportions this month – the complete set of four operas which comprise Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. This dramatic co-production with Washington National Opera, which premiered at the War Memorial Opera House in June 2011, is staged by internationally acclaimed director Francesca Zambello.
Donald Runnicles, regarded as one of the world’s foremost Wagnerian conductors – who led the San Francisco Opera productions of 1990, 1999, and 2011 – returns to the War Memorial Opera House to take up the baton once again, leading the San Francisco Opera Orchestra (and Chorus in the final work) in this ambitious staging of Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.
The world-renowned Wagnerian principal artists featured in this presentation include Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin in the role of Brünnhilde, with Greer Grimsley as Wotan, Daniel Brenna as Siegfried, Karita Mattila as Sieglinde, and tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Froh (in Das Rheingold) and Siegmund (in Die Walküre). All artists will perform their roles in each of the three cycles.
Francesca Zambello’s inspiration for this particular staging came to her during a hike in the Rocky Mountains, where the view which she surveyed “…… called to mind the untouched world at the beginning of Richard Wagner’s cycle,” she says, “and I began to see in that landscape an American parallel to Wagner’s story”. Since her 2011 production here, and in Washington in 2016, she has also found that “the power of the work seems even more contemporary. The great overarching themes of the Ring – nature, love, power and corruption – resound through America’s past and haunt our present.” Consequently the theme of the visuals in this production reflects various periods of American history – a marked departure from the medieval stagings to which we’re more accustomed.
The creative team for this production includes set designer Michael Yeargan, costume designer Catherine Zuber, lighting designer Mark McCullough, projection designers S Katy Tucker and Jan Hartley, Laurie Feldman (associate director) and Denni Sayers (associate director and choreographer). The chorus director is Ian Robertson.
Richard Wagner wrote both the music and the libretto for this mammoth undertaking. He had long been fascinated by early Norse and German poetry when he sketched out a prose version of the Nibelung myth in 1848. He gave it the title Siegfrieds Tod (The Death of Siegfried) and began composing the music in 1850. He then realized that he needed to write about Siegfried’s life before he could tell of his death, so in 1851 he wrote the libretto for Der junge Siegfried (The Young Siegfried – which later became simply Siegfried).
Continuing to work backwards, he completed the librettos for Die Walküre and Das Rheingold the following year, and then started composing the scores for these two operas in sequence, completing them in 1856. Having taken a break to complete Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, he returned to the Ring, completing Siegfried in 1871 and Götterdämmerung in 1874 —26 years after he had started work on the project.
Der Ring des Nibelungen – all four operas, performed over four days – premiered in the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth from August 13th to 17th, in 1876 – the Festspielhaus having been built to Wagner’s specifications at the command of the King of Bavaria, Louis II (or Ludwig, his German name).
San Francisco Opera’s production of the four operas in Wagner’s Ring cycle are scheduled to take place between June 12th to 17th, June 19th to 24th and June 26th to July 1st, 2018 – on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
For more information and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Opera website.
Information sourced from:
San Francisco Opera program notes
Encyclopaedia Britannica – notes by Betsy Schwarm