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This is the half-way point for the final cycle of the 2013 Seattle Ring, the last of General Director Speight Jenkins' tenure. It's emotionally loaded for SO followers: it's the fourth time the full "Green" Ring's been shown, with performances of the first two operas the season's before the first showing. It was years in the planning, including five between the last performances in 1995 of the Rochaix Ring and the first "Das Rheingold" performances in 2000. Aside from the emotion surrounding Jenkins' announced retirement (next year, after August's Wagner Competition), while many of us assume that Aidan Lang will continue the tradition that put Seattle Opera on the map in the mid-'70's under Glynn Ross, there's no guarantee if or when. The trick to doing the Ring is to raise the money for it -- after the first production, incremental funds -- without draining the general fund, and even though Jenkins got board approval for the expensive Green Ring by promising to perform it four times, instead of the three iterations of the Rochaix Ring, chances are that costs for a new production now would be even higher. We're clinging to every last moment of this one, which the company couldn't afford to videotape, but, which Jenkins' announced at his retrospective program last night, will be released on CD.

It's a rare Loge that is one of the splendors of a "Das Rheingold" cast in any production, but in one that includes such stellar singing actors as Stephanie Blythe (Fricka), Greer Grimsley (Wotan), and Richard Paul Fink (Alberich), Mark Schowalter came within a razor's edge from stealing the show. His voice is big and bright, but he shaped the phrases subtly and with great sensitivity to the text. From the moment he entered until the end of the opera, whether he was singing his central narrative, managing the negotiation with Alberich in Niebelheim and keeping Wotan from blowing the deal, or mourning the fate of the universe as the gods ascended to Valhalla for the first time, he was a focused and vibrant presence, very much the personification of the flame.

Members of the cast rehearse from May until the first cycle in August; each time Stephen Wadsworth starts fresh. Sometimes there are new cast members, like Wendy Bryn Harmer (Freia), Lucille Beer (Erde), Markus Bruck (Donner), and Schowalter, all making their company debuts, or Ric Furman (Froh) making his Seattle Ring debut, and they trigger new ways of viewing the relationships. The veterans, like Blythe, Grimsley, Fink, Andrea Silvestrelli (Fasolt), and Daniel Sumegi (Fafner), not only have new colleagues to work with, but they also change and deepen their relationships to each other, and this has dramatic implications for the overall understanding of the Ring. "Dark" and "Light" Alberich are set up in opposition as worthy opponents, and this not an easy task given how Alberich is first introduced as a slimy lech and a few scenes later as an avaricious, sadistic slave owner, compared to Wotan as king of the gods. Some is accomplished because Fink is so clear in establishing how Alberich understands and accepts the bargain he makes and can see Wotan's self-delusion immediately -- later in "Die Walkure" we see Fricka slash through Wotan's sophistry -- and the deliberate and clear-sighted way he delivers the curse. The rest is by slowing exposing Wotan's flaws: the risk-taking that not only endangers the immortality of the gods, but also costs him dearly by forcing one bargain after another that slowly strangulate his freedom in the long term, the lack of responsibility taking, ex., expecting minions like Loge to find loopholes, the ruthlessness with which he steals the Ring from Alberich without wanting to pay anything for it, and his general self-absorption and narcissism.

The second major relationship is between Wotan and Fricka. From the beginning of the production, Wadsworth has emphasized the deterioration of their relationship -- not entirely new -- but he starts from the premise that while their marriage is far from idyllic, there is still a deep bond between them that stems from their early love match into a long marriage. As any follower of modern politics can see, plenty of intelligent and powerful women stand by their man when his straying is public; infidelity does not mean an immediate or irreparable break. Nor do other betrayals, however obvious as red flags as they are to the audience, cause her to break with him: Fricka acknowledges that while she envisioned Valhalla as a place to be grand and interesting enough to keep Wotan home -- he tries to blame her for the cost, although he never tells her the terms of the deal -- but then she realizes he agreed to build Valhalla for himself, for power.

In this production, Fricka observes the power of the Ring's curse -- in others I've seen, she steps over Fasolt's body as if it weren't there -- and makes a deliberate decision to follow her husband, who forges on ahead, to Valhalla. Wotan continues to have giant mood swings -- one minute he accepts the end of the gods, the next he is trying to change fate -- while Fricka tries to slow things down, for which she is considered by many a nag. I don't believe that Fricka wants to be in that position, but she's trying to be the lone adult in the family.

