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Bark, not Bayreuth

Is Der Ring des Nibelungen responsible for the transformation of Seattle from a gray, damp, low-rise Boeing company town where half the jokes had punchlines in Norwegian (and were about lutefisk in any case) into today's booming cultural metropolis? I like to think so. The Ring has certainly been central to the process, in three incarnations over almost forty years.

When Glynn Ross founded an opera company here in 1975, he produced Wagner's Ring for a summer blowout, in a cheerfully thin production (painted flats, horned helmets, bearskins and breastplates). The cycle was given twice that summer and succeeding summers, once in German and once in Andrew Porter's English translation. Singers and orchestra were less adept than you'd get back east or in Bayreuth, but it was the Ring all right. It was a ballsy stunt, but it put Seattle Opera on the map.

Bear in mind that, in 1975, though everyone in the Western world could probably hum the Ride of the Valkyries, the Ring had not yet been televised and its performance in North America was pretty much confined to major companies like the Met, Chicago and San Francisco. The cycle was not yet fodder for every cheeky opera house from Manaus to Bangkok.

By 1982, when I saw the Seattle show, the company had a reputation and the Ring was a source of local pride. If not everyone attended, everyone knew about the thing, and Seattle was bursting with it: We can do the Ring! We can do a Ring Wagnerians all over the world come to see! We can do anything!

When Speight Jenkins (who retires this month) took over the company, Microsoft had replaced Boeing as the fount of local wealth, and the art and theater scenes were beginning to bloom. This called for a new, more professional Ring, the one designed by Francois Rochaix, with — get this! a first! — valkyries on flying horses. There were also supertitles. Wagnerians came from all over; even those who had been to Bayreuth did not scorn to attend. Often, they liked what they heard and saw. Reputations began to be made.

A golden cultural age dawned in Seattle. Skyscrapers filled the skyline. It was the era of Mark Morris and Dale Chihuly, of Kurt Cobain and Dan Savage and Frasier. A more musically ingratiating opera house, McCaw Hall, arose on the Seattle Center site. And, with the new century, the Rochaix Ring, with its abrupt curtainfalls and steampunk gadgetry, was replaced by Stephen Wadsworth's Ring, which is having its last ho-jo-to-ho this week.

Wadsworth's Ring has been called the “green” Ring. In fact, it is a Pacific Northwest Ring, the great trees and distant waterfalls sure to thrill anyone who has trekked to Rainier or the Olympics. It is sumptuously detailed, with mountain backdrops and switchback trails, pine forests for one set, deciduous for another. The fishy costumes of the Rhinemaidens (by Martin Pakledinaz) and the scaly cols of Dragon-Fafnir emerging (bewinged and behorned) from Thomas Lynch's rocky cavern have never been more delectable. Wotan and Loge jump about like vaudeville comics to mask the vanishing Alberich. Siegfried tosses berries at the Forest Bird.

Wadsworth's take on the drama is to underline the Asgard Family Romance, shifting the focus from archetype and myth to more intimate problems. I am less than delighted with this approach; it undercuts Wagner's deeper meanings, but I'll go into that in more detail when the cycle is complete. Altering mood and emphasis is fair game for stage director nowadays; most of the packed houses at cycle 3 (including many old but also a surprising number of very young opera-goers) ate it up, thrilled to get good singers (and actors) in appropriate costumes and gorgeous sets. Nor did anyone object — certainly not the singers! — to Wadsworth's usual trick of shoving all the stage action to the front of the set for clearer declamation.

Greer Grimsley has worked his way into Wotan over several seasons; he sings with an authority, a certainty of dramatic point that was not always his, and he cuts an agile and attractive figure. It is not an overwhelmingly sensuous voice and the Walkuere Wotan wears him out — there is a beat in the last pages.

Stephanie Blythe enjoys playing Mrs. Fricka Wotan rather than the usual whining nag; she gets all lovey-dovey with her Wotan, and often sings her more lines at what appears to be a conversational murmur. Being Blythe, her murmurs are audible in every seat in the house, but they are sensual murmurs just the same.

Mark Schowalter's Loge is attractively sung but robbed of his usual ironic stance — Wadsworth has him nearly hysterical at Wotan's decision not to return the Ring to the Rhinemaidens. Can this really be a surprise? Loge is the guy who set the deal up. Lucille Beer, the Erda, made a striking entrance through the mossy forest floor, and sang her eleven o'clock number with luscious sound.

Richard Paul Fink is the commanding, anguished Alberich; Dennis Petersen a Mime who could probably manage Siegfried and who, for once, had the muscular arms and commanding voice of a proper smith. Daniel Sumegi sang an ominous Fafner. Andrea Silvestrelli has little voice left and a lisp to boot, but as both Fasolt and Hunding, his characterization was so magnetic, so magnificently surly, that you couldn't take your eyes off him. Jennifer Zetlan, Cecelia Hall and Renee Tatum were the vocally and aerially adept trio of Rhinemaidens. The valkyries got laughs for swatting each other on the backside with their spears, but Wagner's dialogue for them is hardly less risible.

In Die Walkuere, Stuart Skelton sang a impressive, lyrical Siegmund to Margaret Jane Wray's shining Sieglinde. They did not make the mistake of being drawn to each other too soon, and we got a full taste of Sieglinde and Hunding's unhappy marriage: This is a battered wife. I missed, however, the overwhelming excitement of Sieglinde's final ecstasy: Wray seemed unable to reach the proper pitch of world-saving excitement.

Alwyn Mellor, who sang Brunnhilde, is a handsome woman and an able actress, with the gleaming sound, the risk-taking fire of a proper valkyrie, though again the sense of underlying desperation, of tragedy, did not reach across the footlights. It is probably not her fault or Skelton's but the curiously anti-epic staging that robbed the “Todesverkundigung” of its otherworldliness.This should be the central pivot of a Ring, the instant when a goddess, in mid-transition to a human being, feels mortal pain and chooses to take humanity's side in any case. Skelton felt no awe and therefore we felt none; Mellor seemed to be making no special decision. There was a playful tussle, which cut the emotional impact of the entire drama.

