"Ring" of Fire…

The late, great Johnny Cash utilized a unique trumpet fanfare as the musical introduction to his 1963 single, “Ring of Fire”.  The use of mariachi brass throughout, set this song apart–at least as far as country music was concerned–and resulted in a blaze of glory (pardon the pun) as the song became an instant hit, and a classic one at that!!  I always loved this song, but would hardly have believed that a “Ring of Fire” would have so many meanings for me later in life… .

It seems that the whole operatic world has “Ring Fever” these days as we approach the bicentennial of Richard Wagner’s birth (1813). With the Met’s new media-saturated Ring Cycle currently unfolding in New York, last year’s financially disastrous ‘Los Angeles’ Ring Cycle, and the new ‘American’ Ring Cycle that was canceled in Washington D.C. a few years ago (but which did have several components rolled out over the previous years), I am happy to report that the latter–which was always to have been in co-production with the San Francisco Opera–is alive and well, and in full production/rehearsal mode here in the ‘City by the Bay’.  As Wotan (Bryn Terfel) encircled a body-double-Brunnhilde in a “Ring of Fire” in New York, we here in San Fran were busy in early musical rehearsals for the same.  In fact, we are rehearsing all four installments of the Wagnerian epic concurrently.  It is hectic, tiring, frustrating, and exciting all at the same time!

Under the highly capable direction of Francesca Zambello, and a full team of outstanding associate directors, this so-dubbed ‘American Ring’–because of its adaptable cultural motifs, and unique American settings (ie. big cities, gritty rural trailer parks, etc.)–will finally see the full light of day in June.  Before that, however, stand alone performances of both Siegfried and Gotterdammerung will be presented for the general public and subscription audiences in late May and early June, respectively.

Make no mistake however, there is not one Ring Cycle–NOT ONE–that doesn’t have some big time, real-life drama attached to it; some severe production hurdles to be cleared; or obstacle courses and labyrinthine mazes to navigate.  Well, this ‘Ring’ is no different!!

With a few solid weeks of rehearsal now behind us, basically a full cast now in residence, all prompters in place, a very experienced musical team at the ready, and a settling of the production schedule; I can now report with an equitable perspective on the proceedings thus far:

My first day of production rehearsal for Siegfried (in which I will sing the role of ‘Mime’) was met with our first bit of intrigue.  Our originally scheduled ‘Siegfried’ (Ian Story), who was to perform the role for the first time in both Siegfried and Gotterdammerung had to graciously, but regrettably, step aside from the former role due to a confluence of health and scheduling issues that unfortunately conspired against him.  He will, however, continue to sing the role of ‘Siegfried’ in Gotterdammerung. This is disappointing on a certain level, of course, as Ms. Zambello was striving to achieve uniformity in casting for the full Cycle.  This has now been altered, as Jay Hunter Morris will now sing the role in Siegfried.  For the full record: I found both men to be pleasant and talented, and am currently enjoying the development of my many complicated scenes with Mr. Morris as ‘Siegfried’.

This type of situation is hardly unusual in the operatic universe, with companies and cast members alike simply learning to roll with the punches and move forward when a cast change occurs.  The saying, “Time waits for no man.” (origin uncertain), holds especially true here, but should be amended slightly to read: “Time waits for no rehearsal administrator, because any production delay costs us money!!!!”.  And so, we move on… .

As I run between rehearsals for Das Rheingold and Siegfried, I continue to be impressed with the patience and professionalism of our various stage management teams.  I find them to be excessively polite, even tempered and calm, and of good humor at all times.  This makes the long and arduous rehearsal days all the more tolerable.  But at quitting time each day, I do wonder which bar they head off to in an attempt to reclaim their sanity (?!) …probably the closest one!!!!

More to come, as we work toward presenting what will surely be an historic and entertaining Ring of the Nibelungen, courtesy of Richard Wagner and the San Francisco Opera; with artistic vision from Francesca Zambello, and inspiration from country superstar Johnny Cash!!

“Love is a burning thing…”