Performing Arts

Fort Worth Opera to stage massive Wagner ‘Ring Cycle’ work next season

Alberich uses the Rheingold to transform into a dragon in “Das Rheingold.”
Alberich uses the Rheingold to transform into a dragon in “Das Rheingold.” Minnesota Opera

Dust off that horned helmet, shine your shield and polish that magic ring. Wagner is coming back to town.

Fort Worth Opera’s 2018 festival will include Richard Wagner’s massive “Das Rheingold,” the first of the quartet of operas known collectively as Der Ring des Nibelungen, or the Ring Cycle.

The other two operas in the festival are Donizetti’s beloved comedy “Don Pasquale” and Astor Piazzolla’s tango-powered opera “Maria de Buenos Aires.” The festival runs April 27-May 13, 2018.

“This is the first production of ‘Das Rheingold,’ or any opera from Wagner’s Ring Cycle, to be done in Fort Worth,” says FWO Music Director Joe Illick, who will conduct the Wagner, as well as “Don Pasquale.”

The last time any Wagner opera was presented in Fort Worth was a production of “The Flying Dutchman” 20 years ago.

“And this particular production brings the full splendor of a giant orchestra onto the stage,” says Illick, referring to the 78 players who provide the music for the opera. “One of the reasons we have not done Wagner operas is that the pit in Bass Hall does not accommodate a Wagner-sized orchestra. This is the first time we have had a production where that problem is solved.”

The plot of the 1869 opera, which is rooted in Norse mythology, tells the tale of the god Wotan and his efforts to rescue his sister-in-law Freia, who is being held hostage by a couple of giants after what amounts to a labor dispute. The story involves gods and goddesses, a magic helmet, an evil dwarf, a treasure-trove hidden in a river, and a gold ring (no, it’s not that story).

In addition to the unusual move of having the musicians on stage with the singers, FWO’s production of the epic fantasy has a nontraditional, futuristic setting.

“I’d say ‘cyberpunk’ is a pretty good description of the look. Maybe steampunk meets 21st century,” says Illick. “It’s kind of a timeless look.”

The presentation will also make use of numerous projections.

“We wanted to find a way to have the action play over all the surfaces on stage. So this projection component is an interesting and innovative solution,” says Illick.

‘Modern’ and ‘surreal’

At the other end of the opera spectrum is Gaetano Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale,” an 1843 work that is as silly and frothy as “Das Rheingold” is serious and heavy. But the presentation of this bel canto opera will also be updated. In its original form, the title character is an older gent who foolishly blunders into a trap set by a younger woman he thinks he is successfully wooing in early 19th century Rome. In FWO’s production, the action moves to 1950s Hollywood.

“In our concept, Don Pasquale is a former silent-movie star who failed to make the transition to talkies,” Illick says. “So he becomes a film director.”

Augmenting the story will be three of Don Pasquale’s films. Audiences can expect to see a number of cameos by film stars of the past. The production also promises to have some interesting tricks involving black-and-white versus color filmmaking.

“It brings a modern style of humor into a mid-19th century opera,” Illick says.

The third opera of the festival is “Maria de Buenos Aires,” by Argentinian tango legend Astor Piazzolla. It is sometimes called a “tango operita” (or “little tango opera”). The plot for the 1968 work, which has been described as “surreal,” centers on a prostitute (the title character) and her world, both before and after her death. Part of the opera is set in hell.

“We get to know Maria and her lovers and her background, and get a feel for the whole world of tango, including its dark side,” says Illick. “After all, tango is almost a combination of dance and a knife fight.”

Illick says that dance “plays a major role” in the opera, and that the cast will include dancers from the Texas Ballet Theater. Also, at least part of the audience might feel like they are in the production.

“The musicians, singers and dancers will be surrounded by an audience of about 240 on the stage,” Illick says. “You will feel like you are in a tango cabaret.”

The opera is being presented as the second part of FWO’s Noches de Ópera (Nights of Opera) program — a multiyear commitment to the presentation of new or recent Spanish-language operas.

Changes afoot

Not seen in the 2018 festival lineup, however, is a new opera — something that has become a common part of FWO festivals. Nor is there a smaller, “chamber” opera that will be presented at a more intimate venue around town, as has become common. All presentations will be at Bass Hall.

Illick says contemporary operas will be seen again in future festivals.

“Our commitment to new operas remains,” he says. “But in the 2018 season that commitment is expressed through Frontiers.”

The annual showcase for new works will again be part of the festival, but it too will move from McDavid Studio to Bass Hall.

Fort Worth Opera has not yet named a general director who will oversee the 2018 festival. The opera fired longtime general director Darren K. Woods in February, and a search for his replacement is underway.

“The process is going well. We’ve had quite a few applications already,” says FWO Board Chairman Mike Martinez. “We are under no deadline. We have not set one for ourselves. Ideally, we will have someone in place before the 2018 festival.”

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The Fort Worth Opera presents Rossini's classic opera, accompanied by the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and complete with a fun fight scene. (Star-Telegram/Rodger Mallison)

2018 Fort Worth Opera Festival

  • “Maria de Buenos Aires”: April 27 and May 6, 8, 11 and 12
  • “Don Pasquale”: April 28 and May 6 and 12
  • “Das Rheingold”: May 5 and 13
  • Frontiers: May 9 and 10
  • Bass Hall, Fort Worth
  • Season tickets $36-$379
  • Single tickets on sale Aug. 1: $17-$195
  • 817-731-0726;