With its four operas, seventeen-hour running time and months of rehearsal, staging Wagner's Ring Cycle is a daunting undertaking for any opera company. Jon Else goes backstage to show this rare event entirely from the point of view of union stagehands at the San Francisco Opera.
As these working men and women go about their astonishing feats of stagecraft, they give their own interpretation of the Ring Cycle's fantastic stories. During scene changes the stage carpenters may have as many as seven 1000-pound set pieces moving at once in fog, smoke, and in near-total darkness, working with precision choreography that certainly matches the opera itself.
"While the gods are out onstage singing about the great problems in the world, we are doing all the hard stuff," says stagehand Spike Kirkland in the middle of his eighty-five-hour work week during dress rehearsals. During the ongoing backstage poker game, Kirkland and his cronies explain the four stupefyingly long dramas in lurid detail -- the fall of a decadent order of gods, compromised by their own greed and vanity, the sexy Rhinemaidens, the "loud...really loud," Valkyries, and the giant clanking hydraulic dragon. Every night the stage crew creates a majestic fairytale/soap opera universe of trolls, giants, lightning, dragon's blood and magic mountains, in which the singers spin a dark tale of heroes who betray their own moral codes.
Jon Else is a master documentarian who employes remarkable camera work to tell a story. With stunning imagery and sharp editing he captures the shifting realities on-stage and off.
As Valhalla sinks down into fiery oblivion, a new audience stampedes into the theatre for a new performance. Finally, the entire 17-hour Ring Cycle unfolds before our eyes in a sixty second blizzard of time-lapse. Click here to visit the producer's website.