Speight Jenkins has mentioned a 3million price tag for creating the DVD's, and at least once has spoken about the risk of having special projects divert much-needed funds from the General Fund. The SO season is already down one opera. Unless there was someone or a Foundation who normally wouldn't have donated to SO, but was specifically interested in funding DVD production, and early enough to be integrated with the Ring project plan, it was unlikely. The interesting thing about the CD's is that it sounds like they way they did the Adelaide Ring, also conducted by Fisch, they are recording all of the cycles (and maybe the rehearsals). T
he one recording they're using for the weekly broadcasts -- Gotterdammerung can be streamed next Saturday at 7pm PDT from www.king.org -- is from Cycle 1, with Lori Phillips singing Brunnhilde in the last two operas, while Alwyn Mellor sang Cycle 2 and in Friday's "Siegfried." [Edited to add: I'm not sure which Das Rheingold they broadcast, but they used a Mellor cycle for the last three operas.]
In an article or interview, director Stephen Wadsworth said that he deliberately staged Siegmund and Siegfried's death in the same physical place, and there are many other ways that sets and props have been used to reinforce the dramatic themes, with the win/win of reusing the sets. Jenkins has described these as "visual Leitmotifs," and they often involve the color red. Siegmund's red coat makes its way to Sieglinde and then Siegmund. The red ribbon in Sieglinde's hair, which she leaves in Hunding's hut, makes its way to Brunnhilde, who uses it to tie up Nothung's shards in Siegmund's coat, and if I'm not misremembering, Siegfried gives it to Gutrune in "Die Gotterdammering." (I'll find out tonight.) The blood-stained grass where Fasolt is killed sprouts red poppies, some of which The Wanderer places at Siegmund's grave, signified by the blood-stained rock he slid down after being speared in the back by Hunding in the physically identical way Siegfried will be killed by Hagen. These are just some of them.
The first act of "Die Walkure" takes place in Hunding's hut (downstage left) and a small grassy clearing in the woods (downstage right). It was a reunion for Margaret Jane Wray, who has sung Sieglinde since this production opened, and Stuart Skelton, who made his Seattle Opera debut as Siegmund in 2009 (and also for Skelton and Fisch from the 2004 Adelaide Ring.) Like Blythe's and Grimsley's Fricka and Wotan, their portrayals have deep dramatic roots and history, as well as a comfort that twins separated as young children would have that total strangers wouldn't. Vocally it was a powerful performance -- I think Skelton was going for the Guiness Book of Records with his "Walse"'s -- with Silvestrelli's rumbling bass and hulking presence a powerful foil for the twins. Silvestrelli also debuted in 2009 and returned as Fasolt/Hunding, and that's always an interesting pairing of roles: two males, giant and human, attain brides (or would-be brides) against the women's will, with the giant having far more affection for her than the human, who treats her as his due property.
The visual leitmotif comes in the second act, which opens on the same set: Brunnhilde is there chumming around with a few of her sisters who leave, playfully, to allow a happy Wotan to tell Brunnhilde to aid Siegmund in battle. The father-daughter embrace happens on the same piece of real estate where, earlier, Siegliende and Siegmund fell into an amorous one. The set already depicts the dichotomy of nature and freedom of the outside and the social jail cell that Hunding's hut represents, and when Fricka hunts down Wotan to demand that he support Hunding in the upcoming battle, it's in the forefront. The door to Hunding's hut is open, and fairly quickly, Wotan and Fricka take their positions, Fricka in the hut and Wotan outside, and both of them talk, literally, to the wall between them. Fricka argues for restrictive justice under Hunding's roof, while Wotan argues for change and freedom from the forest.
The conversation is really in two parts: in part one, they talk about the Siegmund/Sieglinde relationship and Hunding. While the audience doesn't really need to be told that the conversation is really about Wotan and Fricka, it's remarkable that Fricka does eventually tell him that the conversation is about the two of them. In one of the symposium presentations on Thursday, Pamela Rosenberg, who gave a presentation on the Berghaus and Chereau Rings, explained that one of the rationales for concept productions is that they don't gloss over the contradictions and the unexplained and try to reconcile them, which naturalistic productions try to do. As she said that, I immediately objected to myself, because one of the great things about Wadsworth's direction is that he doesn't gloss over anything, which is most obvious in the Fricka/Wotan confrontation. While they're talking about relationships, they're at an impasse: Fricka wants something, and Wotan isn't giving, and for me, this tension was gripping.
Without needing to say another word, Wotan's feels compelled to keep talking. Throughout the Ring, characters are constantly telling each other that they're smarter or wise®, and Wotan is a horrible thinker when he has skin in the game, but he believes his own PR: in the second part of the argument, he volunteers that his actions are necessary because the gods need a free man to get back the gold, and it is on that point that Fricka slays him logically. As the Nibelheim scene in "Das Rheingold" in which Loge tried to con Alberich while at the same time trying to keep Wotan from undoing the deal, Wotan is a horrific negotiator and seems to only regard victory when it results from an action. Fricka has promised Hunding victory, just as Loge promised the Rhein Daughters Wotan would help get and give back the ring to them, without asking Wotan first, and he holds the power both times to say, "Sorry, but no." He doesn't recognize that the stalemate with Fricka in itself is victory in the bag.
