Incoming: WNO’s “American Ring” in 2016 – all of it

Incoming: WNO’s “American Ring” in 2016 – all of it

Having fizzled out after "Siegfried" due largely to the impact of the Great Recession, Washington National Opera returns to stage its entire “American Ring” Cycle in the Spring of 2016.

Promo logo for Washington National Opera's upcoming and first-ever complete "American Ring" Cycle, arriving Spring, 2016.

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2015 – We left one thing out of our previous article detailing the Washington National Opera’s upcoming 2015-2016 season: the Main Event. As WNO’s March 3 news release states:

“WNO concludes its 60th anniversary season with the most ambitious undertaking in all of opera: Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung. Three complete cycles will be presented from April 30 to May 22, 2016, and will be directed by WNO Artistic Director Francesca Zambello and conducted by WNO Music Director Philippe Auguin. Spectacularly evoking the mythology of America, Zambello’s acclaimed production draws provocative parallels between Wagner’s fantastical drama and civilization’s corruption of nature. The struggle for the possession of a powerful ring drives this extraordinary series of operas, in which the stakes— control of the entire world—could not be higher.”

I admit, I’m not one of the reviewers who “acclaimed” these productions—at least the ones we all were able to see—although I certainly enjoyed and rated highly the excellence of the singing and the orchestral performances. (More later.) What really bothered me were the visual anti-capitalist clichés. The U.S.A. is much better than that, and it would have been nice to see this reflected in these productions as well.

That said, there were, still some marvelously imaginative visual touches in those first three “American Ring” productions staged here late in this century’s first decade. Example: “Das Rheingold’s” giants re-imagined as a pair of huge ironworkers dangling from a skyscraper’s scaffold; Siegmund’s fatal sword fight in “Walküre,” which took place beneath a decaying freeway ramp that looked an awful lot like the I-66 ramp a couple of blocks from the Kennedy Center; and that evil, smoke-belching steam-shovel, a way cool update to “Siegfried’s” gold-hoarding dragon.

Yes, the “save the planet” and climate change mantras were clearly hovering over that one. But it was still a startlingly funny take on the various contraptions employed as the dragon in this opera—ones that don’t often work very well.

RELATED: Washington National Opera announces new 2015-2016 season

I keep referring to the “first three” operas. Back in the day, the whole idea behind the “American Ring” concept was to present one brand new “Ring” opera in each of four seasons before putting them all together and presenting one or more “complete” cycles in one season, as has been the “Ring Cycle” tradition around the globe.

But for those who weren’t here in the mid-to late oughties, WNO’s undoubtedly expensive “American Ring” project was moving ahead at precisely the wrong time for the company, budget-wise, running smack-dab into the middle of the performing arts-destroying Great Recession.

Ultimately, the “American Ring” end-game was never realized at that time, having ended after the company’s production of “Siegfried.” Neither a full production of “Götterdämmerung” nor an anticipated trio of Ring Cycles happened as WNO went through its own near-death experience—a major reason why the company is now part of the Kennedy Center family.

As those who were around will recall, the company’s wonderful consolation prize to its audience—a gorgeous concert opera performance of this final “Ring” opera with the intended cast—gave us all a hint of what could have been.

But all that is now in the past. Rejoice! Washington will finally get its first-ever home-grown “Ring.” All of it. We’re seriously looking forward to this epic main event, and Wagner fans should be as well. The WNO release tells you why, likely better than we could:

“WNO’s [3] Ring cycles feature two outstanding Brünnhildes. Acclaimed British soprano Catherine Foster, who has stunned audiences at Wagner’s hometown festival of Bayreuth in performances of the role, will make her U.S. debut in Cycles I and II. Internationally renowned Swedish soprano Nina Stemme, whose performances as Brünnhilde were highly acclaimed in this production’s San Francisco run in 2011, makes her WNO debut in Cycle III. American heldentenor Daniel Brenna, a noted interpreter of Siegfried at opera houses across Europe, takes on the role in the United States for the first time. American bass-baritone Alan Held, an experienced Wagnerian who has appeared in more than 20 WNO productions, returns to his celebrated portrayal of Wotan.”

The company notes that “subscription packages to The Ring are on sale now to renewing subscribers. Packages go on sale to Kennedy Center members on April 6, 2015 and to the general public on April 13, 2015.”

For more details, including dates and times for Cycles I, II and III, check the WNO section on the Kennedy Center Website. “Donor packages” can be booked now, but more information will be available shortly for KenCen members and the general public on the days listed above.

Caveat—I’d predict these tickets will be in HUGE demand. So if you’re not already on a preferred list, you’ll need to move quickly and decisively when tickets go on sale to the general public. For all the fun poked at Wagner and these epic-length operas, these tickets really move, and die-hard international opera fans are likely even now booking flights to Washington for April 2016. A complete “Ring Cycle” is always a major event.

We’ll close with WNO’s 2015-2016 ticket data.

Oh, and don’t forget. There are still two operas left in this season, including Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman,” which opens this week. Consider that one an appetizer for next year’s “Ring Cycle.”


Subscription renewals and new subscriptions to WNO’s 2015-2016 season (including Carmen, Appomattox, and Lost in the Stars) are available now. To purchase a subscription, patrons should call the Subscription Office at (202) 416-8500 or go to

Subscriptions may be purchased in advance of general on-sale dates, which will be announced soon.

Groups of 20 or more may contact the Kennedy Center Group Sales office at (202) 416- 8400. WNO’sRing Cycle is available as an optional add-on to a subscription. Ring subscription packages are on sale now to renewing subscribers; to Kennedy Center members on April 6, 2015; and to the general public on April 13, 2015. Single tickets to individual Ring operas, if available, will go on sale in 2016.

Artists and performances are subject to change.

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Terry Ponick
Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17