SEPTEMBER 14, 2010 1:23PM
The Ring and I
As you set out to read, I hope, this blog, I can hear you wondering: Who are you? And possibly, if you're not an opera buff, What is the Ring?
To get things squared away right away: The Ring refers to Richard Wagner's magnificent cycle of four linked operas, The Ring of the Nibelungen, which can be--and usually have to be--enjoyed by themselves, like stand-alone episodes in a TV series. I'm a writer and editor based in the Bay Area, and one of the great experiences of my life was seeing all four operas performed, one after the other, over the course of a week in San Francisco, in 1998. Why am I telling you this? Because, yay: In June 2011, San Francisco Opera is presenting the entire cycle again, with different sets and singers, of course. It's a mammoth undertaking, involving both other opera companies and SFO's brand-new production of Gotterdammerung, the final opera. It'll take months to come together, and I'll be following it all.Believe me, you don't have to be an opera lover to love the Ring. The story has everything: love, sex, greed, gold, dragons and giants, magic spells, heroes and villains, gods and goddesses, family strife, even the end of the gods' world--a grand moral and mythological tale conveyed through thrilling and accessible singing and orchestral music, usually with cool sets. Wagner not only composed the music, he wrote the libretto (story and lyrics) as well. This is rare.
In the summer of 1998, when the Ring opened in San Francisco's gilded opera house, I had just become the senior editor for culture at San Francisco magazine. Jerry Stark (my husband) and I went to opening night--on a Thursday evening, I think; then we went to a Saturday matinee, a Wednesday night performance, and finally a Sunday matinee. Each time, we drove in from Marin County with our new friend Dana Gioia, a poet and lecturer who wrote about classical music for San Francisco until he moved to Washington, D.C., to head the National Endowment for the Arts. (Could I make that up?) We sat amid the same Ring-loving people at each performance, discussing the previous opera as we settled into our seats.... We soldiered on with our day jobs, but with the music, the characters, and the epic tale constantly hovering on the edge of my attention, the Ring became the theme and focus of the week. I couldn't stop thinking about what I'd experienced and what was to come; everything else felt like a distraction. That Sunday, as I applauded the cast for the last time, I felt a little bereft.
Now, not only do I get to see the Ring again, I'll be watching the preparations. I'll be at the opera house as technicians tweak the lights for a dramatic scene in Siegfried (opera #3), for instance, and in the costume shop as new boots for the giants in Das Rheingold (#1) and costumes for the gods in Gotterdammerung are created. I'll be talking with conductor Donald Runnicles and some of the musicians about, for instance, maintaining the stamina to perform four long operas in one week. (Last time, I remember, some of the horns were sounding a mite ragged toward the end.) I'll catch up with some super Ring buffs, who, like solar-eclipse fanatics, fly to the site of their passion every time there's an occurrence. I'll also be blogging about SFO's other operas this year, beginning with Aida, Wagner (a genius and anti-Semite, so: controversial), past memorable operas, and other events in the ring of Bay Area arts and culture.