Halfway through a smashing Ring in the Pacific Northwest

Seattle Ring — Part 1

Halfway through the Ring at the Seattle Opera, there is nothing to report but bliss.

The settings are lushly romantic but at the same time not clichéd or illustrative. Great handsome vistas, massive rocks, gnarled tree limbs, impenetrable forests — they invite you to lose your bearings and enter into a world of mythical creatures and great goings-on.

Stephen Wadsworth’s personenregie (a term our German friends use to describe what we know as characterization, as if it were something distinct from directing) is consistently startling and gratifying. Mime’s recognition of Wotan when the horde is delivered in Scene IV of Rheingold; Fricka’s tapping Wotan’s shoulder in Act II of Walküre, mixing flirtation with threat; Siegmund’s abrupt interruption of the flight from Hunding’s hut because his erotic needs are too great; the jealousy of one of the Walküres upon learning that Brünnhilde has been favored by their father all this time — these are jewels that are unearthed only with compassionate and diligent investigation of the text and the action by an experienced director who is utterly sympathetic with the work.

Conductor Asher Fisch follows his triumph with the Met’s Parsifal last Spring with a reading of the score that is exuberant and pounding. A performance such as this makes even the most familiar work seem to glow in German romantic fervor. His cast is always good, sometimes astounding. Of Stephanie Blythe’s Fricka there is pretty much nothing one can say in words — she understands exactly what is at stake, and in this production more. At the end of Rheingold, she and Loge are left on stage alone and they realize, when no one else does, the disastrous course on which history is headed. The action of the work is crystal clear; when Richard Paul Fink’s Alberich has uttered his petrifying curse and scrambles back to his caverns, Mark Schowalter’s Loge confronts Wotan with an extended hand, asking for the ring so he can deliver it back to the Rhine, and Greer Grimsley’s Wotan shakes his head almost ruefully.

Stuart Skelton and Margaret Jane Wray gave us passionate twins. Alwyn Mellor was a tough but emotionally pliant Brünnhilde. Greer Grimsley’s Wotan offered at least two moments I will never forget: the stentorian declamation at the end of Walküre, which rang like steel over the orchestra, and a “das Ende” in the Act II monologue that was so despairing that the audience, orchestra, and time itself simply hung in the ensuing silence.

The Ring works best as a story that the audience recognizes as their own. Here in the American Northwest, these mythical characters race through their mountains and forests in tales of arrogance, physical passion, parental error, anarchic evil, and boundless greed. We know it when we see it and “get” the Ring anew.

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