Seattle Opera's once and future 'Ring'
Though Wagner's "Ring" makes regular appearances in Germany's Bayreuth Festi- val and in other major opera centers, Seattle ranks high among presenters worldwide for its lengthy "Ring" history and the consistent excellence of its productions. It runs Aug. 9-30 at Seattle's McCaw Hall.
Special to The Seattle Times
"Ring" by the numbers
How many operas?: Each "cycle" of Wagner's "Ring" consists of four operas performed within a week's span, as Wagner intended: "Das Rheingold," "Die Walküre," "Siegfried" and "Götterdämmerung." Each cycle of four will be performed three times between Aug. 9 and 30.
How many versions?: Seattle Opera first performed the "Ring" in 1975. Subsequent versions of the cycle were completed in 1986 and again in 2001.
How many fans?: Seattle Opera expects to sell about 33,000 tickets to the "Ring" this year. Audience members will come from 23 countries, 49 states (missing is West Virginia) and eight Canadian provinces.
How much money?: The 2009 "Ring" cost approximately $8.5 million to produce. The economic benefit to the region is estimated to be nearly $9.5 million, using the Arts & Economic Prosperity Calculator on the Americans for the Arts Web site.
"Der Ring des Nibelungen"Presented by Seattle Opera, Aug. 9-30, McCaw Hall, Seattle Center; limited tickets are still available for all three cycles. Call for details: 206-389-7676 or seattleopera.org.
KING FM will broadcast the complete cycle on consecutive Saturdays, beginning at 7 p.m. Aug. 15 with "Das Rheingold." "Die Walküre" airs 7 p.m. Aug. 22; "Siegfried," 7 p.m. Aug. 29; and "Götterdämmerung," 6 p.m. Sept. 5. For info: www.king.org.
The Wagnerian faithful are gathering at the Seattle Center for the ultimate in opera experiences: the "Ring," more formally known as Richard Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen." And while the "Ring" may seem more German than the Volkswagen, this four-opera epic also is an indelible part of Seattle culture.
A Seattle Opera fixture since 1975, the "Ring" is now in its third incarnation here — a hugely popular production, directed by Stephen Wadsworth and designed by Thomas Lynch.
After the last of this summer's "Ring" performances (three "Ring cycles" of four operas each — a total of 12 shows over three weeks), this production will disappear until 2013, when it's revived again.
What makes this "Ring" (first staged here in 2001) special? In many respects, it is an emotional synthesis of the elements in both the first, ultratraditional "Ring" production of '75, and the second, more avant-garde postmodern "Ring," completed in 1986.
It has the best of both approaches: It's creative, imaginative and audience-stretching, but it also has the storybook beauty and the attention to Wagner's own stage directions that satisfy the traditionalism dear to many Wagnerites.
Any "Ring" production is special, given that staging this monumental four-part saga based on Norse myths is the greatest and most expensive challenge in the whole world of opera.
Though the "Ring" makes regular appearances in Germany's Bayreuth Festival and in other major opera centers, Seattle ranks high among presenters worldwide for its lengthy "Ring" history and the consistent excellence of its productions.
In a world of "concept" opera — staging the "Ring" as, say, a parable of the Industrial Revolution — Wadsworth is something of an anomaly for focusing instead on the human interactions that make the operatic tetralogy speak to all times.
"I'm not a person who leads with ideas about the piece, or a concept, particularly," Wadsworth explained recently during a discussion on how his production will look in 2009.
Wadsworth, whom American Theatre magazine has called "one of the most influential American stage directors of the 21st century," is head of dramatic studies at the Metropolitan Opera's Lindemann Young Artists Development Program, and director of opera studies at the Juilliard School.
"I'm more interested in what's happening in the moment. And for that reason, the only significant change in the production is in the people who are playing the roles, and their differentness from the people who have played those roles in the past."
There are more changes in the major roles than ever before in the production's history: a new Siegfried and a new Brünnhilde, and new singers in the roles of Siegmund, Loge, Mime, Hunding and Hagen.
"That has meant a real restudying of the scenes that those people are in," Wadsworth says. "It isn't to say that the blocking changes that much, although it's changed 95 percent in some big scenes. It's just because of the nature of the people who are there and what happens when you put them in a room together. And the way those minds work off each other. That's where it's at.
"But I believe that's where theater's at. Theater at its core is the interaction, in the moment, between the characters/actors. That's what makes the thing really fly or not."
In revisiting a huge project like the "Ring," Wadsworth notes, "Sometimes you get the feeling that you understand a scene in a way you didn't before, and the temptation might be to say, oh, it's because we have these actors.
"But it's just as likely to be the fact that you didn't understand some things last time, or you've learned something about life in the intervening years that looms up in the scene. But I find that actors make me understand material as much as my own life experiences do."
Besides the new cast members, other changes to the Seattle "Ring" since last time (2005) include reconfiguration of two rotator units that make up the two halves of certain scenes; that should make for smoother transitions in scene changes.
Wadsworth has also done some substantial tweaking of details.
"I took a lot of notes on both technical and staging things in the third cycle, the last time around," he says.
"I was pretty hard-nosed about what I thought didn't work: technical things that might improve the storytelling. But in the scene work we have also made advances.
"In the second act of 'Siegfried,' the Alberich/Wotan scene, there were some good ideas that we started to work out in 2005," Wadsworth said. "I'd wanted to change that to make it more of a meeting of the minds, and we have gone further with this in 2009. A generation has passed. Alberich has been waiting and thinking, and Wotan has realized that he's ready for a new direction: He needs to give up control and let other people attend to the fate of the Ring and of the world."
This "Ring" production has occupied Wadsworth since 1995, when Seattle Opera's general director, Speight Jenkins, asked him to undertake the staging — joining an award-winning team that also included designer Thomas Lynch, costume designer Martin Pakledinaz and lighting director Peter Kaczorowski.
Wadsworth sees the whole "Ring" experience, 1995-2009, as cumulative, as the show moves forward with the input of great team members of the past.
"There's also that thing that you pick up in an ensemble production like this: qualities, from people who have left the cast. Those actors live on. Very particularly, just thinking of our Seattle residents, Jane Eaglen [the former Brünnhilde] and Tom Harper [the former Mime] are two people I think of all the time, really every day at work. Certainly the others as well.
"So what you see is an ensemble effort including the larger ensemble of really everyone who's been in the show, beforehand, not just the people you're looking at."
When this "Ring" production resurfaces four years from now, will Wadsworth be on board?
"Well, it's my show," he says. "But it's just hard to think about that  right now. I'm just trying to stay in the present. One 'Ring' is enough to think about!"
Melinda Bargreen: email@example.com
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company
NEW - 7:04 PM
Toy-maker shifts gears into sculpting career
Sam and Sara Lucchese create handmade pasta out of their kitchen-garage adjacent to their Ballard home. Here, they illustrate the final steps in making pappardelle pasta.