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San Francisco Opera to launch its own 'Ring' festival

May 27, 2010 |  5:09 pm


Does this ring a bell?

The San Francisco Opera is launching a citywide cultural festival tied to its summer 2011 production of Richard Wagner's "The Ring of the Nibelung." The festival, which will take place over several months, will include some of the city's leading arts and music institutions, and is designed to give a broad cultural context to Wagner's epic 19th century operatic cycle.

For those of us in Los Angeles, the idea of mounting a "Ring" festival should be familiar territory by now. Our own festival kicked off in April and is scheduled to continue through the end of June. More than 100 local institutions are participating, making it the most significant cultural festival in L.A. since the Olympic Arts Festival in 1984.

The idea of a festival tied to the "Ring" goes all the way back to the days of Wagner himself, who conceived of the cycle as a "Bühnenweihfestspiel," or a kind of "festival play." Each summer, the Bayreuth Festival serves as a holy site and pilgrimage destination for all things Wagner, with productions of the composer's works taking place over a monthlong period.

The San Francisco staging of the "Ring" -- a co-production with the Washington National Opera -- is directed by Francesca Zambello, and takes place in a vaguely historical America of the late 19th and early 20th century.

"I have set it in a way that has a realistic side," Zambello said in a recent phone interview.

"The gods act like people and are directed like people. But I've tried to surround it in a way to suggest a mythic realm, and some of that deals with America's vastness. I think of it more relating to greed. I've focused on the characters and making them as palpable and real to us as possible."

The San Francisco "Ring" features two cast members who quit the L.A. production early.

Soprano Anja Kampe will perform the role of Sieglinde, which she also played in L.A. Baritone Gordon Hawkins will reprise the role of Alberich.

Among the San Francisco arts institutions that are scheduled to participate in the festival are the Asian Art Museum, California Academy of Sciences, the Museum of Performance & Design and the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

-- David Ng

Photo: a scene from the San Francisco production of the "Ring" cycle. Credit: Karin Cooper / San Francisco Opera


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