It is perhaps no coincidence that Wagner began work on his vast tetralogy The Ring of the Nibelung – a project that was to occupy him for the next quarter of a century – in precisely the same year, 1848, as the Californian Gold Rush. That is a piquant point reflected in Francesca Zambello’s ‘American Ring’, in which the dwarf Alberich is characterised as a Californian miner in baggy overalls panning for gold. Other striking images include the ocean-liner gangplank to Valhalla for the gods and motorway arches out of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But Zambello’s conception also picks up another important theme latent in the work, with women shown as active rather than passive agents (Sieglinde helps to pull the sword out of the tree, Brünnhilde lays herself down for her long sleep). In the climactic Immolation Scene, Brünnhilde (aided only by Gutrune), the Rhinemaidens and the Gibichung women, are represented as more caring, nurturing forces for good than the men who had caused the catastrophe.
As Zambello herself puts it: ‘The great themes of the Ring – nature, power and corruption – resound through America’s past and haunt our present.’ Described by one critic as ‘theatrically dazzling’, and by the Washington Post as ‘strong and moving, thought-provoking and powerful’, Zambello’s Ring returns to San Francisco after a triumphant outing in Washington, with a strong cast led by the Brünnhilde of Evelyn Herlitzius, one of the outstanding Wagner sopranos of our age, with the highly praised Siegfried of Daniel Brenna and the experienced Wotan of Greer Grimsley. With the luxury casting of Karita Mattila as Sieglinde, not to mention Falk Struckmann as Alberich, Brandon Jovanovich as Siegmund, James Egglestone as Froh, and Jamie Barton as Fricka and Waltraute, this promises to be a musical feast. The conductor is the music director of San Francisco Opera, Donald Runnicles, highly acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic for his thrilling interpretations of Wagner.
With the performances arranged over six days, there is plenty of time to see San Francisco and to attend events supporting the Ring performances. Refined and grand, the city enjoys a rich cultural life, with excellent art galleries and museums and some of the best-preserved Victorian architecture in the world.
The included visits may change once details of the special events supporting the Ring performances from San Francisco Opera House are available.
The tour begins with dinner at the hotel at c. 7.30pm (flights from London are not included).
Morning lecture on the music, followed by a guided tour of the financial district with a local architectural historian. Some free time followed by dinner. 7.30pm, San Francisco Opera House: Das Rheingold, Donald Runnicles (conductor) , Greer Grimsley (Wotan), Brian Mulligan (Donner), James Egglestone (Froh), Stefan Margita (Loge), Jamie Barton (Fricka), Ronnita Miller (Erda), Stacey Tappan (Woglinde), Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), Renée Tatum (Flosshilde), Falk Struckmann (Alberich), David Cangelosi (Mime), Andrea Silvestrelli (Fasolt), Raymond Aceto (Hunding).
Morning lecture followed by a visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), now housed in a striking building designed by Mario Botta. It has good temporary exhibitions, and was reopened in 2016 following an expansion designed in partnership with Snøhetta. Some time before this evening’s performance at 7.00pm: Die Walküre, Donald Runnicles (conductor) , Greer Grimsley (Wotan), Jamie Barton (Fricka), Brandon Jovanovich (Siegmund), Karita Mattila (Sieglinde), Raymond Aceto (Hunding), Evelyn Herlitzius (Brünnhilde), Anna-Louise Cole (Gerhilde), Olivia Cranwell (Ortlinde), Jamie Barton (Waltraute).
Morning walk with a local architectural historian ending at City Hall. The Asian Art Museum has been installed in the former public library, a project undertaken by architect Gae Aulenti. The collection is the finest in the USA.
Morning lecture. The day is free until the evening opera. Suggestions include the Immigration Museum in the Old Customs House. 6.30pm: Siegfried, Donald Runnicles (conductor) , Daniel Brenna (Siegfried), Evelyn Herlitzius (Brünnhilde), Ronnita Miller (Erda), David Cangelosi (Mime), Greer Grimsley (Wotan), Falk Struckmann (Alberich), Raymond Aceto (Fafner), Stacey Tappan (Forest bird).
On the other side of the peninsula amid Monterey pines and cypresses sits the pristine colonnaded building of the Palace of the Legion of Honor. Here French art, particularly Rodin sculpture, is prominent. Spend the afternoon in the Golden Gate Park, a centre of cultural and botanical beauty. Visit Herzog & de Meuron’s landmark De Young Museum (2005): built from recycled redwood, eucalyptus and copper, the oxidising exterior is progressively blending with its environment. It houses a collection of American Art from the pre-Columbian era to the present day. Opposite is Renzo Piano’s ‘green museum’, his extension to the California Academy of Sciences (2009).
Morning lecture. Afternoon performance. 1.00pm: Götterdämmerung, Donald Runnicles (conductor) , Daniel Brenna (Siegfried), Brian Mulligan (Gunther), Falk Struckmann (Alberich), Andrea Silvestrelli (Hagen), Evelyn Herlitzius (Brünnhilde), Melissa Citro (Gutrune), Jamie Barton (Waltraute), Stacey Tappan (Woglinde), Lauren McNeese (Wellgunde), Renée Tatum (Flosshilde), Ronnita Miller (First Norn).
Stanford. Free morning. Early afternoon departure for Stanford University to see the campus and Anderson Collection and Cantor Center for Visual Arts. Continue to San Francisco airport in time for the recommended direct flight to London, arriving at Heathrow the next day at c. 2.00pm (c. 10 ½ hours).
Writer, lecturer and broadcaster specialising in Wagner. He is founder/editor of The Wagner Journal and author of eight books on Wagner including The Wagner Compendium and Richard Wagner: The Sorcerer of Bayreuth. He is Chief Critic for the Evening Standard. He has also acted as dramaturgical adviser at opera houses internationally.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £5,880 Single occupancy: £6,640.
Included: travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts; 1 lunch and 6 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions for included visits; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer, tour manager and local guides.
Top-category tickets (‘Grand Tier Premium’) for all 4 performances are included, costing c. £1,770.
Flights from and to London to San Francisco are not included in the price of the tour. We will send the recommended flight options (that will be accompanied by our lecturer and/or tour manager) when they are available to book and ask that you make your own flight reservation and inform us of the details. The cost of a World Traveller (economy) seat at the time of going to press is c. £800 and will be available to book towards the end of July 2017.
British citizens can enter the USA without a visa by applying for a visa waiver online. We will advise on this. If you have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria since March 2011 you are not eligible for the waiver and will need to apply for a visa.
Palace Hotel: an elegant 5-star hotel, located within walking distance of Union Square, Embarcadero and Yerba Buena Gardens and a 30-minute coach drive from the Opera House. Rooms are classically furnished, of a good size and excellent standard.
Stamina is required for the long performances – and to cope with jet lag if flying from the UK. There is unavoidably a lot of walking in the city centre. Fitness is essential.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.