Little 'Ring,' big hit 

How do you compress Richard Wagner’s four-opera, 16-hour “The Ring of the Nibelung” into a single work, running just three hours?

Very carefully.

Berkeley Opera Artistic Director Mark Streshinsky, director of both the company’s 2004 and upcoming productions of David Seaman’s “The Legend of the Ring” — onstage in the East Bay beginning this weekend — is realistic about the economy and accessibility of the short version.

Although there are legions of “Ring” faithful (including myself, having attended many cycles in Europe and the U.S.), Streshinsky says festival presentations “require such an investment in [travel and attendance] time that’s very hard for most people.” And expensive too.

“Thank God,” says Streshinsky, “that there are enough real ‘Ring’ fanatics and freaks in the world to fill the opera houses when they do the full ‘Ring’.” (San Francisco Opera’s three cycles next summer are expected to sell out.)

But “Legend,” says the director, enables audiences “to see the full story in just three hours, to hear the themes, and not have to dedicate to it an entire week of their lives.”

From the viewpoint of the presenter, it means dispensing with a 100-plus piece orchestra, about the same number of soloists and chorus, and huge sets, and instead settling for a cast of eight in multiple roles, no chorus, an orchestra of 12, and projected sets.

So it’s shorter, smaller and vastly less expensive. Can it still be good?

The late Stephanie von Buchau said in her review of the last Berkeley “Legend” that she experienced “more goosebumps and emotion than at many of the 17 cycles of Wagner’s masterwork I’ve attended in 55 years of international opera-going.”
My review of this “monster hit” spoke of a “surprising, heroic, improbable” production.

Streshinsky warns against expectations of a parade of highlights. In fact, this is a “Ring” without the “Ride of the Valkyries” (that’s a relief for those watching too many TV commercials!), the great love duets, the Magic Fire and so on. Some principal roles — even giants and the dragon Siegfried must slay to get the ring back — are omitted.

Emphasis is on the ideas tying the story together from “The Rhinegold” through “The Walkyre” (followed by the single intermission in this production), then to “Siegfried” and the “Twilight of the Gods.”

Musically, conductor Jonathan Khuner presides over the a clear line of the themes being introduced, developed and interwoven.

The cast is unusually starry for a small company. The tragic ruler of the gods, Wotan, is sung by Richard Paul Fink, a regular in some of the world’s big opera houses. Ditto for Jay Hunter Morris, who sings Siegfried and other tenor roles.

Marie Plette sings no less than five roles. Christine Springer is Brünnhilde, Dean Peterson is Hagen, Bojan Knezovic sings Alberich.

Stephen Rumph has two important tenor roles: Loge and Mime. Valentina Osinski is both Flosshilde and Fricka — and there is your cast of hundreds.


IF YOU GO
The Legend of the Ring

Presented by Berkeley Opera

Where: Performing Arts Theater, 540 Ashbury Ave., El Cerrito
When: 8 p.m. Saturday and Aug. 6; 7:30 p.m. Aug. 4; 2 p.m. Aug. 8
Tickets: $25 to $65
Contact: (800) 838-3006, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/96009

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