Asher Fisch, who led a couple of fine performances of Parsifal at the Met last spring (and has conducted it in Seattle as well), leads a direct, energetic Wagner that interacts tellingly with the singing and action onstage. Several touches (the rippling harps for the final songs of the Rhinemaidens, the luscious strings for Siegfried's view of the sleeping Brunnhilde) came very immediately into the auditorium. He inspires confidence but not total submersion. His tempi are never too swift to savor, but lack the geological majesty the layers of the epic sometimes call for.

Photo: Elise Bakketun


  • Regina delle fate says:

    So Mellor not quite the disaster we were led to believe. Physically, she’s a bit homely and the voice is on the lyric side. It will be interesting to hear from JJ how our other British Bruennhilde, Catherine Foster, is doing at the Festspielhaus. On balance, I still think I prefer the Swedes. Dalayman was class as Kundry in the Proms Parsifal on Saturday. The rest….hmmmm. Houston’s upcoming Wotan, Iain Paterson pulled out of Amfortas and we got a not very inspiring Detlev Roth, the Amfortas of Herheim’s Bayreuth staging.

    • oedipe says:

      Actually, Mellor doesn’t look bad on stage (unless the costumes are unflattering, of course). She should be OK in a house that’s smaller than Bastille, where she was overparted. But you will decide for yourself when you see/hear her.

      • Regina delle fate says:

        Thanks Oedipe. She is doing the GD-Brunni next year for Opera North, semi-staged. So I’ll try to catch her in that. I’ve only heard her do the Walküre live but that was in Longborough which is tiny. It must be like singing Brünnhilde in your front room. The Bastille doesn’t work for everyone. :)

      • bellarenata says:

        Stephen Mudge wrote of Mellor’s Paris Siegfried Brünnilde in Opera News that “she nailed her top Cs with thrilling precision bringing the act to a triumphant conclusion.” In what way is that “over parted?”

        • oedipe says:

          Here you go (I hope you read some French):

          “La Brünnhilde d’Alwyn Mellor fait regretter la solidité de Katarina Dalayman. Le soprano anglais remplace au pied levé Janice Baird, souffrante. On ne saurait trop lui en vouloir de ne pas incarner pleinement le format attendu dans un tel rôle.”

          “Sans doute Brünnhilde vient un peu tôt dans la carrière d’Alwyn Mellor. Ce ne sont pas les aigus qu’on lui chicane, mais bien le medium où se joue une grande part du rôle, et de l’incarnation.”

          “Restent deux déceptions avec les prestations, ce soir trop courtes de voix, de Sophie Koch en Fricka, mais surtout de la Brünnhilde de Alwyn Mellor qu’on perdit complètement bien plus souvent qu’à son tour. Du coup il faut à regret admettre que c’était une Walkyrie sans sa Walkyrie, ce qui donne forcément un gout d’inachevé.”

          Or Alwyn Mellor ne possède que la moitié des notes de la vierge guerrière

          And a somewhat more positive take, for good measure:

          “A la soprano britannique ne manquent ni la technique ni la solidité : la verticalité de ses « cris de guerre » ne lui posent pas plus de souci que l’horizontalité de sa confrontation à Siegmund. Ne lui manque pas non plus la juvénilité presque naïve qu’on oublie trop souvent d’accoler à un personnage de presque adolescente. Ce qui manque ? Un instrument plus séduisant, moins métallique, mieux timbré”

          By the way, I was there. Were you?

    • Cocky Kurwenal says:

      Gosh Regina, did Dalayman sound good live in that Parsifal? I heard the last 15 minutes or so of Act II and thought it was just a lot of horrible shrieking -- not very good at all. But at the same time there is no singer in the world who sounds good if too close to a radio microphone -- maybe in the hall it resolved itself into something impressive.

      • Santa di Patria says:

        I was there. I feel the Elektras are taking their toll on Dalayman. The top is an enormous sound, and it was wonderful to hear it rattling around the upper echelons of the Albert Hall. Even Stemme’s Brunnhilde didn’t have that kind of projection. But it is an unwieldy instrument. Thrilling yes, but definite gear changes are required to hurl those high notes out, and there are a number of lines in Act 2 that need more flexibility than she could command. To be fair, the role is horribly written, and Dalayman has a smoky mysteriousness that suits the lower reaches as well. But it’s clear that she can’t sing quietly on high anymore. She was the only one who managed not to sound tiny next to Tomlinson…

        • Cocky Kurwenal says:

          She’s only done a few Elektras in Sweden, and none since 2010. Mostly it has been a lot of Brunnhildes with some Isoldes and Kundrys. I take your point though -- whichever of those roles one is singing, if one undertakes them without perfect vocal production and a lot of rest in between, they will lead to harshness and decline.

          I don’t think I’ve actually heard her live for years -- Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk ages ago, in which she was very impressive.

          How was Sir John Tomlinson, apart from loud?

          • Santa di Patria says:

            Ah, Sir John. Well a lot of back and forth seems to be doing the rounds in the reviews. But here is my take. Yes the voice is aged. No question. And in purely vocal terms no excuses should be made. But it was extraordinary, and in fact he was a lot firmer and more secure than other occasions in the past years when the voice has been equally aged, such as his Proms Arkel or his latest round of CG Grand Inquisitors. No, he can’t sustain the long swelling lines of benediction in Act 3 without sadly audible effort and strain and no doubt on the broadcast the spotlighting of the voice will have shown up the strain even more. But in the hall, it is less problematic, and irrespective of this, his diction, his understanding, his encapsulation of the role of Gurnemanz is unsurpassed, and I simply don’t care what his detractors say. It must be like listening to late-period Hotter in the flesh. Yes, Pape, or Selig, or even Holl who he replaced, may sing this more beautifully. But Pape is dull dull dull, and opera is not simply about the even stream of sound. Tomlinson is without doubt past the vast majority of his repertoire now, and there are few parts I would wish any longer to hear him undertake. But that Gurnemanz was literally astounding.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              Glad to hear it. I agree that for whatever reason, he seems to have got through a truly horrendous patch vocally of a few years ago, and has actually managed to get better again, somehow. For instance he was awful in Elektra and Boris in 2003, and Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk in 2006, but very much better by the time of Die Meistersinger in 2011/2012. As you say he is uniquely gifted in non-vocal ways and is somehow always worth seeing, but for a while there in the mid-naughties the negatives were just about predominating over the positives.