This interpretation of Fricka and Wotan's relationship, setting up so beautifully their confrontation in Act II of Die Walkure, is controversial. Compared to many, I think literal, interpretations, like one I saw in San Francisco (which I loved in many ways, although not this way), it would be, but I think the music says otherwise. I have to leave for "Siegfried," though, so more thoughts on "Die Walkure" later.

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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). The 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.

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Listening to the Vorspiel to "Das Rheingold" I was expecting to hear the sparkling Rhine from other performances, but what I heard was different, and I was initially frustrated. Similarly, there was something unfulfilling about the end of the opera, as the gods ascend to Valhalla. It wasn't until the Vorspiel to "Die Walkure" that the light bulb went off.

I'm not a musician, and I can only guess what Asher Fisch was doing at the beginning of the Ring, but it might have been what I can only describe as rhythmic layering. Typically, the character of the Rhine in the Vorspiel is linear and pure-sounding, but last Tuesday, what I heard were the different aspects and motions of the river, some forging and powerful, others offshoots of the main trajectory, a few eddys and pools, some clear and some darker and murkier. Likewise, the end of "Das Rheingold" wasn't simply a linear, aural victory charge, with the gods sweeping everything but Valhalla under the rug; instead it had an undertow. It reminded me of hearing Hugh Wolff conduct Shostakovitch's Fifth Symphony, where instead of the victorious, bright intro to the fourth movement, the sound was mechanical and stilted. Instead of the rousing payoff that Stalin and company were expecting was the underlying and undermining cynicism and criticism. There was something held back and heavy underscoring the end of "Das Rheingold;" what led to that walk was not so easily dismissed.

In the "Die Walkure" Vorspiel, rather than "seeing" Siegmund's flight from overhead, much like a video game, the aural experience was like being on the ground running with Siegmund, with rain and branches whipping in his face and limited visibility. I've never been aware of so many specific, in-the-moment choices by a conductor in a Ring. Often there seems to be a Big Picture approach -- slow, fast, sweeping, etc. -- but this one allowed each character to differentiate him- or her-self and react differently from scene to scene.

While there are big, loud orchestral moments over which the singers must soar or through which the singers must cut, there are far more where Fisch brings the orchestra to a murmur or shimmer. Where this is most important, in my opinion, is in Siegfried. Too often I've heard the character tenors singing Mime revert to strident, whining tones over swaths of the music. Not so with Dennis Peterson, whose expressed the wide range of emotions that were in the text with subtlety, and he was able to do so because he didn't have to compete with the orchestra. Likewise with Siegfried throughout the opera, but especially in the Forest Murmurs scene, which Stefan Vinke sang ravishingly.


It's rare to hear a dream cast of tenors in a Ring, but we really hit Lotto when Speight Jenkins cast Mark Showalter as Loge, Ric Furman as Froh, Dennis Peterson as Mime, Stuart Skelton as Siegmund, and Stefan Vinke as Siegfried. "Siegfried" was my father's co-favorite opera (along with "Rigoletto"), and, growing up and in graduate school, whenever it played at the Met, we would see it. It was the only Ring opera I'd heard before my first complete Ring in 1995, the Rochaix production. I've heard a pretty wide range of Siegfrieds, and some were very fine, but I've never heard or seen a Siegfried who was the complete package of acting, singing, and movement. He isn't exactly graceful, and he's not a madman like Richard Paul Fink, who is in late 50's is still tumbling, jumping, and leaping from big rock to big rock, but he's quite athletic and is totally convincing as a young Siegfried who roamed around the forests.

The direction for Siegfried was a straightforward telling of the story, which is more linear than the previous Ring operas and would make a great movie. There was one unusual choice, though: after Siegfried kills Mime, and Mime starts falling backwards, Siegfried holds him in his arms, and, I'm told -- I was too far up to see this -- closes Mime's eyes. Although Siegfried has shown nothing but scorn for Mime until then, and Mime has just revealed that he never loved Siegfried and raised him for his own means -- just as Wotan and Alberich do their sons -- there's a precedent for this in his father's narrative in "Die Walkure," where Siegmund describes how a would-be bride throws herself on the brothers who were trying to enslave her in marriage against her will after he kills them to help her. If the Ring shows nothing else, it is the contradictions in human behavior.

