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Lyric Opera of Chicago announces new ‘Ring’ cycle

Christine Goerke | Arielle Donesphoto

Christine Goerke | Arielle Doneson photo

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Wagner’s Ring Cycle
at Lyric Opera
“Das Rheingold”: performances begin Oct. 1, 2016

“Die Walkuere”: performances begin in early Nov. 2017

“Siegfried”: performances begin in early Nov. 2018

“Goetterdaemmerung”: performances begin in late March 2020

Three complete “Ring” cycles: first cycle begins in April 2020

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Updated: February 5, 2014 4:34PM



Things take time in grand opera.

And if you’re talking about a new staging of Richard Wagner’s mammoth “Ring of the Nibelung,” that can mean nearly a decade.

You read that right.

At a Friday morning press conference, Lyric Opera of Chicago announced top casting, the creative team and dates for the second-ever new production of the four-opera saga in the company’s storied history. One part will be presented in four successive seasons starting in 2016-2017 and culminate in three week-long presentations of the full cycle in April of 2020.

That’s how long it takes to secure the leather-lunged voices required by this demanding music, plan and develop a new and cohesive concept of direction and design, obtain financial backing and secure spots on Wagnerdevotees’ (often dubbed “Ringheads”) schedules who are needed for Lyric to sell about 11,000 cycle tickets to fill 43,000 seats for the 12 performances. (Lyric’s first “Ring,” launched in 1992, had its full, sold-out cycles in the spring of 1996, created by the late German director August Everding and conducted by Zubin Mehta.)

Lyric launched this artistic campaign with a bang Friday, snaring the world’s most-talked about future Bruennhilde, American soprano Christine Goerke, for role of the sky-riding valkyrie who has inspired 135 years of serious and satirized tough women in breastplates and heads topped by horned helmets.

Nearly as anticipated is the casting of American bass-baritone Eric Owens in his debut as Wotan, leader of the gods and Bruennhilde’s father.

As anticipated, Lyric music director Andrew Davis will conduct the new production with Lyric chorus master preparing the choral parts.

The company has turned to the widely respected veteran British opera director, translator and company manager David Pountney, to mold its 21st century “Ring.”

Pountney was joined Friday by the other members of the international creative team who have worked with him in creating sets (South African Johan Engels, who designed this season’s “Parsifal”), costumes (London-based Romanian Marie-Jeanne Lecca) and lighting (Frenchman Fabrice Kebour) for other successful projects including a rediscovered 20th-century opera dealing with the Holocaust, Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s “The Passenger,” which Lyric general director Anthony Freud also revealed Friday would be a part of the company’s 2014-2015 season. Lecca and Kebour will be working at Lyric for the first time.

Goerke has rapidly been attracting international interest since she opened the 2012-2013 Lyric season in the title role of the intense Richard Strauss retelling of “Elektra.” When she took up the key role of the Dyer’s Wife in another Strauss work, “Die Frau ohne Schatten,” this season at the Met to similar acclaim, the New York company’s chief, Peter Gelb, showered her with major new contracts, including for the first Met revival of the Lepage “Ring” in 2018-2019.

Owens was a standout success both vocally and dramatically as the evil dwarf Alberich in the Met’s hugely expensive and much-disparaged new “Ring” from 2010 to 2013. He has appeared successfully at Lyric in recent seasons in two company premieres: as General Leslie Groves in “Doctor Atomic” by John Adams (a role he created) and in the title role of Handel’s “Hercules,” both staged by Peter Sellars. Owens also stars as the water goblin Vodnik in Lyric’s first production of Antonin Dvorak’s “Rusalka” next month. He is one of the most prominent African-Americans in opera.

Davis established himself as a Wagner hand to be reckoned with thanks to the first full “Ring” of his career durnig the Lyric’s 2004-2005 season. Wagner’s mythology-inspired, musically revolutionary “Ring,” “represents the high-water mark of our art form — unique in its scale, complexity, fascination and indeed in its ability to ‘hook’ an audience. Experiencing a ‘Ring’ cycle is one of the most life-transforming artistic experiences the world has to offer.”

Evenbefore the 2011 announcement of Freud’s hiring in Chicago, it has been no secret that another “Ring” was a company ambition and that Davis was especially eager to see a new from-the-ground-up production. Freud said Friday, “From the first conversation I had with Andrew upon my appointment as general director, it was clear that one of his greatest artistic priorities over the next ten years was to revisit the ‘Ring’.” Davis has also had great success at Lyric last season with Wagner’s “Die Meistersinger” and this season with “Parsifal,” two of the composer’s great and most substantial individual works.

Pountney is a known quality around the world as well as at Lyric where his productions of “Satyagraha” by Philip Glass in 1987-88 and Kurt Weill’s “Street Scene” (2001-02) were moving and highly insightful. Lyric said it had secured major funding in support of the new Ring from local industrialist and philanthropist Dietrich M. Gross and his wife, Erika Gross.

The four-year scheduling pattern is a traditional one at Lyric, both as a means of building up the series over time and allowing the performers to grow in their roles and as way of sharing each of the first three operas with regular season subscribers, many of whom then might also purchase tickets to the complete 2020 cycle. “Rheingold” will be a part of the 2016-17 season, “Walkuere” that of 2017-18 and “Siegfried” the 2018-19 season. The lengthy concluding opera, “Goetterdaemmerung” (“The Twilight of the Gods”) will be offered on some subscriptions at the end of 2019-20, followed by the three complete cycles in April 2020.

Tickets for the full Ring cycle will not go on sale until 2018, with pricing, further casting and additional sponsorship to be announced at a later date. Tickets for “Rheingold” will be offered in 2016.



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