Until perhaps the 1980s or 1990s, RING CYCLE productions in the US were few and far between. Long years usually intervened between stagings of new productions. Thus, for example, the Met’s Herbert von Karajan production (1967 premiere) preceded by two decades the Otto Schenk production (1986 premiere), which in turn preceded the current Robert Lepage production (2010 premiere) by almost two and a half decades. The interval between complete Ring Cycles presented within the span of a week would stretch even longer. As much as a half century elapsed, for example, between the Met’s complete Ring Cycle presentations in 1989 and those in the 1938-39 season, and only major opera companies with deep resources attempted them, e.g., the Met and San Francisco Opera. In Europe, not unexpectedly, it was the Wagner Foundation’s Bayreuth Festspiele that presented completely new Ring Cycle productions with almost clockwork regularity (every five to seven years), a tradition that continues to this day.The Ring Cycle is a monumental work of art, and producing it an inherently monumental task requiring monumental resources in terms of both talent and funding. The technical complexities involved are staggering, as shown in the video excerpts below which illustrate why producing a complete Ring Cycle has been likened to climbing Mt. Everest.
Back to back “Making of the Ring” excerpts:
1) Bayreuth’s once controversial centennial Ring Cycle, set in the Industrial Revolution of the 19th-century, from the documentary of the same title
2) San Francisco Opera, from the documentary “Sing Faster – The Stagehands Ring Cycle” about the company’s 1995 production
This landmark production, the first updated1 directorial interpretation of the Ring set the trend for Regieoper (or director’s opera) giving opera directors carte blanche to impose their own concept of the work, to the almost total disregard of the composer’s intent. Production cost: $100,000 (or $400,000 in 2011 dollars)
Scenes from the making of the Metropolitan Opera’s new Das Rheingold
which premiered in 2010 as a stand alone opera, the first installment
of the company’s Ring Cycle for the 21st century
This high-tech Ring (which replaces the Met’s traditional/naturalist Schenk production that ran for over two decades) has turned out to be a traditional interpretation set in motion on a novel, technologically sophisticated “multi-tasking” platform nicknamed “the machine” that itself becomes the star of the show. Estimated production cost: $17M-$40M
Stage director, set designer, and painter ACHIM FREYER
on his spectacular avant-garde
RING CYCLE production for Los Angeles Opera
This Ring is in a class by itself, so unlike any of the other productions featured on these pages. The stagecraft is cutting-edge, and each scene a visual feast. Freyer sets the story in pre-history or as he puts it, in “pre-consciousness”, a concept transcending time and geography.2 Production cost: $32M
Perhaps it is an unwritten rule: an opera company is not considered to have arrived until it has scaled the Mt. Everest of a complete Ring Cycle production. Only then will it have finally attained world-class status. Sorry, but producing Die Walküre alone, the most popular of Wagner’s tetralogy does not suffice.
Today, and especially in these economically challenging times, a Ring Cycle is still as monumentally expensive to mount (and to attend). Yet, surprisingly complete Ring Cycle productions are no longer few and far between. In the new millennium, complete Ring productions have sprouted on both sides of the Atlantic to the point of near-proliferation, so that today, neophyte Wagner devotees in Europe and America need not take the arduous pilgrimage to Bayreuth or wait years for the next Met presentation, to experience their first Ring Cycle opera. One need only sift through the DVDs of recent live Ring Cycle performances, available on Amazon, to realize that complete Ring Cycle productions are no longer as rare as they used to be. Is it because there’s a resurgent wave of Wagnermania? Or is it simply a manifestation of a desperate ambition, for whatever reason, on the part of competing opera companies to reach the top of Mt. Everest? Whichever, it is a sign that there is an audience out there willing to be mesmerized by Wagner’s magnificent music with the enthusiasm and the stamina to sit through his ponderous 15-hour opera, and that can only be good news for opera lovers and encouraging for the art form.
© Gloria Cajipe / FanFaire
1 San Francisco Opera’s 2011 Ring Cycle is another excellent example of an updated production.
2The Kupfer Ring is another production that is not constrained by historical time or geography.