        • MontyNostry says:

          I only listened to a few minutes of the Proms Parsifal but I do think Dalayman has a really attractive sound. I’ve always liked what I’ve heard of her. I admire Stemme, but there is something thick and congested in her tone to my ear (a touch of the Dame Jo’s), though it’s no doubt impressive the theatre. Dalayman sounds much more sensuous and mezzo-y (in a good way).

          • Camille says:

            Yes, she does sound very, very mezzoidish, and in a good way, for the most part. The berceuse in the Parsnips stew was very beautifully sung at the Met. The only problems are in that weird passaggio area of hers but once past it, kaboom! Big fat high notes. Sometimes, alas, the passaggio trips her up but when it doesn’t, watch out.

            Yes again. Stemme, at least as I heard her in SF in 2010, sounds quite wonderful in the theatre. One always imagines the high notes won’t be there, but somehow magically or not, they appear. That is now three years ago so I couldn’t say what has become of her. Strangely, Monsieur Camille complained of her Salome in Carnegie Hall last year or whenever it was. It did not shake his world and he complained she was not at all a sexy hawt mamma. I wouldn’t know about that one../.

            • Feldmarschallin says:

              Well Camille I would gladly take Stemme as Salome even though she might not be the hawt mamma we have in Nadja Michael. But at least Stemme can sing in tune and she looks like a healthy Swedish farm girl. I much rather have that combination than a waifish woman who cannot sing in tune.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              Camille, I saw Stemme in Gotterdammerung at the proms in London just a few weeks ago, and she was astonishing. I completely agree with you that one imagines the high notes won’t be there, and I really don’t know why that is, because they just came brilliantly and relentlessly, spot on and thrilling every single time.

            • Camille says:

              Very good to hear, and particularly so from you, CK. She is one of the only reasons (along with the continuously pregnant Garanca!), that I don’t give up listening to opera.

              About Sir John; that explains somewhat my reaction to his quite riveting but vocally all-not-there–or as perhaps well should be–of the Boris Death Scene in the Met Gala in 2009. He was subbing for Herr Pape, I believe.
              I recall watching with a great deal of interest but thinking something was a bit off. It took guts to sing that scene, in any case, as impressive though it may be it certainly is neither joyful nor festive.

              La Nina gave me the one wholly comprensibly dramatic and rounded out characterisation of Brünnehilde which I’ve ever seen and heard, and for that, I am most grateful to her. Even *I* am not old enough to have seem Flagstad, maybe my favourite soprano in Wagner.

              Cheers! Hope you are keeping up with your vocalises and allowing time to yourself for such activity.


            • Camille says:

              Gnädige Feldmarschallin!

              One must forgive pauvre Monsieur Camille! For, the fact is, he not only has the Teresa Stratas film of Salome playing on a continuous loop in his head, the poor chap has never had the singular privilege, as have lucky you and I, of witnessing La Nada Ins Theater. To my eternal horror—twice—the first time in SF as the most repellent imaginable Salome in history, and, secondly, and being the lover of Macbeth I am—and even after having heard the APPALLING broadcast from Chicago—I chanced a performance at the MET. ‘Twas A Night at the Opera to live in Camille’s Hall of Operatic Horrors.

              All I could do was sit there, dumbstruck, and to think “THIS, then, is actually a performance at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City???” It was absolutely incroyable! to think it actually passed for such. I have never experienced anything similar in kind.

    • bellarenata says:

      “Homely?” Parterre’s own reviewer describes her as “a handsome woman” and she looks great in the pictures. “Disaster?” Her local reviews were excellent, with the Vancouver Sun describing her as the triumph of the production. There’s nothing wrong with a more lyrical approach to Wagner singing, it’s probably what Wagner, coming from the bel canto tradition, would have envisaged anyway. I don’t understand why there has been so much negativity on her on this forum. She will have been cast for a good reason against a lot of competition and if she is a different style of Brünnhilde that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  • Hippolyte says:

    I am a bit confused by this review. First, Seattle Opera began in the early 1960s and Glynn Ross was hired to run it in 1964--meaning he didn’t found it himself. He did begin the Seattle Ring in 1975, however.

    Many of the comments I’ve read about this Ring have raved about the Siegfried, Stefan Vinke, but he’s not mentioned here at all, nor are any of the singers of roles specific to the final two operas.

    • grimoaldo says:

      It’s a review of the first two operas only, as it says:
      “I’ll go into that in more detail when the cycle is complete.”

    • phoenix says:

      Unlike most (but not all) of the better critics in Europe, USA writers rarely list the exact dates and complete cast lists of the performances they are reviewing.
      - I have also noticed that most USA critics -- along with our most noted slavish parterriani (you know who you are) -- seem very hesitant & vague about bringing up any potentially controversial performance issues that could arouse suspicion that they not “going along with the program”.
      - The last performance of the Seattle Ring (Götterdämmerung) took place last Sunday, 25 August. I am not going to assume that this is the cycle Mr. Yohalem reviewed -- we shall wait in suspenseful anticipation for his next installment.

      • DonCarloFanatic says:

        And what IS the program? Various of us have mentioned this Ring, both months ago when we ordered our tickets and made our plans, and recently as or after we enjoyed seeing it. There was nothing official on Parterre about the Seattle Ring this year; I don’t recall even a thread dedicated to it until now. Thus, there is no way of knowing what posts or comments could be considered “going along with the program.”

        It was a fantastic experience. I’m not a musician, so I can’t tell you why in words that describe pitch and tone and register. The negatives others have mentioned simply washed over me and were ignored, because the positives of this Ring were so many and so varied. If my comments are vague, that is not a sign of conformism to a program, but a recognition that my experience of this Ring was visceral and emotional rather than rational and analytical.

        And for god’s sake, you can get a cast list easily enough.

