Love, death, sex, betrayal and a tribe of rambunctious Valkyries: "Die Walküre" has it all, and it's no wonder this one is usually...

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Love, death, sex, betrayal and a tribe of rambunctious Valkyries: “Die Walküre” has it all, and it’s no wonder this one is usually the most popular of the four “Ring” operas.

After Sunday’s stellar opening of the 2005 Seattle “Ring,” audiences poured back into McCaw Hall on Monday night to settle in for 4 ½ hours of high-octane Wagnerian excitement. They got all that and more, in a production that continues to fine-tune its high points over the two previous outings in 2000 and 2001.

The inspired leadership of stage director Stephen Wadsworth is clear in every gesture and every turn of the singing actors, all of whom are believable as never before. And the musical direction of conductor Robert Spano, consistently imaginative and dramatic, attends to the singers while unleashing the power of a mighty orchestra in top form. The mellow brass section also rises to a real snarl and snap; there are virtuoso woodwind lines and solid strings, all united under Spano’s baton for playing of passionate commitment.

Greer Grimsley’s Wotan, making a sure-footed way through his first “Walküre,” is unflagging in his intensity and power: terrifying in his wrath, tender in his affection for his wayward daughter Brünnhilde. He already sings with the seasoned nuances of a longtime master of this role.

Jane Eaglen, in fine form as Brünnhilde, clearly understands the text, music and characterization so fully that it’s a pleasure to see her develop from an impetuous youngster into a wiser, sadder daughter who understands what she must pay for her disobedience. Her voice was splendid in its amplitude and also in its evenness throughout the entire register.

“Die Walküre”

“Die Walküre,” second of four operas in Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” a Seattle Opera production with Robert Spano conducting; McCaw Hall, Monday night (“The Ring” continues through Aug. 28; a few turned-back tickets may be available at 206-389-7676).

Margaret Jane Wray and Stephanie Blythe continue to make even more of roles they both owned utterly the last time around. Blythe’s huge-voiced and subtle Fricka is a fascinating character study, as she demands both power and affection, winning the battle but losing the war. Wray is a powerhouse as the doomed Sieglinde, manifesting her emotional intensity with a vocal firepower so great that it’s almost over the top.

Wray is matched by a first-class Siegmund in Richard Berkeley-Steele, a fine singer who has plumbed the depths of this role in every respect. Their scenes together, in which every glance and move is timed to the music, are suitably impassioned, but they also develop with admirable spontaneity and naturalness.

Stephen Milling, who sang the most empathetic Fasolt the night before, was transformed into a spectacularly menacing Hunding on Monday night, vocally resplendent and physically terrifying. His are among the production’s finest moments.

This “Walküre” is fortunate in its cast of Valkyries (Holly Hall, Caroline Thomas, Stacey Rishoi, Luretta Bybee, Marie Plette, Sarah Heltzel, Fredrika Brillembourg and Jennifer Hines), an uproarious bunch whose singing and acting are both stellar. The scene in which they take their farewell from the exiled Brünnhilde is surprisingly affecting; Brünnhilde may not have been the only one in the house who was wiping away tears.

Thomas Lynch’s forest set, handsomer than ever in its first outing in McCaw Hall, was introduced by the production’s new curtain, lighted entirely anew for each “Ring” opera. Sunday’s version was all watery blues, suggesting the show’s opening in the river Rhine; Monday’s was in glittering green, heralding the forest. Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting made the most of the show’s many visual opportunities.

Melinda Bargreen: