Long before Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or The Matrix lit up movie screens, the 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner envisioned a cycle of four operas that unfolded an epic story over a number of episodes. The Ring of the Nibelung, as the cycle is called, is actually a trilogy (The Valkyrie, Siegfried, and Twilight of the Gods) with a prequel, The Rhinegold. The plot, which is both simple and universal at the same time, could be summarized as power seduces and love redeems. Over the course of four operas, we see gods, goddesses, giants, and dwarves vying to be lords of the golden ring that bestows upon the owner the power to rule the world. But there's a catch - as there always is in opera - the ring is cursed. The twists and turns that ensue as the ring changes hands has kept opera-goers enthralled for more than 100 years.
LA Opera's visionary production of The Ring in June not only marks the first time this monumental masterpiece will be presented in Los Angeles, but it also creates a great opportunity. Between April 15 and June 30, 2010, more than 115 cultural and educational institutions all over Los Angeles County will celebrate this production by assembling Ring Festival LA, one of the most interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, collaborative artistic and cultural events Los Angeles has ever experienced. The Festival brings together a multitude of different companies, thinkers, curators and performers to program on themes related to The Ring. Doing this in a coordinated way breaks new ground and tears down the walls that usually isolate different disciplines and different people.
Ring Festival LA enjoyed a celebratory kick-off press party at LACMA on April 14, followed by an opportunity for all to view the exhibit "Myth, Legends, and Cultural Renewal: Wagner's Sources." And the city has begun to come alive with all things Ring. The opening weekend of the Festival saw "Invisible Siegfrieds" parading down Sunset Boulevard - watch out Whisky a Go Go! LA Opera music director James Conlon has given some brilliant presentations at both the Hammer Museum and Museum of Tolerance.
Because a great work of art like Wagner's Ring can be experienced on many levels, there are a wide variety of ways to participate in Ring Festival LA. Of course, you can attend any one or all of the Wagner Ring operas at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (single tickets go on sale April 25) along with the free pre-opera talks given by James Conlon in the Grand Hall (also available online). There are Ring-related conversations, symposia, and educational programs as well as events for cinephiles, performing arts devotees, and visual arts lovers. Under the rubric of "eclectica," there are such diverse happenings as the "Light of the Valkyries" laser light show at the Griffith Observatory (opening May 18) and the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books (April 24-25). There are events to delight even the most opera-averse. "Gangsta Wagner" will be offered by Geoff "Double G" Gallegos and the daKAH Hip Hop Orchestra (June 19) and Das Barbecü, a country-western parody of The Ring, will be presented by the Musical Theatre Guild (June 14).
All of this is being organized, coordinated and publicized locally and worldwide under the leadership of Los Angeles Opera. It's our hope that Ring Festival LA will increase worldwide recognition of the cultural prominence and excellence of Southern California. We believe cultural tourists coming to Los Angeles to attend Ring opera performances will spend the rest of the week visiting Ring Festival LA partners and the whole Los Angeles area.
It is also our hope that Ring Festival LA enhances a sense of community in Los Angeles. Ours is a disparate, diverse, experimental city - divided and separated in so many ways. To bind the community together, we seek opportunities to share common experiences. What makes this a great city is what happens here. We intend this to be a celebration felt by everyone, with a program that is entertaining as well as enlightening. We invite all the people of Los Angeles to experience and embrace it. Download a Ring Festival LA Guide or Ring Festival iPhone App and come to the party!
In coming weeks, I'll be blogging about Ring Festival LA event highlights, feedback from Angelenos, anecdotes and controversies. Keep checking back.
Follow Barry A. Sanders on Twitter: www.twitter.com/RingFestivalLA