        • phoenix says:

          Where can I find in print the exact calendar date of each Seattle Opera performance broadcast on King-FM and the complete casts of those broadcasts? Am I asking too much, DonCarlo? The Met keeps archives of their performances with complete cast of their HD & Saturday Matinee broadcasts -- I dont’ know -- maybe the expense of maintaining such an archive doesn’t find a place in Seattle Opera’s budget.
          - I am not really that good of an internet researcher -- that is probably the reason I have been unable to find any date-by-date complete chronological archives of past Seattle Opera performance and broadcast data. The critics help with the casts but I haven’t found any that indicate which performance was broadcast. Do you know?
          - To complicate matters, I have great difficulty understanding S. Jenkins’ spoken English -- I have a hearing impediment (similar to tone-deafness) and certain low dynamic level audio noises sound like drone to me -- I can’t seem to be able to defragnment the stream of sounds I hear from broadcast announcer S. Jenkins into comprehensible words.
          - There are references here and there to past casts in Seattle Opera’s advertising media and also from those of us commenting online who recollect those past performances, but that isn’t the same thing as a chronological, verifiable archive.
          - I guess I’m asking too much, DonCarlo -- perhaps the information has been lost over time or Seattle Opera doesn’t consider it to be in the public domain. Yesterday I emailed two people at Seattle Opera with these same archival performance/broadcast cast questions.

  • Camille says:

    Sir John:

    The triune deity of the Greater Seattle area—King County—was, and ever shall be thus: Boeing, Boeing & Boeing. Well, that is, until the eighties, when that three-headed g-dhead made way for the new triune deity, namely, Boeing, Microsoft, & Starbucks. The latter entity was most likely the reason everyone suddenly woke up a bit from the collective ewiger Schlaf.

    An important note here:
    Mr. Ross founded the company at the time of the World’s Fair, in 1963-4. Camille als Kind vividly remembers her first Lucia di Lammermoor, there, in the autumn of 1964. If memory does not play tricks, it seems baby Camille also saw another opera there as well—perhaps it was poor Butterfly, perhaps not. The Lucia was memorable as it starred Metropolitan Opera Soprano Roberta Peters. She dared to sing Lucia only in Seattle as the world was then in the first throes of Sutherland-Lucia mania, and it was most disappointing to little me that it was not SHE singing that role. However, Mme. Peters was a most accomplished performer and not to be sniffed at.

    I remember a Das Rheingold from the early eighties that was so stiff and static, it nearly put me into an Erda-like coma. There was a Siegfried, with that delightfully sillyassed Fafner, and that first golden, mystical crystal realisation that the Siegfried Idyll was SUCH a good tune that Wagner stole it from himself, and that Götterdämmerung, wherein the Brunnehilde was so lame that I got up and left before the cataclysmic conflagration, missing all the fun. Funny, I don’t recall the Walküre—perhaps I did not attend–?

    Ah yes, as the song goes, I remember it well. It was a brave thing which Mr. Ross did—bringing the Ring of Gold to the moss-ridden backwoods back in that far off time — and an accomplishment which was his own and for which he should be given his just due and recognition.

    • Camille says:

      And this: although the woods are full of Norwegians there, or they were back in the day, I would have to say that Garrison Keillor’s Lake Woegegone is probably a more lutefisk rich locale than Seattle ever was. Seattle takes pride of place in the Geoduck selection, however, of that there can be no doubt after having seen them ooze all over the place at the Pike Street Market. Unforgettable sight, as it were.

      In fact, Genevieve’s Rumpus Room should start stirring her kettles and come up with a geoduck stew or apéritif. Just the sort of thing to inspire the always creative Genevieve and something which would go over with that crowd of customers.

      Genny, are you listenin’?

  • Will says:

    I agree about singers and the over-close microphone placement that seems to be universal these days for picking up live performances. When listening to “historic” broadcast recordings, even those that originated on AM broadcasts, I am always impressed by the warmth of the sound and the fact that the voices are as I had remembered from hearing them in the opera house. This is not always the case with performances today that I hear first in the house and then later in the season over the radio. I simply do not trust the sound we are being given by all the supposedly advanced technology, any more than I was pleased in the 60s, 70s and 80s with the over-miked, over over spotlighted sound of recordings where you can hear singers breathing and clearing their throats, while pages are being turned and chairs are creaking in the orchestra. I remember a flute recording where the soloist’s breath intakes were often as loud as his playing. These things are not what we hear in the opera house/concert hall and I’m not interested in hearing them at home.

  • La Valkyrietta says:

    Sounds like a decent Ring, blessedly free of distracting crocodiles, oil fields, gas stations, glutton ladies, blow jobs, the New York stock exchange, exotic Baku or a Berlin landscape. The Ring is what it is, and what it is needs no excuses.

    • La marquise de Merteuil says:

      LV -- I cannot help but agree with you on this, but I suspect on here them’s fightin’ words…

      • La Valkyrietta says:

        Chère La marquise de Merteuil,

        Yes, but don’t discount the decline of civilization either. Maybe it won’t be long before we see Sieglinde offering a Starbucks cup to Siegmund, the tarnhelm turned into a tablet, and meinen schwestern riding Boeings :) .

      • Camille says:

        La Marquise des Coeurs!

        Where hast thou beeeeeeeeeen in all this long while?

        Camille doth miss thee!

        Avec mes plus sincères compliments et un doux bisou—
        Votre dévotée,
        Petite camille

  • DonCarloFanatic says:

    I saw the first cycle in Seattle this year and was impressed that Greer Grimsley never tired. I guess by cycle III, there is some cumulative exhaustion.

    It was a very pleasing production, all told, although I do agree that the Todes… scene didn’t have much resonance. But then I did not like Stefan Vinke’s singing at all. Just my reaction; everyone else says he’s wonderful. He acted well, but to my ears, he did not sound…smooth? Something like that.

    I’m still trying to track down a Walkure I saw part of on television in Sydney, Australia in 2003. That had 1930s costuming, seemed to be on videotape, not film, and looked mighty interesting. Any ideas?

    • DonCarloFanatic says:

      Oh, what am I thinking? Conflating Siegmund with Siegfried! Silly me. Just cut those connectors in half. Todes was not impactful, and BTW, I didn’t like Stefan in the later operas.

      • phoenix says:

        If you didn’t like Stefan, you must have adored Lori!

        • DonCarloFanatic says:

          I did like her. Allwyn Mellor did not make much of an impression on me. Phillips was definitely up to the job.

  • irontongue says:

    “When Speight Jenkins (who retires this month) took over the company, Microsoft had replaced Boeing as the fount of local wealth, and the art and theater scenes were beginning to bloom.”

    Seriously? Jenkins took over in 1983. Here are some numbers for Boeing and Microsoft in 1983:

    Boeing: 81,000 employees, revenue of $9 billion
    Microsoft: 476 employees, revenue of $50 million

    Also, McCaw Hall is a major renovation of the existing hall, not something completely new, though goodness knows it was the guttiest of gut renovations.

