Vienna State Opera Cancels Performance
Dessay's Debut at SF Opera

Gold Rush - Forging The American Ring Symposium

The Wagner Society of Northern California held a Das Rheingold symposium on June 14, 2008, which was declared Wagner Society of Northern California Day at San Francisco Opera. The first talk, entitled "From Iceland to Valhalla: What do the medieval Icelandic sources of Das Rheingold really say?," was from Dr. John Lindow of UC Berkeley. His first slide was of Sir William Jones and he went on to show how the Indo-European languages are related, and why the 80-85% of Wagner's sources for the Ring are from Iceland. He admited that Wagner was the reason he became interested in Scandinavian studies. Das Nibelungenlied was discussed, as were the Poetic and Prose Eddas, along with the Völsunga Saga. Of particular interest was a comparison of Old Norse gods with the characters of Das Rheingold. Lindow associated Frigg/Fricka with Venus and Friday, rather than Freyja/Freia, as the former's name is cognate with Old Saxon fri "beloved lady" and Icelandic frjá "to love." Freyja/Freia comes from the word for "lady," but since she is fertility goddess, she is also tied to love.

The second talk, Dr. Thomas Grey's "Leitmotive, from Ring to film and Back," focused on the Wagner's Ring compared to the Lord of the Rings films. Grey is not convinced that Howard Shore's music is much like Wagner's, but is rather more like the score for Gone with the Wind. He also found Tolkien's motivation for writing his work rather different than Wagner's. But certainly there are commonalities, as both Wagner and Tolkien used the Völsunga Saga as a source.

The third talk was the most awaited, as it came from the New York City Opera dramaturg, Cori Ellison. Her "Valhalla, the American Dream" discussed the reasons behind the "American Ring." Her claim that North Americans do not know Norse myth certainly rang true. She went on to describe the current production at SF Opera and the themes the production team were focused on, these being nature, love, and women. It seems that the team were interested in making the Ring a cautionary tale. Ellison went on to talk about Fricka, how she is considered an unsympathetic character, and how Wagner's relationship with his first wife Minna informed the goddess' portrayal. Much of what she said can be read in Rudolph Sabor's Richard Wagner Der Ring des Nibelungen: A Companion, specfically pages 25, 88-89, and 93-94. Unfortunately, I missed some of Ellison's talk as I had two coughing fits, and did not want to subject people to the noise, so left the room. Ironically the coughing was due to having a cough drop (I was worried I would cough) but I happened to be allergic to the one that was offered by the Wagner Society.

"Das Rheingold: Wagner, Shakespeare and Tragicomedy" was an entertaining talk by Dr. Simon Williams of UC Santa Barbara. Williams described a 2001 Robert Carsen production of Das Rheingold at Köln Opera, particularly noting how Loge stole golden apples, and latter gave them to Wotan so he could go to Nibelheim without any trouble. This production revealed the tragicomedic nature of Das Rheingold to Williams, and he believes it is the only successful one in the 19th century as far as opera is concerned.