Directed by Eric Einhorn and Katherine M. Carter.
On Site Opera at the Hill Country Barbecue Market
January 28, 2020
Ring of Gold with a Side of Corn(bread)
Wagner’s Ring Cycle, aka Der Ring des Nibelungen, is a complicated, four-opera series dealing with the struggles to acquire a ring that provides the power to dominate the world. Characters including a human hero, demigod woman, King of the Gods, nasty dwarf and many others are part of the action. The entire opus lasts fifteen hours and has been the source of numerous parodies.
This is a new version, more correctly, new to New York, as it premiered in 1991 at the Seattle Opera. On Site Opera’s production takes place at Hill Country Barbecue where diners eat, drink and try to follow the plot which gives the work a country-and-western spin and is set somewhere in the heart of Texas. We still get Siegfried, here a guitar-strumming cowboy; Brünnhilde, his true love; Alberich, the dwarf, and lovesick Gutrune, but in Das Barbecü instead of hewing to a Nordic ethos they wear rhinestone-bedecked denim and dance the Texas two-step.
The performers, Justine Aronson, Jessica Fishenfeld, David Hughey, Robert Wesley Mason and Zuri Washington all have good voices with a slight nod to the women who show more enthusiasm and personality. These five actors play more than thirty characters, darting in and around tables and exiting through doors on the sides of the room. It was often hard to understand both spoken dialogue and songs because the sound projection is spotty and noise from Hill Country’s upstairs dining room competes with the work. I also had trouble keeping track of characters and plot despite the hints on the placemat.
Some of the music by Scott Warrender is clever, especially the songs Ain’t What I Had in Mind and Slide a Little Closer but others, most notably Making Guacamole, a paean to a happy marriage, could be cut, as there are altogether too many numbers that blend together after a while making the effect somewhat numbing. The kitschy score is enhanced by an onstage band, all members of the America Modern Ensemble, conducted by Emily Senturia. Costumes by Whitney Locher, especially those of the Rivermaidens, are clever and effective as is hair and makeup design by Gabrielle Vincent.
In fairness, many in the audience (although half decamped at intermission) appeared to be having fun as the actors winked, teased and practically danced in their barbecued chicken.
The work is a rousing poke at Wagner who took himself very seriously. A few current political references have been thrown in as well as occasional references to other works like Gypsy (here rendered as “sing out babies”); Peter Pan and (I think) Little House on the Prairie. However, a little foot-stomping, beer guzzling and Texas grandiosity goes a long way.
Previously I saw On Site Opera’s Amahl and the Night Visitors at the Holy Apostle Soup Kitchen and was wowed. That production, performed in its entirety with magnificent voices and attention to detail, was also directed by Eric Einhorn whose efforts to stage opera in non-traditional settings is highly commendable and I look forward to his future efforts.
Das Barbecü (love the Germanic umlaut) is a light nod to Wagner with a large dose of faux-Texas shtick which doesn’t inspire me to investigate the original. The cornbread gets a nine; the work a three.