    • armerjacquino says:

      ‘When Jenkins took over… Microsoft had replaced Boeing’

      Not sure what your point is? Your numbers back up the point made in the review.

    • Camille says:

      That’s right. In 1983 or thereabouts, Microsoft was not at all the presence is was to become in the latter eighties—and at what point did they build that humongous campus in Redmond?

      Early eighties and late eighties were two very different things there—the pre-Espresso and post-Espresso Ages of Man.

      I still remember that not very good War and Peace from 1989, a rather audacious attempt, however well or not it may have come off. Also, it was pretty ballsy to put on the entire, uncut, unexpurgated Die Meistersinger there, same year. The Met thought “they were crazy”, in the words of my friend who worked with them.

      The first Rusalka, aside from the Spoleto Festival if I remember correctly, was given there. And there were all those Vaness vehicles. Giudici ad Anna et all.

      • redbear says:

        The San Diego Opera list their performances of Rusalka, in December 1975, as the first “Professional” debut of this opera in America,

  • Ilka Saro says:

    Now, now, Mr Yohalem. You may wish to disparage the pre-Ring Seattle, but let’s not forget that it was the birthplace of “Mama” Rose Hovick.

  • TenorPitcher says:

    I think Seattle Opera is a fantastic company and have loved watching it grow over the years. I just hope Aidan Lang maintains the commitment to the Rings that Speight has.

  • grimoaldo says:

    “Wadsworth’s usual trick of shoving all the stage action to the front of the set for clearer declamation.”

    I am not sure about the stage directions of the original Ring, but I do know that is was an assumption of almost all 18th and 19th century opera productions that the stars would deliver their big showpieces right at the very front of the stage. That is a “trick” that should really be followed a lot more, in my opinion, the composers assumed it would be and wrote for the orchestra accordingly, it is really not fair on the singers to make them try to ride over the orchestra from the back, or even the middle of, a huge stage.

    • Ilka Saro says:

      Grimoaldo, I agree. I love interesting stagings, but the big houses that accommodate operas on the scale of the Ring often have acoustical caprices. Move the singers around too much and it can really wreck the sound. I don’t know what the acoustics of the Seattle Ring house are like. But at the Met the acoustic contrasts between different parts of the stage are really glaring.

      • derschatzgabber says:

        The opera house in Seattle seats 2,900 and has good acoustics. Voices carry much better in McCaw Hall than in the War Memorial in SF, the Chandler in LA, or the Met.

        During one of his popular, after opera Q&A sessions, Speight Jenkins talked about the challenges Wagner singers face singing over full orchestras in halls that are about three times bigger than the halls that Wagner was writing for. Even with the good acoustics in Seattle, Speight still believes that Wagner singers need all of the help they can get. During the planning stage of new Wagner productions, Speight works with the director and designer to make sure that the sets include some acoustically reflective surfaces located fairly downstage. That doesn’t mean that there are no deep portions of the sets. But there are acoustic refuges.

        • operadent says:

          Having sat in all areas of McCaw hall for various operas, I agree it is an acoustically excellent venue.

        • Operngasse says:

          The “trick” about the War Memorial in San Francisco is that the cheaper the seats, the better the sound.

          The absolutely worst seats are back and side orchestra under the boxes.

          • derschatzgabber says:

            Yes, great acoustics in the cheap seats, but poor sight lines. Decades ago I stood in rear dress circle (no longer an option, alas), while my friend sat in the balcony. There were several nights when I had to explain to him how the opera had ended. For example, “then Katerina pushed Sonya into the freezing river and jumped in herself.” From the balcony, you can see roughly the front quarter of the stage.

  • opus says:

    Speight Jenkins will retire in Sept 2014, not “next month” as stated above. His successor, Aidan Lang will work in tandem with him from March 2014 through his official retirement in Sept 2014.

    Microsoft has its first initial public offering in 1986. Speight Jenkins became General Director in 1983. At this time, Boeing was still the “fount of local wealth”

    “This called for a new, more professional Ring, the one designed by Francois Rochaix”

    The 1985 Ring was designed by Robert Israel and DIRECTED by Francois Rochaix.

    “A more musically ingratiating opera house, McCaw Hall, arose on the Seattle Center site. And, with the new century, the Rochaix Ring, with its abrupt curtainfalls and steampunk gadgetry, was replaced by Stephen Wadsworth’s Ring, which is having its last ho-jo-to-ho this week. ”

    Marion Oliver McCaw Hall opened in 2003. The Wadsworth/Lynch/Pakledinaz Ring had its premiere in 2001.

    Nowhere has it been said that the Wadsworth Ring made its “last ho-jo-to-ho” this week. Aidan Lang has not yet announced his plans for this production. He could very well remount it.

    As far as your impressions of the singers go -- as opinions are personal, all I will say is that I disagree with most of them.

    In my estimation, Grimley had a triumph as Wotan. Simply fabulous. The voice was enormous in all the right ways. Blythe is a definitive Fricka. Lucille Beer offered an uneven Erda with a bleat in the voice and a thin top. Alwyn Mellor was two sizes too small for Bruennhilde, though her portrayal of the role was captivating. Petersen could certainly NOT manage (the role of) Siegfried, as he struggles with the high voice. The middle voice is sizeable, but there is little top. His Mime was well sung, however, with the two or three high notes in the role. Silvestrelli’s bass was cavernous and spot-on for Hunding, while Fasolt proved a smidge too high. Sumegi was a terrifying Hagen and deafiningly loud. He has grown considerably in the last four years since his last Seattle attempt of this role.

    As for Wadsworth’s having Loge nearly hysterical at the end of Rheingold, Miss Blythe made an interesting comment during a Q&A session. Only Fricka and Loge truly understand the implications of Wotan’s NOT returning the Ring to the Rhinemaidens. A look at the libretto will back this up -- “Ihrem Ende eilen sie zu, die so stark in Bestehen sich wähnen. Fast schäm’ ich mich, mit ihnen zu schaffen…” Therefore, Loge’s reaction made perfect sense to me.

