Sing Faster: The Stagehands' Ring Cycle

Director: Jon Else
Screenwriters: Jon Else

Institute History

  • 1999 Sundance Film Festival


With its four operas, seventeen-hour running time, and required rehearsal time of a full month once the sets have been built, staging Wagner’s Ring Cycle is a daunting undertaking for any opera company. Jon Else goes backstage at the San Francisco Opera to capture this rare event from a unique perspective: firsthand from the stagehands.
“While the gods are out onstage singing about the great problems in the world, we are doing all the hard stuff,” says one stagehand in the middle of his eighty-five-hour work week during dress rehearsals. According to the blow-by-blow account of the libretto we get from the ongoing poker game backstage, the “sexy” Rhine maidens struggle to get their gold back, and the Valkyries sing “loud…really loud.” The relaxed attitude alters immediately during scene changes, when everyone springs into action like a well-oiled machine. Then we embark on a visual trek through Styrofoam rock formations and over painted mountaintops, learning the secrets of classic Wagnerian special effects: fog, fire, thunder, earthquake, and of course a dragon.
Jon Else is a master documentarian who employs remarkable camerawork to relate a story. With stunning shots and sharp editing, he captures both foreground and background action, onstage and off, playfully juxtaposing these contrasting worlds. Reality fades, and the focus is on the layers of organization and artistic expression bonding individuals working for a common goal. Ending with an amazing, speeded-up finale of the entire production, Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle is an endearing look at this famous masterpiece.

Jon Else, Director
Jon Else produced and directed The Day after Trinity and Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven, both of which screened previously at Sundance, and Cadillac Desert for PBS. He was a cinematogrpher on the BBC’s History of Rock and Roll and series producer on Henry Hampton’s Eyes on the Prize. Born in 1944, Else worked construction and on the staff of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi before studying English at U.C. Berkeley and film at Stanford.

— John Cooper

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards


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