For culture buffs visiting Seattle, the “Ring” is the thing all August long — with three cycles of Wagner’s lengthy and brilliant four-opera masterpiece offered Aug. 4-9, Aug. 12-17 and Aug. 20-25 in McCaw Hall. The performances are, of course, the raison d’être for Wagner fans, but Seattle Opera also offers many enhancements for those who want to experience more.
And there’s plenty to experience: a whole universe of gods and heroes and villains and giants and dwarves. Wagner created an enduring parable of nature, greed, hubris and heroism, and his work has attracted scholars and music lovers around the world, all of them with strong opinions on the significance and the eternal fascination with the “Ring.”
Seattle Opera has assembled so many “Ring”-related activities that it can be hard to keep track of everything. To help you focus, you can get the company’s updated blog sent to your Kindle several times a day, with text and photos: visit amazon.com/dp/B0050K8ES0?tag=seattleope.
Tickets to the “Ring” events can be purchased at 206-389-7676.
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Here are some of the most intriguing options for “Ring” fans:
• “Inside the ‘Ring’ with Sue Elliott”: Seattle Opera’s education director presents a three-hour, interactive, in-depth exploration of each “Ring” opera, starting at 10 a.m. on each performance day in the Nesholm Family Lecture Hall at McCaw Hall ($100 for all four). Find out what goes on backstage and onstage, and explore the context and music of each opera.
• Pre-Performance Talks: Hourlong talks by Seattle Opera’s staff will begin 90 minutes before the start of each opera, also in the Nesholm Family Lecture Hall, with multimedia presentations about the history, music and stagecraft of the “Ring” ($35 for all four).
• “Rheingold Revelry”: Each of the three performances of the first “Ring” opera, “Das Rheingold,” will be followed by a Champagne reception and late supper, a perennially popular feature available only to full-cycle ticketholders. (Admission is $325 with an artist seated at your table; $225 otherwise.)
• Speight’s Retrospective: This season marks the last “Ring” production during the three-decade tenure of Seattle Opera’s general director, Speight Jenkins, and he will present three retrospective events on the three nights off between “Die Walküre” and “Siegfried” (6-7:30 p.m. on Aug. 6, 14 and 22). He’ll talk about his childhood fascination with the “Ring,” the many productions he has seen and heard, and the three different “Rings” he has produced in Seattle. (Admission $50.)
• “Tech Talk”: Seattle Opera’s ace technical director, Robert Schaub, tells all the backstage secrets behind the feats we see on the stage: the acrobatic flying Rhinemaidens, the disappearances and transformations, the smashing of the anvil, the fire surrounding Brünnhilde’s rock. The Tech Talks are at 10-11:15 a.m. on Aug. 8, 16 and 24. (Admission is $15).
• “Laser Ring”:
The Pacific Science Center’s Laser Dome is offering two Aug. 11 presentations with Seattle Opera community-programs manager Robert McClung narrating his playlist of “Ring” music, while dramatic laser visuals are projected onto the dome ceiling. (Movie theater snacks are available for purchase.) The 6:30 p.m. showing is open to all ages.
The 8:30 one is for 21+, with beer and wine available to purchase. It’s presented by Seattle Opera’s BRAVO! Club (for ages 21-39, whose perks include discounted tickets and more than 30 annual parties and other events). Admission to the “Laser Ring” is $10.
• “Wagner Sketches”: Nearby McCaw Hall at the Leo K Theatre (at Seattle Repertory Theatre), the Opera invites you to “Prepare for the end of the world with some serious fun!” The company and the Rep present three evenings of Wagnerian-based musical, theatrical and film sketch comedy. The company advises: “Think Second City meets Bayreuth!” (The 90-minute show has one intermission; theater folk are such wusses.) The shows start at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 8, 16 and 24 (admission $30).
On a more scholarly level, Seattle Opera presents its signature event: the “Ring” Symposia, which brings together scholars and thinkers to examine the artistic, historical, and philosophical aspects of Wagner and his “Ring.” Each of the three symposia, which run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and include a lunchtime Q-and-A with Speight Jenkins and one of the “Ring” artists, poses a different question, discussed by the respective team of experts. Conductor Asher Fisch, also an accomplished concert pianist, provides illustrative points from the keyboard at each of the symposia.
The first, on Aug. 6, explores the question, “Why (and how) does Wagner’s ‘Ring’ evoke extreme devotion and aversion?” Discussing this issue will be Lydia Goehr, Columbia University philosophy professor; Roger Parker, professor of music at King’s College London; and Kenneth Reinhard, associate professor of English and Comparative Literature at UCLA.
On Aug. 14, a symposium will convene to discuss “What aspects of Wagner’s alchemy contribute to the Ring’s infinite breadth and depth?” The speakers will be Michael Hackett, chair of UCLA’s theater department; Mark Berry, lecturer in music at Royal Holloway, University of London; and François Rochaix, stage director of Seattle Opera’s “Parsifal” and second “Ring.”
The final symposium, on Aug. 22, focuses on the topic, “How do the spatial and temporal dimensions of Wagner’s ‘Ring’ influence its performance, its legacy and the audience’s experience?” Addressing this topic will be Pamela Rosenberg, dean of The American Academy in Berlin; Arthur Groos, Avalon Foundation Professor of Humanities at Cornell University; and Peter Kazaras, director of opera and professor of music at UCLA, also an operatic tenor who has sung in Seattle’s “Ring.” Admission to each symposium is $70; lunch must be purchased separately in advance.
If you go
Performance tickets are $26-$365 per opera, depending on date and location, at seattleopera.org.
For true die-hards who have comfortable shoes and lots of stamina, Seattle Opera is offering standing-room tickets at $20. These go on sale on the “Rheingold” performance day for all four of the performances in that cycle. Standing room is limited to two tickets per person per performance. On Aug. 4, tickets will be available in person or over the phone starting at noon. On Aug. 12 and 20, standing-room tickets will be available starting at 9 a.m. (The standing-room area is at the back of the main floor.)
Curious about the dress code and operagoing etiquette? Here’s Seattle Opera’s advice:
“Pretty much anything goes in Seattle. You’ll see operagoers wearing everything from ball gowns to Birkenstocks. Feel free to dress up for a special night out, dress down for comfort or find your own happy medium. When it comes to the opera, almost anything but the most casual wear is considered appropriate. Read more about attending the opera at McCaw Hall, including what to wear at seattleopera.org/attending.”
Melinda Bargreen also reviews concerts for 98.1 Classical KING FM. She can be reached at email@example.com.