    • meowiaclawas says:

      I agree with opus. I think the most glaringly incorrect comment in the review was that this is the last iteration of the Wadsworth Ring in Seattle. I attended the Q&A sessions with Speight Jenkins after Walkure and Siegfried in cycle 2, and he addressed this question head on: He does not know if the Wadsworth Ring will be back or not, it is up to the next General Director of SO to decide. He did add, however that opera companies in China and Korea expressed interest in buying or renting the production. Interesting…

    • La Cieca says:

      Ms. Blythe is talking out of her ample ass or else has been too busy reading Stephen Wadsworth’s “you go girl” program notes. There is nothing in the text or music to support the idea that Fricka understands anything about the implications of not returning the Ring.

      I mean, for Christ’s sake, the character sings right out loud

      Taugte wohl
      des goldnen Tandes
      gleissend Geschmeid
      auch Frauen zu schönem Schmuck?


      (schmeichelnd zu Wotan)
      Gewänne mein Gatte
      sich wohl das Gold?

      She is on board with Wotan’s grabbing the gold for himself from the word go. And the first thing she remarks after eye-witnessing the bloody murder of one giant by the other over the disputed gold is:

      Wo weilst du, Wotan?
      Winkt dir nicht hold
      die hehre Burg,
      die des Gebieters
      gastlich bergend nun harrt?

      I mean, you change the period of an opera of put a smidge of candid sex into a love scene, and pearls get clutched from coast to coast. But a blatant distortion of character in order to provide a star singer with a more sympathetic vehicle, well, that’s okay, because Blythe is so loud and all.

      • DonCarloFanatic says:

        You can’t imagine how silly the Google Translate versions of these lines are.

        What do you think of the bit in this Seattle Ring where they have Siegfried hugging Mime’s dead body? Also not justified by the text?

        Then there’s Siegfried’s flirtation with the Rhinegirls: in Zambello’s SFO Ring, the surtitles had him suggesting he’d be amenable to some hanky panky. In this Seattle one, there was more like a polite acknowledgment of their attractiveness, with the excuse that he is married. Very different.

        I think I have to order the Spencer translation.

        • Batty Masetto says:

          DCF, the business with the Rhinegirls all depends on how you read Siegfried’s last lines in the scene:

          Und doch, -
          trüg’ ich nicht Gutrun’ Treu, -
          der zieren Frauen eine
          hätt’ ich mir frisch gezähmt!

          Roughly: “If I weren’t faithful to Gutrune, I’d have been happy to tame one of those cuties.”

          If you think the emphasis is on the first part, you get Seattle; if you put it on the second part, you get SFO. There’s certainly enough teasing coming from both sides to play it either way. And he does contemplate letting them have the Ring because of the teasing.

      • opus says:

        I’m not suggesting SW pulled the idea of Fricka’s understanding the implications of not returning the ring directly from the libretto. You’re certainly right -- there is nothing in the libretto to define this idea. However, there’s also nothing to oppose it either.

        Ms. Blythe’s reading of “Wo weilst du, Wotan?” was one of geniune concern, seeing her husband’s fascination with Erda and knowledge of his proclivity towards being unfaithful. Her fears are justified, of course, as we see from By having Wotan in Valhalla, he would be less inclined to wander the world. After all, in the second scene she says

        Um des Gatten Treue besorgt,
        muss traurig ich wohl sinnen,
        wie an mich er zu fesseln,
        zieht’s in die Ferne ihn fort:
        herrliche Wohnung,
        wonniger Hausrat
        sollten dich binden
        zu säumender Rast.

        Her reading made sense to me in the theatre. It may not satisfy everyone, but there’s no need to make a low blow about Ms. Blythe’s weight in disagreeing with her interpretation.

        • derschatzgabber says:

          I agree that the reading makes sense in the theater. I don’t think SW implies that Fricka fully comprehends the full consequences of the Ring. But in his concept, Fricka is beginning to realize that Wotan is leading the gods down a dangerous path. SW’s direction of Fricka at the end of Rheingold makes a plausible transition to Fricka’s scene in Act II of Walkure. I like SW’s direction of the Wotan/Fricka scene in Walkure. Fricka still loves Wotan, despite his extra-marital adventures, but she has to ensure that the gods maintain the order through which they rule. Fricka comes across as a sympathetic and interesting character in the SW Ring.

          Having said that, I think the direction (or the singers adherence to the direction) was a bit better in 2009 than in 2013. The Loge this time around went a bit over the top in his disappointment with Wotan and then Fricka in the end of Rheingold.

          I also preferred the 2009 staging of the end of Gotterdammerung. in 2009, Wotan kissed Fricka on the forehead just before signaling Loge to ignite Valhalla.

          • La Cieca says:

            in 2009, Wotan kissed Fricka on the forehead just before signaling Loge to ignite Valhalla.

            Excuse me while I vomit. Did Wotan take time to have a heart to heart talk with Princess, Bud and Kitten before the final apocalypse?

            • m. croche says:

              The philandering Wagner certainly had a more cynical view of Fricka than his sources did.

              Then the second grief of Frigg comes about
              when Odin advances to fight against the wolf,
              and the bright slayer of Beli against Surt;
              then the beloved of Frigg must fall.

              Wagner’s text isn’t terribly explicit as to what the “hehrstes Wunder” at the Gotterdammerung close might be. For any director who wants to go beyond a simple scenic realization of the stage directions provided in the Gott. score, there needs to be something miraculous/redemptive to justify the recollection of Sieglinde’s melody at the end and the music’s “optimistic” close. Most directors’ solutions work decently enough while the music is running, but sound ludicrous when related to third parties after the fact.

              Given that, I’ve seen (and heard of) worse solutions than the proposition that Wotan, at the last-minute and perhaps inspired by Brunnhilde’s devotion, re(dis)covers his former love -- going into eternal sleep next to the woman he woke up with in Das Rheingold.

  • balconydenizen says:

    Since this review speaks to the first two operas, I’ll limit my comments to those.

    I attended the second cycle. Overall I found this production thoroughly enjoyable and a valid interpretation. It was beautiful to look at and the staging makes sense. I don’t think that Wadsworth is the first to view the Ring as a story about a dysfunctional family who just happen to be Gods.

    Greer Grimsley was magnificent as Wotan. If his voice doesn’t have the resonance of Morris or Tomlinson, everything else was there in abundance. Blythe is a case of a singer owning a role. Vinke delivered a powerful Siegfried. As to Mellor, I have mixed feelings. I found her voice a bit small (NOT two sizes) but she delivered an affecting portrayal.

