A Journey Into the Fire

SFO’s Ring

Two years ago I began a journey into the fire…into San Francisco Opera’s new production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. That journey comes full circle (pun intended) this month.

It all started when I was invited to collaborate on the iconic brand image and identity for this Ring (with the fantastic design and marketing studio Mission-Minded). This alone was a dream come true. I had become an official Wagner-phile when I experienced SFO’s previous naturalistic production in 1999, with my dear operagoing friend Gil. (Watch the documentary Sing Faster for a great glimpse of that beloved production.)

The creative process began with a meeting with Director Francesca Zambello and General Director David Gockley, to discuss the particular approach of this new production (shared with ENO and WNO, but not yet performed in its entirety). The goal: to highlight the concept of destruction and rebirth, and portray a dose of the production’s modernity, including an accessible and familiar visual vernacular. (The production employs a trailer, projections of power lines and electrical towers, an office building board room, a stylish, contemporary bedroom…to mention just a few of these modern nods.)

The iconic image evolved in a direction that also took a tragic nod from 9/11, using the burning and fall of city skyscrapers to show the destruction of a civilization, parallel with that of nature (via a forest). Perched atop this, a reborn/renewed female visage…a triumphant Brünnhilde. The photo-illustration was made up of 15 or so separate images.


Last year, the journey continued, as I got to first put a Ring on itas a kinsman/henchman of Hunding, and the ghost of a fallen war hero in Die Walküre.

Lawrence Pech leads audition (me at right)

This year a rather intensive audition process was required for the 11 Supers, to guarantee their physical fit-ness. “The Few, The Proud, The Über-Supers”?  NPR attended the second Super casting call. A brief profile made it on the air, including interviews with Zambello (“Cesca”) and myself. Listen to it here (fast forward to 00:45).

I was thrilled to be re-cast in Die Walküre, as well as join Götterdämmerung, as a hunter and “worker”. Or, as I now like to refer to it (to borrow from a friend): Glitterdämmerung! It’s great to play on the stage again with some familiar Supers from past seasons: Carlos Suarez and Topher Smith (also pictured above), and Jason Mayo, as well as a new crop.

A most happy addition to the Walküre cast is the Sieglinde of Heidi Melton (Cycle 3). It’s her SFO debut in a leading stage role. I simply cannot wait. She’s made for this role, and I get to experience her serving me faux chunky slop in the Hunding scene. On the flip side, I’ll also miss the Sieglinde of Eva-Maria Westbroek, who’s enjoying a triumphant debut in the same role at The Met. Thankfully, the brilliant Nina Stemme and commanding Mark Delavan are returning.

On June 14th the Cycle 1 opens, including my run in GotterWalküre 😉

Der Ring Schwag

As I browsed the gift shop during intermission at the recent Siegfried Final Dress, I was wonderfully surprised to discover my photo-illustration (above) on the Ring promotional items: t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, and magnets.

Get yours at the SFO Ring Merchandise page!

I was also completely taken by Michael Schwab’s commissioned Ring poster/print. It offers a very different iconic image. I will soon be the proud owner of a 24 x 36 print! About his art, Schwab said:

“I’ve always enjoyed creating dramatic poster images that tell a story. Here, the growing vine at the foot of the spear held by Brünnhilde foreshadows a new life eventually emerging from the ever-flowing Rhine under the horrific, burning Valhalla above. For me, the paper is my stage, with shapes, colors and typography working together to create a scene or evoke a mood.”

The journey continues. Now, back into the fire…

6 comments so far

  1. Rona on

    How awesome!!! You survived auditions and are now workin’ the SFO stage once again. Hope to make it to SF to see you on stage and have you grace my presence..haha..

    Work it!


  2. jumping clapping man on

    Thanks Rona! I hope you do get to at least see some/one of the Ring operas…and it would be lovely to see you there as well! G’day, P

  3. Craig on

    It is really an interesting article. I was looking forward for something like this only. I am quite sure that you must be having a deep inspiration which made you do this.

  4. sfmike on

    I love your Photoshop graphic, and much prefer it to the Schwab poster which is nice design but doesn’t really convey the actual look and feel of the production as well. I didn’t particularly envy your supering duties in the “Ring” but you should be proud of the work. The productions were great.

  5. jumping clapping man on

    Thank you kindly Mike! It’s hard to believe it’s all now just a wonderful memory. What a high it was, and how fortunate I was to have been a part of it. I’m so happy for the city and the company that it was very well received, and has reinvigorated the company, as they move into their new season.

  6. Philadelphia mobile marketing on

    Photoshop graphic is great 🙂 Ive never been to an opera might have to check this out!

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