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Of course, not competing with the orchestra means having long passages where the singer better have something to say and a way of creating dynamics and expressing the text in a meaningful, self-driven way. Happily, this production had singers who took on that challenge and did more with them than I could have imagined.

The issue I've always had with "Die Gotterdammerung," even though it has four of my favorite scenes in all of the Ring, is that it's relentlessly depressing and void of hope, even during the light-hearted scene between the Rhine Daughters and Siegfried. ("Hah, hah, hah, you can save the world by giving back the ring." "Hah, hah, hah, maybe if you weren't so mean." Did the Rhine Daughters learn nothing?) Even when things are all "Brunnhilde <3 Siegfried + Siegfried <3 Brunnhilde", it's about to go badly, more badly, most badly. What I hadn't appreciated were all of the cracking points leading up to it, the places where a character knowingly changes fate and accepts the consequences -- musically, when the Rhine Daughters tell Alberich that the Ring can be made only by someone who gives up love and the same music sung by Siegmund -- and the places where they're in denial -- Wotan pretty much throughout -- or where characters only act on the possibility that the world might crumble because it intersects with their interest -- Fricka in Act II of "Die Walkure." (In this production, she actually gets a whiff of it at the end of "Das Rheingold.") Nor did I appreciate the extent to which ruptures and breaks, literally and figuratively, happen in "Siegfried."

Siegfried's theme from the opening of the opera is "Getting Rid of Mime." The closest he comes to psychological self-awareness is when he tries to figure out what is stopping him from just walking out the door of Mime's hut and never coming back. The second big break is when Wotan, no longer wanting to live in the box he's created by a bunch of rash treaties and trade-offs that are choking him, thinks he's bought his freedom when Nothung literally breaks his spear, at which point he's no longer required to live by the runes. At the same time, he seems to think things will go swimmingly if Siegfried takes over, finds Brunnhilde, and holds the ring, at least for the time being, so he never really gives up entirely. The third breach is where Wotan tells Erda how he's punished their daughter Brunnhilde, and as far as she's concerned, from that moment, he might as well be dead to her. The last might be inevitable one: although Wotan's punishment is mitigated by the type of guy who'll claim Brunnhilde, no matter how hard she tries to wheedle her way out of it, she's still going to be his wife, and she's still going to have sex with him. She's going to cross the path to emotional vulnerability and this won't end well, which is the main thing that makes "Die Gotterdammerung" so depressing, at least for me.

The last scene of "Siegfried" goes:

[siegfried establishes that Brunnhilde is a woman and not his mother.]

Siegfried: You. Me. Now.

Brunnhilde (to quite gorgeous music I might add): These are the seventeen reasons you shouldn't touch me. [she's his Aunt, you know, for which Fricka has no comment now.] These are the seventeen reasons you shouldn't touch me. These are the seventeen reasons you shouldn't touch me. These are the seventeen reasons you shouldn't touch me. These are the seventeen reasons you shouldn't touch me.

[30 minutes later]

Brunnhilde: OK.

[Clinch. Curtain.]

Not that he plays Siegfried as any kind of intellectual giant or anything, but when Stefan Vinke plays Siegfried, if I were Brunnhilde, the scene would go:

[siegfried establishes that Brunnhilde is a woman and not his mother.]

Siegfried: You. Me. Now.

Me: OK.


By the time Siegfried gets to Gibich, though, and his exploits and heroics are well known up and down the Rhine, which takes a while, and once he takes the potion to forget any woman he's known before, he acts like a real pig in the way he treats Brunnhilde. I always wonder where he learned to act like Hunding, that women should be shut up and put in their place, when he had been given Brunnhilde's wisdom after her sense of what to admire in men was transformed by Siegmund.

Before Siegfried there had been notable times where characters muffed or won the questions game; for example, Siegmund is the only one who asks the right questions at the right time (during the "Todesverkundigung" scene), gets the information he needs, understands the implications of what he is told, and takes action based on the answers. In "Siegfried" the Jeopardy game often only makes Mime look stupid, but misses the point that Mime muffs it by taking his eye off the prize and creating a new goal on the spot that doesn't really help: to try to make the Wanderer look foolish and to establish his higher place in the male primate hierarchy (unaware he was dealing with a different species). Wotan as the Wanderer is cool as a cucumber, which he rarely is under pressure, when he isn't holding all of the cards.

