Seattle Ring — Part 2


The second half of the Seattle Ring was cause for more reserved admiration.  The scenic wonders continue,d but to a great extent repeated themselves, as sets were re-purposed from the first two works, resulting in some interest but much more disappointment.  And the performances, while vocally very strong, seemed to hit dead-ends in their characterization.

Siegfried opened in the same locale is the second and fourth scenes of  Rheingold, except with a rough wooden porch roof expanding over the cavern that had been earlier established as the opening to Niebelheim.  This choice undercut both the earlier scenes and the current one — it makes little sense that Siegfried has been bred where the gods gathered to enter Valhalla.  Nor is the circumstance ignored; Mime clearly recognizes the Wanderer from his encounter during the summoning of the horde, two nights before.  An even worse problem is met in Act II, where we are to accept that Neidhöle is the same place that Siegmund met his death at the end of Act II of Walküre.  The touching moment when, upon leaving Alberich, the Wanderer places his hand on the still-stained wall where his son had been run through does not begin to compensate for the confusion.  Wotan avoids Neidhöle, we are told in Walküre Act III.  Are we then to accept that he visited there in the prior act, to intervene on Hunding’s behalf?

I am a stalwart believer that a limitation in expense budget can provoke artists to genuine creativity in scenic problem-solving; that, to my mind, is what prompted the “Neu Bayreuth” stagings of Wieland Wagner in the 1950s.  But using the stone wall before which Erda, Wanderer and Siegfried have their encounters as the same locale that the Norns sit seems at best superfluous, and for the Siegmund-Hundig/Neidhöle set to be the same locale in which Siegfried meets the Rhinemaidens as his own doom is simply preposterous.  Siegfried’s seeming to recognize it just moments before his death does nothing but emphasize the error, compounded by the little pool of water with its teeny stream now being taken for the River Rhine.  The very ending of the work also failed, for me — staging Brünnhilde and Hagen at the bottom of the Rhine, with her tossing the Ring up (sic) to the Rhinemaidens, and then showing a glimpse of Wotan, Loge, Fricka and the others kissing each other farewell as they sink (rather than perish in conflagration) is illustrative and clichéd.

Alwyn Mellor’s mannerisms as an actor could not overcome her clear musical powers as Brünnhilde; despite a genuinely ringing Immolation Scene she did not surprise or move.  German heldentenor Stefan Vinke is a winning and charming doofus at the beginning of Siegfried and remains so through his death ten hours later.  His character seems immune to development — which cannot be said for the role as written.  Greer Grimsley’s Wotan/Wanderer really is fine, and Stephanie Blythe — taking on both Waltraute and the Second Norn in Götterdämmerung — can do no wrong.  I was particularly taken by Wendy Bryn Harmer, who made an excellent and knowing account of Gutrune both at the Met last year and now in Seattle.  Her brief but knowing and patronizing glance at her brother, as Hagen was expounding on the family’s reputation, was all we needed to establish that this family grossly underestimates the evil in its midst and is impervious to its doom.

Asher Fisch brought out an excellence in the orchestra that far exceeded my expectations — a thrilling experience.  And the admiration one extended to the entire enterprise was full and heartfelt, irrespective of any dickering with certain of the artistic decisions.  This was a Ring of international standards, expressed in American Northwest rubric.  One would have to be positively un-American not to weep with gratitude at the final tableau, the D-Major theme sounding in deep splendor while new, healthy and promising redwoods sprout in the primordial forests.

1 Comment

  • The 2013 Seattle production was my fourth “Ring,” and I sat transfixed in the third row center of McCall Hall. What I feared would precipitate my first visit to a chiropractor turned out to offer insights to this work that, frankly, I’ve been waiting for. Sure, I’ve enjoyed the previous productions – much the way that I used to “enjoy” Sunday family dinners when I was a child (I knew that I was in the midst of something very big and very special, but I couldn’t quite make sense of it, nor was I old and/or sophisticated enough to compete with my older siblings for any meaningful addition to the conversation.). You see, I was introduced to all things Wagner at the tender age of 10 when my big brother (one of the many) came home from college brimming with this new and complex discovery. So desperate was he to share it, I guess, that he grabbed the most compliant of his many younger siblings – me. Since then, the “Tristan chord” sends me hurtling back to that autumn afternoon of 1968 (?) – the first of many occasions in which my brother shared with me something important and meaningful to him. As a result, all of these years I’ve had a visceral connection to this epic work, though I did think that my brother was a bit “cuckoo” for traveling the world to see it over and over and over (and over!) again.

    Something changed for me during this Seattle production. For one thing, I had carved out an entire week and traveled to the other side of the country where I could not be distracted by work or family (there were, however, abundant and spectacular retail opportunities to get me from curtain to curtain. “All Saints” at Westlake Station has leather garments that will make you weak in the knees.). My previous “Rings” were punctuated by drives to and from western NY where I live and work. An entire week set aside solely for the purpose of seeing these four operas brought with it a focus and reverence that I’d not before experienced. Now, back to Row C:

    From this conductor’s-eye-view of the stage I was able to appreciate the artists as actors as well as singers. My previous seats at the Met were very much farther back in that hall and any nuances of character were easily missed, even with the aide of opera glasses. From our third row center, I had both the large picture (the full panorama of the stage) and the smaller details (Fricka and Loge as they ken the enormity of their situation at the end of “Rheingold”). As a result, I left the theater each night with insights to and many, many more questions about these complex characters, their relationships to each other, what motivates them, etc. I was truly hooked. This was brought into full evidence when about mid-week I asked my brother where the “Ring” would take us next year.

    I now understand what compels people to leave their jobs and their families and incur the significant expense (and maybe even a subsequent visit to a chiropractor) necessary to experience the “Ring.” For me, however, the best part – the part that will continue to get me on that plane and travel to wherever it is – will be sitting next to my big brother from that first rumbling Eb chord to that final heartbreakingly beautiful motive 7 days later, my sobbing head on his shaking shoulder.

    Thanks, PT.

By PeterP

The Wagner Blog

The Wagner Blog is a forum for discussion of contemporary themes arising from the works of Richard Wagner. Discussions relating to Wagner’s musical, literary, theatrical, philosophical, political and theoretic work are all appropriate for this forum.

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