Fafner Rears His High-Tech Head

Paul Kotapish on June 19, 2018

Photographer Stefan Cohen takes us backstage at the San Francisco Opera during rehearsals for scenes with the dragon Fafner in Wagner’s Siegfried, now playing as part of the company’s full Ring cycle through July 1. Fafner, guardian of the Nibelung gold, is rendered into a high-tech mechanical monster in this production, and synching singers with machinery presented its own set of challenges. Special thanks to the S.F. Opera’s Senior Communications Manager Jeffery McMillan for the behind-the-scenes information.

Stage manager John Coleman speaks to bass Raymond Aceto, who portrays the giant Fafner in Siegfried. Aceto is sitting in the upper cab of the Fafner machine. | Credit: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

Coleman and Aceto discuss how to safely descend from the upper cab while wearing Fafner's giant boots. | Credit: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

Associate director and choreographer Denni Sayers (center) works with bass Raymond Aceto on Fafner's movements after Siegfried has slain the dragon and the mortally wounded giant descends from the machine. | Credit: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

A driver in the lower cab steers the machine as other members of "Team Fafner" push the dragon back into position during rehearsal. | Credit: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

The two-ton Fafner machine requires several people to move and steer it during Act II of Siegfried. | Credit: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

Associate director and choreographer Denni Sayers (sitting in the upper cab) speaks to bass Raymond Aceto about Fafner's movements after the dragon has been stabbed by the hero, Siegfried. | Credit: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

Bass Raymond Aceto wears the giant's boots during rehearsal to get accustomed to moving on the stage with an additional 6 inches of height. | Credit: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

The cockpit of the Fafner dragon machine where the driver steers and operates some of the machine's effects. | Credit: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

A member of "Team Fafner" resets a packet of stage blood (a dark substance that resembles oil) in the Fafner machine. | Credit: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

Prop master Lori Harrison plunges the sword Notung into Fafner to test the blood effect.

Members of "Team Fafner" reset the machine's pyrotechnic effects for when Siegfried strikes the machine with his sword. | Credit: Stefan Cohen/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera presented Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelung for the first time in November 1935. The dragon Fafner was operated by stage crew inside the beast while bass Chase Baromeo sang Fafner's lines into a microphone and amplifier backstage.

German tenor René Kollo as Siegfried battles the dragon Fafner in San Francisco Opera's presentation of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelung in June 1990. | Credit: Marty Sohl/San Francisco Opera

American tenor Daniel Brenna faces off with Fafner in Francesca Zambello's production of Wagner's Siegfried at San Francisco Opera in 2018. | Credit: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

David Cangelosi as Mime clings to Fafner in S.F. Opera's current production of Wagner's Siegfried. | Credit: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Stacey Tappan as the Forest Bird perched on Fafner in S.F. Opera's current production of Wagner's Siegfried. | Credit: Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

CORRECTION: The story as originally published misidentified the tenor brandising the sword in the caption for a photo above. It is Daniel Brenna in the current production.

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