Wotan spends the duration of Ring and long before that (as we learn from the First Norn) searching for wisdom. He kick-starts the end of the world when he loses an eye to drink from the well of knowledge and immediately starts the slow death of the Tree of Life. He listens to Erda's warning in "Das Rheingold" and gives the ring to the giants, but immediately starts plotting to get it back for its power. He tracks down Erda and seduces her to gain wisdom, and she gives him a daughter and the Norns, but what does he learn? He fashions Brunnhilde into the extension of his will, just like he fashioned the tree branch into a spear, and once she gets a faint whiff of her roots and tries to extrapolate, he rejects her violently. Wisdom is wasted on him every time: what he's left with is data, but what he leaves in his wake is destruction.

I grew up in an Italian Catholic town in the 60's and 70's, and if there was one narrative I knew by heart, it went like this: an older sister would have premarital sex or marry a Protestant, and the patriarch would declare that she was dead to the family, and if his wife or daughters tainted themselves by contacting the guilty daughter/sister, she, too, would be dead to him. In the meantime he would sit sulking in his chair and talk about what he'd really like the disowned daughter to do or know, knowing full well that either his wife or one of his other daughters would get the message across (and, usually, with about as much success as I'll-Just-Sit-in-the-Dark Wotan.) Perhaps one of the reasons the Waltraute/Brunnhilde scene is one of my favorites is that it brings back such vivid memories of growing up in NJ, but it also helps when it's sung by Stephanie Blythe and Alwyn Mellor.

Even at the end, sitting in Valhalla, when Wotan has ostensibly accepted the end of the gods and is letting things happen, he can't resist one last passive-aggressive power play through Waltraute. He's really done nothing active except getting his affairs in order since his spear was broken, but right on cue, after Siegfried-Disguised-As-Gunther claims Brunnhilde as his bride, the first thing Brunnhilde thinks is that Wotan set her up and wanted this to happen as part of her punishment, when, in fact, at least consciously, he was still counting on Siegfried to salvage something and didn't intend him to be duped by Alberich's son Hagen and his half-sibling pawns and all that followed. There's lots to blame him for, but that isn't one of them.

In "Das Rheingold," Freia's role vocally is high-pitch distress, and Froh and Donner do a lot of chest-puffing posturing and threatening, none of which is particularly attractive, although vocally, Donner has the beautiful "He da, he da, he do" at the end of the opera. While I love "Hagen's Watch" and the scene between Alberich and Hagen, I hadn't really liked the first act Gibichung scenes, alone or when Siegfried joins them, and I'd always secretly wished that it had been rolled into a long narrative for Alberich instead. It's not like I hadn't seen great singers, particularly as Gunther (Gordon Hawkins, Greer Grimsley), but Wendy Bryn Harmer and especially Markus Bruck changed my mind completely about them from "Das Rheingold" as well as the Gibichung scenes. It's possible to feel some sympathy for Gutrune, but I think it's easier to understand Mime than Gunther, a man of no substance who waffles constantly and has no backbone. (I'm trying to think of a single "but" that Wagner might have tossed him, but I'm coming up blank.) Bruck has a beautiful voice and it was a pleasure aurally when he was onstage, and he made the most out of a thankless role. Harmer gave a nuanced and vocally lovely performance as Gutrune.

"Die Gotterdammerung" is the most linear of the Ring operas plot-wise, especially after we get story from the Norns that puts a bunch of things into perspective. (O, the luxury of having them sung by Loretta Bybee, Stephanie Blythe, and Margaret Jane Wray, who sang Sieglinde earlier: it was insane.) By the end of "Die Gotterdammerung," Brunnhilde experiences every horror that the other major female characters experience up until then: she has the ring/gold violently stolen from her and is powerless to stop it like the Rhine Daughters, she is kidnapped and held hostage like Freia, she is subject to forced marriage and marital rape, and she loses her husband violently like Sieglinde, and she's betrayed and humiliated publicly by her husband like Fricka. Presumably this leads her to true wisdom, and she redeems the world, at least until the next time the Ring is produced.

There are two morals I see to this story: no matter how much of a lascivious troll a man is, treating him badly could make him go postal, and for a woman, Wagnerworld is cruel and unusual punishment.

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Seattle Opera announced that the Ring CD's,with a 54-page book about the production and artists and the four libretti, is available for pre-order on the Seattle Opera site ($150) and is slated to ship in August. It will be released on iTunes on 9 September, the commercial release date of the CD's.

More info on how it was recorded, the producer, and the list of unions that agreed to the project is on the Seatle Opera blog:


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