New tech brings SF Opera’s ‘Ring’ revival solidly into 21st century

Opera fans from around the world, especially Richard Wagner aficionados, will flock to the War Memorial Opera House June 12-July 1 as San Francisco Opera presents three cycles of the composer’s four-part epic “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (“The Ring of the Nibelung”) in a revival of Francesca Zambello’s production of the Germanic marathon here in 2011.

The operas that successively comprise the “Ring” –“Das Rheingold,” “Die Walküre,” “Siegfried” and “Götterdämmerung” — are being presented as Wagner intended, over one week, and the progressively longer works — ranging from two and a half hours for “Das Rheingold” to five hours and 10 minutes for “Götterdämmerung” — will test the stamina of a star-studded cast as well as opera-goers.

Yet new forms of imagery and significantly improved technology hold promise for a markedly different revival.

“The production is ostensibly as it was in 2011, but, in reality, it has morphed and changed quite a bit since that time,” says San Francisco Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock. “The set and costumes have remained largely the same, but the visual world of the ‘Ring’ has changed dramatically, with completely new imagery and sequences and a very different kind of aesthetic,” he says, adding that changes in projection technology have been “immense” since preparations for the 2011 staging began in 2006-07.

The lighting in the floor is one element in which updated technology plays a noticeably major role, particularly in the attempt to convey the setting and mood at the outset, in the opening of “Das Rheingold.”

“The projections and lighting are better, more saturated, with a higher resolution,” says production designer S. Katy Tucker, describing the application of the new technology to the famous E flat “Ring” prelude in which the Rhine River comes into focus: “Little by little molecules glow, the ether forms and turns into atmosphere, then water, and it takes us to the Rhine, and this scrim opens up and we are in a sumptuous Rhineland with nature in its most perfect form. It’s very painterly, and it takes place before humans and greed have started to utilize its resources.”

Indeed, avarice — as well as exploitation, sexism and other human imperfections — are prominent themes in the “Ring.” They remain relevant, and become even more so, as the 21st century progresses (or regresses).

“What the story means today in 2018 is even more important than in 2011,” Shilvock says. “Wotan’s desecration of nature, Alberich’s despoiling of the Rhinemaidens, and the complete ramification of that running throughout the whole ‘Ring.’ These are things that have incredible resonance in our own day and our own news in this telling of the ‘Ring.’”

In addition to the productions, the opera’s “Ring Festival” offers an array of complementary events and activities already under way, including lectures, exhibits, films and even a Rhine cruise on San Francisco Bay on June 25. The festival picks up energy in earnest during the three cycles, with talks before every performance, “Ring 101” workshops every Tuesday, symposiums, screenings, Wagner chorus concerts every Thursday and forums every Saturday.

“We look to find huge excitement in the community for what we are doing,” Shilvock says. “The ‘Ring’ is such a celebration, not only of this company but also of this community.”

Der Ring des Nibelungen
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: June 12-17 (Cycle 1); June 19-24 (Cycle 2); June 26-July 1 (Cycle 3)
Tickets: $100 and up (single); $190 to $3,420 (cycle), $10 standing room (starting at 10 a.m. day of show)
Contact: (415) 864-3330,
The operas:
Das Rhinegold: 7:30 p.m. June 12, June 19, June 26
Die Walküre: 7 p.m. June 13, June 20, June 27
Siegfried: 6:30 p.m. June 15, June 22, June 29
Götterdämmerung: 1 p.m. June 17, July 24, July 1


Ring Community Day: Children’s activities include crafts; “Teething Ring” for families with children 2–5; Sing-A-Story: Das Rheingold for ages 4–12; and “All About the Ring for ages 6 and up. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 9, $10. Education Studio, fourth floor, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.,

Music of Wagner and His Contemporaries: Organist T. Paul Rosas performs transcriptions from Wagner operas on the 4,842-pipe Fratelli Ruffatti church organ. 4 p.m. June 10, $10. St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1111 Gough St., S.F.

Die Lustigen Nibelungen (The Merry Nibelungs): Oscar Straus’ satirical 1904 operetta is performed in English in a fun cabaret setting. June 14-30, $30-$40. Shelton Theater, 533 Sutter St., S.F.,

Rhine Cruise: Wagner Society sponsors the excursion, which includes a three-course lunch. 11:45 a.m. June 25, $125. Pier 3, 1398 Embarcadero, S.F..

Ring 101: Dramaturg Clifford “Kip” Cranna introduces the multimedia sessions on the history of the “Ring” in The City, featuring guest artists. 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. June 12, June 19 and June 26, $50. Taube Atrium Theater, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.,

Sing Faster—The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle: The Oscar-nominated documentary, a behind-the-scenes look at the epic from the point of view of San Francisco Opera’s crew, screens, with comments from the filmmakers. 2 p.m. June 14, June 21 and June 28, $5. Taube Atrium Theater, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.,

James Ambroff-Tahan
Published by
James Ambroff-Tahan

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