You know the scenes in the horror movies where the people head into the house with the murderer or the attic with the monsters and the audience screams verbally or to themselves, "DON'T GO IN. RUN THE OTHER WAY!!!!" As Wotan starts argument part two and heads into the hut, visually it is over for him: he's trapped under the roof and laws of convention, and you don't even need supertitles to get this.
Wadsworth also allows each character his or her conceits and limitations. Almost every major character in the Ring either talks too much, talks at the wrong time, asks or answers the wrong questions, pays too much, or makes the wrong deal, or takes his or her eyes off the ball. He and Asher Fisch allow the audience to listen careful to the text and to realize all of the places where there are multiple explanations and rationalizations. Where it is most obviously built in structurally is where different characters describe a situation from their own point of view and in the ways they're limited by knowledge and/or denial. What is more subtle is the way in which there isn't one big turning point that drives the rest of the drama, like in a lot of tragedies that revolve around a central character flaw, bad timing, clashing social clans and mores. In the Ring, many characters having the opportunity to make different choices at multiple points -- almost all of them could have been reversed or mitigated -- but they are stymied by their own limitations.
There are many actions and decisions that point to the destruction of the gods, and each could be a turning point in itself. An article in the Ring program quotes Stephanie Blythe, "Fricka is in love with a man who is about to make the biggest mistake of his life, and there's nothing she can do about it. Later, she offers him a way to solve this problem knowing that if he goes through with it, it will end their relationship. And she's willing to make that sacrifice to do the right thing." Psychologically, it's hard to believe this as a pure motive: Fricka upholds the laws that doom human women to be abused and treated as property, and, in return, she gets constant confirmation that human woman perpetually pay for the actions of the human "whore" whom Wotan impregnated to start human races in the first place. (The men might war with each other and die, but they might make it to Valhalla, to be served and entertained in perpetuity.) Fricka may say that the humans will fight and kill each other off as if it's a bad thing, but in his usual fashion, Wotan eats his cake and has it too: those battles are auditions for his army in Valhalla.
In part one of argument with Wotan, Fricka ties the destruction of the gods with Wotan with not upholding marital laws. Were that true, it would have been over with his first infidelity, long before Alberich stole the gold from the Rhine Daughters, for which he paid the ultimate price by renouncing love. It's disingenuous for her to claim that the destruction of the gods rests on half-god incest and a broken marriage vow, in which there wasn't true consent by the bride in the first place, but it is credible as a last straw, even if he doesn't agree. However, in part two, she argues that he will be violating the treaty with the giants by pretending that Siegmund acts freely and not as Wotan's agent, and this resonates with him in a way that marital law does not, and she keeps him from making that potentially fatal mistake. The price she pays is similar to Alberich's, because she kills any remaining love he has for her.
The reason I don't believe interpretations where Fricka and Wotan are completely estranged at this point is in the music of the first argument. As she begs Wotan not to make a mockery of her by protecting Siegmund over Sieglinde's legal husband, the music is passionate, and I don't believe that a woman as proud as Fricka would have exposed herself to Wotan's potential mockery and happiness at her misery if she didn't think he had at least some respect and love for her. If they really hated each other, I think it would be reflected in the music throughout the scene. Unlike Wotan, who will continue to search for yet another person to fulfill his will and hopes, who can share the emotional scene in Act III with Brunnhilde -- so beautifully sung by Greer Grimsley and Alwyn Mellor -- and for whom Siegfried will bring renewed, if temporary, hope, Fricka leaves Wotan on formal, stilted music, and for them, that is the end.
Wotan might also love Brunnhilde, but he expects her to be his unquestioning will and love it, and for most of her life she's done that. She even empathizes with him during his whining monologue in which he proclaims himself to be the least free. This is not a Wotan whom we've seen taking responsibility and burdens, but who boxes himself into a corner because of impulse purchases and things that look like power at the time, understands the cost of little, then blames others for his troubles and expects others to get him out of it and be his pawns. For all of his talk about living with change, he reacts by lashing out or retreating when faced with a challenge instead of adapting. In writing the great family drama, Wagner also managed to describe really bad management, another thing Light and Dark Alberich have in common.
When the daughter working for the family business witnesses a love so strong -- Siegmund would rather commit murder/suicide and go to Hell instead of Valhalla -- and changes the plan, Brunnhilde does so partly out of empathy for another male, and we can see how well that goes over. Luckily for her, Wotan leaves enough space in his public threats (in front of her sisters) for her to be able to argue for some terms that wouldn't be contradictory to his furious proclamations, and by bringing Siegfried into the picture, Brunnhilde restores his hope. (He's so easily distraced.) By this time he wants to avoid destroying her completely, and she wins by appealing to his emotional and tactical self-interest. An opera later, after it dawns on her what it really means to be awakened by Siegfried, she starts up where she left off: she tries to re-negotiate, but Siegfried, unlike Wotan, doesn't have any incentive to agree.