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Putting on the Ring: Wagner’s Monumental Cycle Comes to Washington National Opera

Cosponsored by Washington National Opera

All-Day Program

Saturday, March 12, 2016 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.
Code: 1M2831
(Washington National Opera)

The presentation of Der Ring des Nibelungen, Richard Wagner’s four-opera masterpiece, is the most ambitious undertaking of all in the live performing arts. Wagner called the cycle a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art in which all the musical and theatrical elements must seamlessly merge. 

Any company that endeavors to stage the cycle announces itself as a major player in the opera world. The Ring comes to Washington for three complete cycles in May 2016 with world-class musical and theatrical forces assembled by the Washington National Opera. Opera expert Fred Plotkin is joined by the director, designers, and leading musicians working on the WNO’s Ring for a day-long immersion certain to fascinate those new to the cycle as well as the “Ring nuts” who travel the world to see Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung wherever they are being performed.

9:30 to 10:45 a.m.  A Conversation with Francesca Zambello

Francesca Zambello, artistic director of Washington National Opera, is the director of this Ring cycle at the Kennedy Center. In a conversation that sets the stage for the day, she discusses the ideas in the Ring as Wagner expressed them, her interpretation of them, and how they will be realized in the WNO’s productions.

11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.  Creating Wagner’s World

In a conversation with the artists who will create the scenery, costumes, lighting, and makeup, learn how the challenge of realizing the many settings (from the depths of the Rhine River to lofty mountains surrounded by magic fire) that are part of the Ring narrative will be met. Discover how dragons, walking giants, and castles in the air are created to dazzle the eye and stimulate the imagination.

12:15 to 1:30 p.m.  Lunch (participants provide their own)

1:30 to 2:45 p.m.  Drama Expressed Through Music

Maestro Philippe Auguin, music director of the WNO, will conduct the entire cycle. It is the job of the conductor— the chief storyteller along with the stage director—to take the abstraction that is music to make it both extraordinarily beautiful and highly dramatic. Using examples, Auguin describes how Wagner brilliantly created an arching musical narrative that resulted in the extraordinary melding of words and music that make, in the best circumstances, for an overwhelming drama.

3 to 4:15 p.m.  Drama Expressed in Singing and Acting

Ultimately it is the singers that audiences come to see and hear. Wagner’s music requires performers of great strength and versatility to meet the physical, musical, and theatrical demands of cycle. Wagnerian singers spend their whole careers honing their portrayals and, with each new cycle, find additonal dimensions in their characters. Leading and supporting singers from the WNO productions reveal what they have learned about their roles, and discuss the total work of art that is the Ring.

Other Connections

The WNO’s first-ever complete Ring cycle draws on productions that Francesca Zambello created for the San Francisco Opera. Her stagings evoke the mythology of America and draw provocative parallels between Wagner’s fantastical drama and civilization’s corruption of nature. Take a look at excerpts from the San Francisco productions of Die Walküre and Das Rheingold.


S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)