    By the way, don’t call this a “traditional” Ring in front of Speight Jenkins. He took real exception at a Q&A when a questioner used this term. Speight regards a traditional ring as one with a few trees planted on the stage among which the singers stand and deliver. Per Speight, this is a Modern Ring.

    • Salome Where She Danced says:

      Second cycle, too. Blythe was best as the Gott Waltraute. She totally nailed it.

    • Regina delle fate says:

      Well, the pix certainly make it look like a “traditional” Ring. La Cieca’s illustration looks like a black and white photo of a Ring circa 1920 that has been coloured in. For a mo I wondered if that was Nanny Larsen-Todson with the spear! :)

      • Feldmarschallin says:

        When I saw that picture Regina I lost all interest in reading about that Ring. Not my cup of tea I am afraid. Looks like something Cosima Wagner would have come up with.

        • manou says:

          Feld -- surely there must be some value in at least reading about this Ring, which has been so well received in different quarters, even if you would have no interest in watching it. This is dangerously akin to the stance of those who would condemn the Castorf Ring just on the basis of some of the pictures.

          Open-mindedness requires that we consider different opinions, especially if they run counter to our own inclinations.

          • Feldmarschallin says:

            Manou I saw two Rings in Seattle over the years and they were both interchangeable. I look to see what was said about the Brünnhilde though after someone saying she was absolutely ghastly. But apparently Foster is even worse. But Manou I am inundated with things to read here and have papers and magazines where I also have to catch up that there comes a point and you need to pick and choose what is important to you.

            • manou says:

              I quite understand that one must be selective -- I myself have several books to read and never seem to catch up. I just felt you were being unduly dismissive of the production, not realizing that you were familiar with it.

              By the way -- I have seen Foster’s Brünnhilde (Walküre) in Amsterdam, and she was OK -- but completely outclassed by Catherine Naglestad as Sieglinde.

            • Feldmarschallin says:

              Thanks Manou re Foster. The more I hear about her the less I want to see the Ring next year and might just wait for the third year. I don’t want to invest all that time and money and have a bad Brünnhilde. Petrenko will do three cycles here in April 15 and might just have to wait since Bachler seems to get decent to very good Brünnhildes. I would like to see the production but that can wait. Surely at some point Foster will be replaced.

            • grimoaldo says:

              I’m glad that there are various approaches to productions of the Ring, or any opera and I think something that has been lost recently is a sense of identity among various opera houses when you can see the same production of Tosca at the Met or La Scala or the same Don Carlo at the Met or Covent Garden. I understand why they share productions but it does make a sort of bland international approach all over the place. Seattle has built a strong identity with its Ring productions, something different than you will see in most other places, a lot of people love it, others do not and the ones who don’t like it will find other approaches that suit their taste more.

            • oedipe says:

              Personally, more than seeing the same co-productions all over the place, I am much more bothered by the trend among top opera houses to cast the exact same stars everywhere. That IMO leads to a “bland international sound”, and audiences are becoming convinced that’s the standard.

            • Cocky Kurwenal says:

              The stars are the stars and everywhere is going to want them -- this is nothing new. However, there are important local differences -- Harteros is a pretty obvious case, who doesn’t now appear in New York, who out of nearly 30 scheduled performances ever at the ROH has done just a handful and who probably won’t now be back -- we’ll have to go to Munich, Vienna, Berlin etc to see her.

              Herlitzius is another -- one of the most exciting and truly individual singers in the world today, but who seems to sing only in a few houses in continental Europe.

              Racette has monopolised the forthcoming San Francisco season apparently, but has only done 1 solitary production with a short run in London the entire time I’ve been conscious of the opera schedules.

            • MontyNostry says:

              … and don’t forget her appearance in the LPO’s concert performance of Das Wunder der Heliane in 2007, in which the vocal highlights were supplied by Willard White (sounding far better than I would have expected) and the splendidly named Ursula Hesse von den Steinen.

            • manou says:

              I was there and I am still yawning….Who thought up the wheeze of placing the soloists behind the orchestra?

  • manou says:

    Here is an Italian critic who thinks Wagner would have been proud of The Seattle Ring:

    There are also many photographs of the production.

    • balconydenizen says:

      What a marvelous review. The writer captures everything I enjoyed about this Ring. Rarely am I in total agreement with any reviewer, but with this writer, I am.

  • Flora del Rio Grande says:

    I’d like to say to John Y., I always enjoy your writing; I’ve not seen the SeaRing this year, but every word-of-mouth comment I got (a lot) was extremely positive.
    On Seattle: “low rise?” Last time I was there I went to the observation floor at the top of a 78-story bank tower downtown and the views were breathtaking — you could see the entire Seattle area and how isolated it is by mountains and water. Try that view sometime. Seattle is no longer a Boeing town. Headquarters moved to Chicago, most military operations are consolidated into the old McDonnell-Douglas mega-factories in St. Louis. Passenger jet production remains at Seattle and it is substantial. Yes, Seattle had a provincial and isolated history, but no longer. I like to visit there and will again for Wagner and seafood — two of my favorite things :) And Nordstrom’s ‘mother’ store downtown remains a full service department store — the rare real thing, and not just a collection of boutiques. Seattle is an elegant and sophisticated metropolitan area. Meany (sp?) Hall at Univ. of Washington is one of the great chamber music auditoria, acoustically speaking, I have ever heard. It’s a treasure any city would envy. And I absolutely agree about the excellence of the Seattle Opera house. Built with 5000 seats in the 1920s as an all-use public auditorium, it was made over in 1960s style and somewhat reduced in size for the world’s fair — not a bad place back in the ’60s, but the further reduction in size and complete rebuilding as it is now constitutes one of the most comfortable and rewarding opera venues I know. Add to that ease of access by monorail from city center to very near the entrance of the opera house and you have a situation that is hard to beat. And then there is the wonderful old/renewed Olympic Hotel . . . great place!
    Yes, I know: Too bad there is way too much rain.

