By San Francisco Opera Education Department

Thursday, July 7, 2011

In June the members of the Education Department were very excited to present three Ring symposia, one on each Tuesday of every Cycle. 
During the morning session of each symposium, lecturers Jonathan Khuner and Peter Susskind presented lively introductions to the story and characters of the Ring. After a break for lunch, Kip Cranna, San Francisco Opera’s Director of Music Administration, moderated a panel discussion with various experts. 
John Parr and Jonathan Khuner, members of San Francisco Opera’s Music Staff, and Sara Jobin, an Assistant Conductor for the Ring, talked about some of the complexities of Wagner’s music. John Parr traced the sword motif throughout the operas, and demonstrated how Wagner used that motif to express certain key concepts. Jonathan Khuner chose one very brief musical moment from Gotterdammerung and led us on a hunt to find that same music elsewhere in the Ring, thereby showing us that, for Wagner, even a few seemingly insignificant notes have wider implications. Sara Jobin played the Rhinemaidens’ music for us, and talked about how much more complex it became after they had been betrayed by Alberich, Wotan, and pretty much everyone else in the Ring besides Brunnhilde! 
For the remainder of the afternoon we were treated to a visual feast, as experts on the production showed us images of Ring’s sets, projections and costumes. Christian Räth, Senior Associate Director, and Elise Sandell, Assistant Director, focused on the source material that Director Francesca Zambello and Set Designer Michael Yeargan drew upon to create their American Ring. Projection Designer Jan Hartley discussed the long road this Ring had traveled, and the changes that her projections underwent, even up until the performances of the first cycle. And finally Assistant Costume Director Christopher Verdosci dazzled us with Catherine Zuber’s costume designs, including live appearances by a giant and a bear!
A Q&A session ended each symposium, giving the audience a chance to ask their burning questions: Can you make Siegfried likable? Why do the giants have metal hands? Is it safe for the Valkyries to parachute onto their rock?!
If you were able to attend one of our symposia, we hope you enjoyed it. We certainly had a great time presenting them! You can let us know what you thought by emailing And if you still have Ring fever, you can listen to the Opera Guild Insight Panel on our website at Many of the wonderful Ring performers weigh in on their characters in this fascinating hour. 
Make sure to look out for more Education Department programs in the future, including some interesting presentations planned for the premiere of Heart of a Soldier, and our Overture: Opera Workshops for Adults series beginning on September 14. You can find upcoming events at We hope to see you again soon!