Our 2017-2018 Season Has Just Been Announced! — By Artistic Director Francesca Zambello

Click here for the full Kennedy Center new “classical” season announcement.

There are so many things I love deeply and passionately about our art form of opera. Opera can expose us to concepts we’ve never imagined before—it leads us to wrestle with ambiguity, multiple interpretations, and ideas that we can find soothing or jarring. Opera can be the launching pad to stimulate conversations about humanity—it can combat indifference, ignorance, and polarization. And opera can transport us from the day-to-day—showing us that its value does not lie in its utility.

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NEWS FROM NIBELHEIM: SOMETHING BORROWED, SOMETHING NEW

Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropOne of the initial choices a director makes in preparing a production is what does it look like? How will I interpret the story? The people you first turn to are your collaborators in the production team, the designers and choreographer. In this case, we also used projections as well as scenery, lights and costumes to define our world.

Many people have asked me how we arrived at the visual world to tell our story. When I worked with the designers, now over a ten-year arc, we thought a lot about how Wagner wrote a story about the end of the world using Nordic myths as his model. In turn, we thought how would we parallel that for today’s audiences.

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NEWS FROM NIBELHEIM: RING BY THE NUMBERS

Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropDid you know?…

With 94 people in the orchestra, 74 members of the chorus, 63 crew members, and countless others, there are 370 people involved on stage, backstage, and in the pit during the performances.

It takes approximately 17 hours to complete all four operas in the cycle.

The Ring uses 13,000 ft. of chain (that’s more than 2 miles long), 950 lbs. of propane, and over 500 lighting instruments for over 400 lighting cues.

920 liters of liquid nitrogen are used nightly for fog effects.

There will have been over 230 rehearsals leading up to opening night, averaging at 3 hours per rehearsal, totaling over 690 hours rehearsing.

There are a total of 309 costumes for the 175 cast members on stage.

– Francesca Zambello, WNO Artistic Director and Ring director

NEWS FROM NIBELHEIM: KILLER SCENES

RVoss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropecently in Takoma (which BTW, I would love to give a shout out to this little burg, since it is so charming), we worked on the killer Siegfried and Brünnhilde duet (Daniel Brenna and Catherine Foster) in Act Three of Siegfried and then did a run-thru of all of Rhinegold—all the cast and our 50 kid supers who play the Nibelungs. It’s amazing how Wagner so brilliantly lays it all out here.

It is a joy to be reunited with Alan Held, our Wotan, who I began this journey with, and now we are putting it all together. Other long-time colleagues in the cast include Bill Burden making his debut as Loge and Betsy Bishop as Fricka. Loge is really the start of it all.

The notorious RBG (Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg) once said, “if he had been better lawyer, we would not be in this mess…”

– Francesca Zambello, WNO Artistic Director and Ring director

NEWS FROM NIBELHEIM: MY FAVORITE TIMES

Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropEvery day from 10:30 in the morning until 10 in the evening, many of us are slaving away like Nibelungs in D.C.’s Takoma neighborhood, where the WNO rehearsal studios are located. In a sort of industrial building, we are fortunate to have three large rehearsal rooms the size of the Kennedy Center stage.

As a director, often these are my favorite times. You are in a rehearsal space with the performers and you can really talk and dig into the meaning of each scene, each word that Wagner wrote. With Wagner, we start by dissecting every scene together, usually around a table, investigating the words, the meanings of the “leitmotifs,” and how the characters interact. So many Ring scenes are just two or three people, so you have to really get on a wave together to find the meaning in the words and music – and then be able to bring the power of it all forward.

– Francesca Zambello, WNO Artistic Director and Ring director

News from Nibelheim: My “Gift” to Ring Fans

Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropMany drinks are consumed in Wagner’s operas—and as my personal “Gift” to you, let me introduce my series of special recipes to salute these delightful libations!

(Now, remember that “Gift” in German means poison. So some of these drinks can get you really hammered. Over the next few weeks, I will offer some that are with alcohol, and some without!)

For our first beverage, remember in those old 19th-century etchings when you see a group of hunters dressed in armor with those funny helmets, and they’re always toasting each other with big copper mugs? What do you think they were drinking? I made up a cocktail to match the image and I’ve called it the “Sturm und Drang,” which literally means “Storm and Drive” or “Storm and Urge.” It’s based on other drinks we know, but with ginger beer.

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News from Nibelheim: Open up to the Wagner Experience

Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropNow I am sure everyone reading my blog has a different level of how they have experienced or perceive the works of Wagner. How about we just all get on the same page of starting fresh and discovering it anew?

Naturally, we will be doing many lectures and talks leading up to our production of the Ring. But a simple and fun book to use to explore the “Master” is Wagner without Fear by William Berger, easily available on Amazon.

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News from Nibelheim: What Exactly is Nibelheim?

Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropNibelheim is a place inhabited by people called the Nibelung. One of the defining characteristics of the Nibelung is their short stature. (Some of you may also know them from your kids’ video game called Final Fantasy). Here in the Domain of Alberich, who has renounced love to take possession of the gold, the Nibelung are working to forge the actual, ultimate power-giving ring.

But wait a minute… who really are our Nibelungen? You know, I’m always happy for any opportunity to get young people involved in the opera, so for WNO’s production of the Ring, we’ll be casting children dressed as the slaves of Alberich. Sometimes, I playfully call them the Munchkins. (Fun fact: Did you know there were 124 original Munchkins in Oz?!)

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News from Nibelheim: Creating the World of the Ring

Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropMany different inspirations went into the designs for WNO’s production of the Ring. Some of the inspirations used by the set, costume, lighting, and projection designers along with myself are right here in Washington and will be fun to share with you. Why not start with the first image? It’s the perfect, pure creation of the world suggested by Wagner in the opening chords of The Rhinegold.

We thought of the perfection of the natural world captured by the great German American painter Bierstadt.

There are four of his works in the National Gallery. Most importantly, there is Mount Corcoran, which was one of the opening inspirations for the natural world of the Rhine. And do not miss Frederic Church’s evocative Niagara (see below). 

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News from Nibelheim: Valhalla-luja!! The Ring Cycle is Coming!

Voss-FrancescaZambello-21FINAL_cropThe Ring Cycle is coming this season to WNO April 30–May 22. Many of you have already booked tickets and special benefits, but “News from Nibelheim” is a new blog series created just for you!

I’m starting this blog for our Ring-goers to give you updates and thoughts on what’s going on as we make our way on the “Road to Valhalla.” My deep and passionate love for all things Ring will be coming your way in this regular communication. It’s my way of personally staying in touch with you by sharing backstage life. Some of the comments will be light and fun, and some will touch on the powerful content and ideas that the Ring conveys. There will be a variety of topics, fun stuff, and even special cocktail recipes to salute the many drinks consumed in Wagner’s operas!

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