The Ring has arrived: Richard Wagner's four-operas-in-a-week cycle kicked off last night and you could see in the audience that this was not the regular season anymore, it's playoff time. You could feel a palpable excitement in the crowd, a positive tension to support the performance: everyone seemed to have arrived earlier, tailgating on the opera house balcony more joyfully than usual. The house was sold out, even in the standing room, even though the opera is 2h30 long with no intermission. And in the press room, you would see all these unknown faces (but names we've heard of) from the national media packed in the tiny space. Just by the vibe you know it's big.

The Ring goes like this: last night, das Rheingold; tonight, die Walküre; then Friday Siegfried and Sunday die Götterdämmerung. The whole cycle repeats two more times, June 21-26 and June 28-July 3. All in all, it's 17 hours of music, 415 people and a $24 million budget. Putting together a Ring is a huge commitment, the last one in SF was twelve years ago. The one in LA in 2009 required that house to beg the county for an emergency loan. The current one in NY demanded that the Met opera's building be structurally reinforced to support the machinery for its Robert Lepage production.