“The Ring” is back in Seattle, and again cause for civic celebration.
The acclaimed Seattle Opera production of Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen” (“The Ring of the Nibelung”), a towering four-opera cycle based on the heroic myths of ancient Nordic and German legend, returns to the McCaw Hall stage this week.
It may be the final chance to see what has come to be known, and widely praised, as the “green ‘Ring,’ ” due to its setting in a craggy mountain and verdant forest terrain akin to the Pacific Northwest.
It takes more than 100 performers, technicians, craftspeople and other hands to conjure this monumental work — which clocks in, over four nights, at about 17 hours.
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Overseeing the latest revival of his triumphant staging is Stephen Wadsworth, a touted opera and play director who brings a depth of psychological richness and clarity to the dynastic saga of men and gods, Rhinemaidens and Valkyries. Former Seattle Times critic Melinda Bargreen praised his “inspired” mounting of the work as “clear in every gesture and every turn of the singing actors, all of whom are believable as never before.”
A former Seattle resident now based in New York, where he heads an acting program for opera singers at Juilliard School of Music, Wadsworth has logged exhaustive 18-hour workdays since May on the opera’s four components.
“It’s like making a new production, because we work with new people every time,” said the articulate, impassioned director, between demanding rehearsals.
Among the new cast members he singled out are the German tenor Stefan Vinke, who plays the temperamental human hero, Siegfried, and British soprano Alwyn Mellor, appearing as the mighty warrior Brünnhilde, whose tragic romance with Siegfried is a major element of the opera.
The original scenic designer of the production, University of Washington professor Tom Lynch, and lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski, are again collaborating with Wadsworth. But another member of the close-knit team is missing this time: the late costume designer Martin Pakledinaz, who died in July 2012.
“I think a lot of time about Marty’s contribution because he’s not in the room with us, and never will be again,” says Wadsworth, of the Tony Award-honored friend he worked with on many projects here and elsewhere (including a Seattle Opera production of Wagner’s “Lohengrin”).
He praises “the pared-down simplicity of Marty’s costumes, the amazing elegance he always achieved with people of all shapes and sizes, and how he made performers feel in the clothes he made for them.” While the “Ring” costumes are being revised for different performers, notes Wadsworth, there’s a sign in the Seattle Opera costume shop “with ‘WWMD’ written in big letters — which means, what would Marty do?”
And does Wadsworth have any tips for those seeing this “Ring” (which was five years in the making, and was last staged here in 2009) for the first time?
“The most important would be that for this production you don’t have to do a thing. Just be in the theater, sit back and watch,” he suggested.
Dramatizing with the utmost clarity the complicated family saga of the clan of Wotan, the king of the gods, is one of Wadsworth’s prime goals, and great achievements.
“It’s a fantastic story, a story that resembles a complex modern novel more than a dusty old Norse epic,” he explained. “It keeps honing in on really complex interactions, and at some length. For example, there’s a scene with Brünnhilde and her father, Wotan, where they are left alone, that is really an extended conversation between father and daughter about moral consequences, about right and wrong, about love.”
Wadsworth wants the central themes of the opera to be crystal-clear — which, in his view, are “parents and children, love and conflict, the issue of a life of power versus a life of service to something greater than oneself and an appropriate relationship between humankind and the health of the planet.”
“I don’t think it takes an iota of preparation to enjoy these things and ponder them fully, during the course of the production.”
Rather than boning up on the cycle in advance, Wadsworth encourages “Ring” virgins to simply surrender to the sweeping majesty of Wagner’s orchestral score, and to the power of the story.
“Theater is an active communion. And what we’re all doing in the theater, more so for a big multi-performance cycle like this, is sitting in communal appreciation of life’s difficulties and its beauties. The presence of all those people in the moment with us, and the actors, and the work of art, is sacred.
“And it’s something we are so lucky to have.”
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org