Troupe returns to in-person performances with ‘Das Rheingold’
The 1980s is known for bigger-than-life phenomena.
After all, just look at the clothes and hair. They’re operatic.
So Opera Santa Barbara is using elements from the decade’s hairstyles and fashions in a bigger-than-life story, Richard Wagner’s “Das Rheingold,” which marks a bigger-than-life moment: actors performing again for a live audience.
Opera Santa Barbara will perform “Das Rheingold” at 2:30 p.m. June 27 at the Lobero Theatre, 33 E. Canon Perdido St.
The 110-minute adaptation of “Das Rheingold” (“The gold of the Rhine”) is by Graham Vick and Jonathan Dove, and it premiered in 1990 in the United Kingdom.
In “Das Rheingold,” the dwarf Alberich renounces love in order to steal gold from the Rhine River and forge a ring that will make him the master of the universe.
When Wotan, the king of the gods, steals the ring, Alberich puts a curse on it, and that causes a string of tragic events.
The adaptation uses 12 singers and 18 orchestral musicians. It will be performed entirely in German, but English subtitles will be projected.
Kostis Protopapas, artistic and general director of Opera Santa Barbara, said the troupe was looking for a compact project to ease back into live performances after California’s reopening Tuesday.
“At the same time, I wanted something artistically substantial and ambitious,” Mr. Protopapas told the News-Press.
“Das Rheingold” fit the bill.
During this season, Opera Santa Barbara has presented its actors on big screens at Ventura County Fairgrounds (Seaside Park) in Ventura, where people watched from their cars in a drive-in movie setting.
But that’s not the same thing as being on stage in front of an audience. Mr. Mr. Protopapas said the Opera Santa Barbara troupe is excited about next week’s program.
“Everyone’s in great form, and we love being able to do what we do in our natural environment,” he said.
His enthusiasm was echoed by Crystal Manich, director of “Das Rheingold,” who participated in the same interview. Ms. Manich and Mr. Protopapas agreed this production is a good one for people who are unfamiliar with operas.
“It’s the ideal first opera to see,” Mr. Protopapas said. “When I first saw this production (the 1990 adaptation), I felt ‘Das Rheingold’ would be a good one to do for high schools. The story is very compressed and relates a lot to fantasies like ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ‘Game of Thrones.’
“It’s over-the-top fantasy with quite a bit of humor in it,” he said.
In fact, both “Das Rheingold” and “Lord of the Rings” are based on the same Norse mythology, Ms. Manich told the News-Press.
“It has themes of greed and what happens when there’s an object many people want — the consequences of greed and hubris,” Ms. Manich said.
Ms. Manich explained the opera focuses on the human trait of being selfish and not considering how your actions can impact the world.
“That theme is really relatable,” she said.
Ms. Manich said audiences will appreciate characters such as Wotan. “As humans, we can appreciate fallible gods because they remind us of ourselves.”
And even though the main character, the dwarf Alberich, causes a lot of trouble, audience members may find empathy for him.
“He has been downtrodden all his life,” Ms. Manich said. “No matter what he does, his decisions will never allow him to be powerful.”
Ms. Manich said the opera will be performed with the orchestra behind the singers on the Lobero stage, where the set will be kept to a minimum. Instead, Opera Santa Barbara is relying on lighting.
“It will be a very dark, black space with portals with LED lights on them,” Ms. Manich said. “We utilize lighting to really give us a change in location.”
Mr. Protopapas noted he likes the scaled-back approach, which emphasizes the basics of opera. “It’s about the music, about telling the story, about great singing. Great storytelling does not depend on a lot of great scenery.”
He noted an intimate venue such as the Lobero adds advantages for the actors, who don’t have to sing very loud to reach the back rows.
Instead, the music can be more expressive, Mr. Protopapas said.
Ms. Manich added that the singers have powerful voices that will fill the Lobero in a unique way.
And the 18-member orchestra, in which every musician is doubling on two instruments according to the score’s need, provides an element of chamber music, Mr. Protopapas said.
He described Wagner’s music as lyrical with elements representing the characters and the setting of a village, where there’s a goldsmith and an anvil. “There’s actually an anvil sound in the orchestra.”
The music and language are definitely that of a Wagner opera. But the look of this Opera Santa Barbara production was inspired by a decade known for its greed, a theme that resonates with “Das Rheingold.”
“The costumes and makeup, the color schemes of the lights themselves, are inspired by the 1980s — not by how people behaved, but how they dressed and looked,” Ms. Manich said.
Mr. Protopapas explained Opera Santa Barbara combined its 1980s-based inspiration with its contemporary view of what it likes about hair.
Certainly 1980s hairstyles are operatic. When asked about that, Ms. Manich laughed and agreed.
“Opera is associated with excesses. Absolutely.”