Wagner's Ring Cycle Gets a Twangy Texas Twist in Das Barbecü

Patrick Harvey and Mitchell Greco plan for a staging rehearsal of Das Barbecü.
Patrick Harvey and Mitchell Greco plan for a staging rehearsal of Das Barbecü. Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera
Patrick Harvey and Mitchell Greco plan for a staging rehearsal of Das Barbecü. - COURTESY OF HOUSTON GRAND OPERA
Patrick Harvey and Mitchell Greco plan for a staging rehearsal of Das Barbecü.
Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera
Siegfried is a “rodeo Romeo”; Miss Brünnhilde, his cowgirl betrothed. The Rhinemaidens are synchronized swimmers, and the spinster Norn triplets offer a barnyard alternative to Tammy Wynette in “Hog-Tie Your Man.” The names are the same, but in Houston Grand Opera’s Das Barbecü, Wagner’s not in Valhalla anymore – he’s in Texas.

Scott Warrender and Jim Luigs’s campy send-up condenses 15 hours of German opera – Wagner’s Ring Cycle – into a two-and-a-half-hour musical comedy set in the Lone Star State. It’s quick, it’s witty and it coincides with the culmination of HGO’s own presentation of the Ring Cycle's finale, Götterdämmerung, which opens April 22.

“It’s great that we’re doing Das Barbecü now because while Das Barbecü does tell the story of the entire Ring, the action of the piece is congruous mostly with Götterdämmerung,” says Patrick Harvey, HGO assistant conductor and Das Barbecü’s music director. “So, people can see these two shows side by side if they wanted to and be seeing the same story told in two very different ways, each very interesting in their own rights.”

Though it’s completely its own music – twangy Texas country with a few “cheeky little winks to Ring fans” – Harvey says Das Barbecü does tell Wagner’s story effectively. “It feels different only in that it is such a different time and place, and the characters perhaps interact with each other in ways they wouldn’t in the mythical setting because they are acting with each other like Texans, and Texans are a very specific breed.”

To lure not only Texans but the Texans at heart – and in keeping with the outreach goals of community arm HGOco – Das Barbecü will go straight to the people for performances at Jackson Street BBQ and Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon, preceded, of course, by a barbecue dinner included in the ticket price.
Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera

The unique performance spaces don’t leave much room for scenery, but director Mitchell Greco is excited for audiences to see what his five actors (playing a total of 30 roles) can do with the props and the impressive costumes from Clair Hummel.

Greco is coy about the overall look of the production, but he does give a hint: “What’s Opera, Doc?” The classic 1957 Warner Bros. cartoon saw Elmer Fudd take on the role of Siegfried, stalking his favorite wabbit, Bugs Bunny, in drag as the Valkyrie Brünnhilde. “That kind of humor, that kind of feeling and that kind of look inspired a lot of the design choices,” says Greco.

“There’s a barbecue wedding,” adds Harvey, “so that’s the general aesthetic of the whole thing!”

Performances are at 7 p.m. on April 23 at Jackson Street Barbecue, 209 Jackson; and April 30, at Neon Boots Dancehall & Saloon, 11410 Hempstead. For more information, call 713-228-6737 or visit hgo.org. $40.

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Natalie de la Garza is a contributing writer who adores all things pop culture and longs to know everything there is to know about the Houston arts and culture scene.