  • Avantialouie says:

    Seattle may well have had a provincial and isolated history, but even in the late 1950′s when I attended college there, it had almost as much polish and sophistication as San Francisco. But Seattle was just enough smaller, so that one could truly get to know it well and enjoy it deeply. I have seen every Seattle “Ring” several times, although not every cast or every year. And I will proudly and happily take any and all of the Wagner that the Seattle opera has offered over the years as “something Cosima would have put on” in preference to absolutely ANYTHING Katerina and Eva have come up with. NO ONE can now look to Bayreuth for leadership in Wagner production. For many years, Seattle has merely been able to rival Bayreuth. Recently, it has totally eclipsed it: Bayreuth has now successfully erased itself from the world’s memory bank and simply disappeared. No one cares any more.

    • Chrysothemis says:

      Let me put those last sentences in another, more accurate way:

      Bayreuth’s productions are global cultural events that often spark enlightening debates about the works themselves and their interpretations. The singing in on balance about as good as you could expect anywhere, while the choir and orchestra are peerless.

      Seattle, meanwhile, puts on productions that everyone seem to kind of like, with b-list singers and a provincial orchestra.

      Don’t get me wrong. I saw the Seattle ring last time around, and I loved it. Let’s just keep things in some kind of perspective, shall we?

      • reedroom says:

        Provincial orchestra? I’ll give you some perspective: As a member of said orchestra, The Seattle Symphony, I’ll gladly compare my and my colleagues’ work in the Seattle Opera pit to any in the world. And, if you call Stephanie Blythe, Greer Grimsley, Stuart Skelton, and (in past productions) Eva Podles “b-list singers”, I don’t know what you’re smokin’.

        And sorry, the Bayreuth orchestra, on every “live” recording I’ve ever heard, has been wildly uneven; “intonation” must have a different meaning in German. Just sayin…

        • meowiaclawas says:

          I back up reedroom’s comments. BRAVO to Seattle Symphony and the other musicians who played in this summer’s Seattle Ring. I’ve seen the Ring in Seattle, NYC and Berlin and Seattle’s was overall the best due to the production, the singers AND the orchestra.

        • Chrysothemis says:

          No insult intended whatsoever, and if you played in 2009 I’d be happy to thank you for being part of a great experience.

          I already said I loved the Seattle ring. “Provincial” just has a quite different meaning when you’re talking about houses that actually play the Ring. I thought the Seattle orchestra was about on par with Los Angeles and San Francisco -- I heard all three Rings in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively. It was just not as good as what you’d be likely to hear in, say, Berlin or Vienna on a good day.

          The Bayreuth orchestra has had its ups and downs, but from from about 1988 I’ve rarely heard them be anything but mindblowingly good. The Barenboim and Thielemann Ring recordings come to mind.

          As for the singers: Blythe -- yeah, obviously. I almost went back this year just to hear her Waltraute. Why does she only sing that part in Seattle? Grimsley and Skelton -- I liked them both just fine in 2009. Richard Paul Fink was the real star for me -- the best Alberich singing today as far as I’m concerned.

          The rest of the cast I thought were good to OK, and in a well conceived Ring that’s all you really need.

          It just wasn’t something that set the whole Wagnerian universe on fire, or that is likely to be remembered as in any way important -- as opposed to a large number of Bayreuth productions. And that’s really the only point I intended to make.

      • Vergin Vezzosa says:

        Hear, hear reedroom! Plus it seems from most reports from Bayreuth this year that a lot of the singing there could be described as “provincial”.

      • Feldmarschallin says:

        No the singing is not as good there as you can expect anywhere. München and La Scala had much better Lohengrin and Ring casts than Bayreuth. Stemme, Harteros, Kaufmann, Herlitzius, Pape all don’t sing there anymore or haven’t sung there. Stemme is in my opinion the best Brünnhilde we have today followed by Herlitzius and Nagelstad is excellent as Siegfrieds Brünnhilde. And who does Bayreuth come up with? Foster! Granted she was a substitute for Denoke but still. Why not Jennifer Wilson at least.

  • DonCarloFanatic says:

    Since I haven’t made it to Bayreuth yet, I’ll have to wait and see. But I do not recall hearing the Seattle orchestra hit the glaringly wrong notes that I heard at the SFO Ring. A Ring I enjoyed regardless.

    As to the singers, as I said previously, Blythe did not come to Seattle and do the very same Fricka she did at the Met. Far from it. No bland international sound from her. Neither did Sumegi reprise what he did at SFO. And we can’t have it both ways. Either we’re okay that some singers travel the world, or we’re okay that some singers stay at just one house or in just one relatively small geographical area.

    This being Parterre, though, we manage to complain about everything. It’s a wonder that any of us end up having any fun at all at any of these woefully imperfect performances with their dreadful singers. But we do.

  • bellarenata says:

    Oui, j’étais la pour Die Walküre et Siegfried à Paris. Mais, vous citez les critiques pour Die Walküre, c’est que j’avais cité c’était pour Siegfried. It is generally agreed that Die Walküre lies much more treacherously for a high soprano and that Ms Mellor is much better suited to Siegfried than the low lying Todesverkündigung. The Bastille is a difficult theatre but she seemed to me to have found its measure much more satisfactorily for Siegfried and I would guess was also more rested. The rehearsal period must have been tough as I imagine it was designed for two singers but that she had to take over all of it when Janice Baird withdrew.

    “Quant à l’excellente Brünnhilde d’Alwyn Mellor, elle chante parfaitement, avec une stabilité vocale bien venue, un timbre vaillant et clair, et ce qu’il faut d’enthousiasme au III.”

    “Alwyn Mellor est, heureusement, meilleure que dans La Walkyrie : on entend davantage le médium, les registres se soudent davantage, l’aigu, s’il reste crié, tient bon.”

    “The higher tessitura of the Siegfried Brünnhilde suited Mellor’s soprano better than that of Die Walküre, and she nailed her top Cs with thrilling precision, which brought the evening to a triumphant conclusion.”

    Paris wasn’t a triumph for her but it certainly wasn’t as bad as some of the initial reviews suggested and if one reads the Seattle reviews they have really been rather good considering how sniffy we all are about anybody even daring to attempt these huge roles.

    • oedipe says:

      Well, initially you quoted a glowing phrase of one review of one part of the Paris Ring, and you asked rhetorically how anyone can call Ms.Mellor’s singing overparted.

      So I answered you with quotes from several considerably less glowing reviews of the singing that represented the bulk of Ms.Mellor’s Paris Ring contribution.