Dear Friends of Zurich Opera,
Zurich is one of the birthplaces of Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. It was there that the German composer first developed the idea of his opera cycle, drafted the story, put pen to paper, and composed large swaths of the score. For these reasons alone, the city has a link to this epic work, which comprises four evenings and 16 hours of music – and it’s a work that continues to fascinate opera enthusiasts the world. The four works – each of them exceptionally long, and with vast demands when it comes to vocal casting, orchestra, and logistics – demand a house with tried and tested organizational structures, artistic experience, and long lead times. And that is why the time is right for us to set off on a new Ring adventure in Zurich.
Support us with this, the greatest challenge in all of opera, and become a member of the Ring-Zirkel. You can be right in the middle of the action as Zurich’s new Ring is forged. We can’t wait to go on this intense journey with you.
With our warmest regards and many thanks,
Intendant and Stage Director for the new Ring of the Oper Zürich
Dr. Harold Grüninger
President of the Freunde der Oper Zürich
Become a member of the Ring-Zirkel!
Richard Wagner in Zurich
Anyone who has spent time studying Richard Wagner’s association with Zurich is sure to have first learned of a scandal – his love affair with Mathilde Wesendonck, the wife of his friend and patron Otto Wesendonck. Wesendonck didn’t just pay off Wagner’s substantial debts, he also provided a place for the composer to live. The idyllically located cottage near the Villa Wesendonck, the site of the Museum Rietberg today, is known as Wagner’s «Asyl». But Richard Wagner’s connection to Zurich goes much further than just an affair: he lived here for nine years, longer than he spent in any other city. Large portions of his principal work, Der Ring des Nibelungen, were written here in Zurich, and he added immeasurably to the city’s cultural life as a conductor, both of his and others’ works. His years in Zurich were the busiest and most productive of his life.
When he arrived in Zurich in 1849, Wagner had lost everything. His private life had fallen apart, and his career was in ruins. The one-time Hofkapellmeister had unceremoniously fled Dresden and a warrant was out for arrest for his participation in the May Uprising. For the crime of high treason, he was threatened with a long prison term at least – and the hangman’s noose was not out of the question.
Paris was the intended final destination of his escape, but after only eight days there he returned to Zurich. Once there, he initially found lodgings with fellow musician Alexander Müller. Müller had led performances of Wagner’s Fliegender Höllander in Zurich in 1847, the first time any of Wagner’s pieces had been presented in the Swiss city.
Shortly after his arrival, Wagner read portions of his Siegfried’s Tod prose scenario for Müller and other friends. It was the nucleus of what would later become Der Ring des Nibelungen. When his family later joined him (in addition to his wife Minna, their daughter Natalie, and her dog and parrot) other accommodations had to be found. The financial hardship that followed them to their gloomy, cramped, and cold apartment in the Steinwiesstrasse was particularly painful for Wagner. A move to the Lavaterstrasse brought welcome relief: in their new apartment, known as the «Villa Rienzi», Wagner resumed work on his Nibelungen story. Some of his most famous writings about art – not only Kunstwerk der Zukunft (Art-Work of the Future) and Oper und Drama, but also the anti-Semitic Das Judentum in der Musik (Judaism in Music) – were written here.
The «Ring» in Baur au Lac
In September 1851, Wagner moved with his family to the Zeltweg, where they took up residence in an apartment in Number 11. It was here that he completed the poem/libretto for Ring des Nibelungen in 1853. In the same year, the prose scenario’s first public reading took place in the Hotel Baur au Lac: Wagner himself presented all four parts on four consecutive evenings – apparently with such «inspiration, emotion, and dramatic life », that «almost gave the audience the illusion of an actual performance», as the Eidgenössische Zeitung enthusiastically wrote.
Wagner’s tendency towards extravagance is legendary; he went into considerable debt in 1853, purchasing exorbitantly expensive new apartment furnishings, convinced that «Wagner fever» would soon break out in Zurich. Writing to his friend Johann Jakob Sulzer to ask for financial help, Wagner pleaded «I cannot dispute the reproach I have incurred because of this décor, other than to appeal to certain processes within myself.» He needed nothing less than luxurious surroundings in order to begin composition of the Ring des Nibelungen. He subsequently moved into his most comfortable domicile to date, a 200 square-meter home in the Zeltweg 13. There he composed Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, and the first act of Siegfried in a veritable creative frenzy. The first public performance of an excerpt from the Ring Cycle took place in 1856, when the first act of Walküre rang out in the Hotel Baur au Lac. Wagner sang the roles of Siegmund and Hunding. Franz Liszt was at the piano.
Zurich still no Wagner city
The prospect that «Wagner fever» would consume Zurich eventually ended in disappointment, but not without an intervening period of hope in May of 1853, when Wagner experienced the greatest triumph of his Zurich period. Thanks to the financially astute industrialist Otto Wesendonck, Wagner was able to organize a concert series featuring excerpts of Rienzi, Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin. He arranged for musicians to come in from out of town, as well as a chorus, and penned a 16-page program with explanatory notes. The seed for what would become the Bayreuth Festival was planted with these concerts, and Wagner thought seriously about building a theater to his specifications and presenting the complete Ring there in Zurich. A performance of Tannhäuser held at the Aktientheater in Zurich was a litmus test for the project. But it proved ultimately disheartened: the city showed only middling interest, and with the exception of Otto Wesendonck, Wagner was unable to find patrons. He slowly withdrew from public life.
In April 1857, Wagner and his wife Minna moved into the «Asyl» directly next to the Villa Wesendonck, which offered Wagner the peace and quiet he had longed for, far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Here Wagner continued work on Siegfried, but interrupted his work in the summer of the same year; he would not resume composition on it until 1864, in Munich. The reason for the interruption was his aforementioned affair with Mathilde Wesendonck – and the composition of Tristan, which was at least partially inspired by the tryst. In August of 1858, the relationship came to light, and Wagner was forced – once again – to flee a city.
A new «Ring» for Zurich
Wotan/Der Wanderer Tomasz Konieczny
Alberich Christopher Purves
Mime Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke
Fricka Patricia Bardon
Freia Kiandra Howarth
Loge Matthias Klink
Erda Anna Danik
Fafner Oleg Davydov
Fasolt David Soar
Brünnhilde Camilla Nylund
Sieglinde Katie van Kooten
Siegmund Eric Cutler
Hunding Christof Fischesser
Siegfried Klaus Florian Vogt
Hagen David Leigh
Gunther Martin Gantner
Gutrune Lauren Fagan
Waltraute Agnieszka Rehlis
Opening Night Dates
The Complete Ring Cycle Season 23/24
The programme for the Ring-Zirkel Die Walküre will be published soon. We are very pleased to welcome you as a member!