Virgin Ring – Seattle Opera, 2005

While still in a Wagnerian intoxication induced by the Seattle Opera, I wrote this little piece in the fall of 2005, to record several personal Leitmotive of a

Virgin Ring

I am still recovering from the Seattle Ring. I hope never to recover fully. The Ring is one of those fundamental artistic works in the western canon, and its depth and breadth will always remain incompletely explored. This is the mystery art gives, and it is irreplaceable.

Wotan and the magic fire

I first came across the Ring in its full force in 1980. That year I bought the original Solti releases, and the orchestral scores, and studied the opera in depth. The first thing I noticed, other than its fabulous music, is that the Ring tells a compelling story. Analysis, meditation, recognition, awareness, and all that other remarkably introspective stuff comes later. It takes a bit of doing, even in opera, to abandon reservations about three riverine mermaids, all in terrestrial voice, taunting a subterranean dwarf who breathes submarinely, but I’ll wager it took only a few bars of E-flat to prepare my mind.

English: portrait of Sir George Solti

Sir Georg Solti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, on the third to last day of the year, three years ago, the three of us—my wife and I and our long-time friend from Edmonton—were sitting in my apartment near English Bay, having demolished a reasonably subtle rijstafel, discussing the Ring. I had intended to see the 1987 Seattle production when we all resided in Alberta; but unexpectedly a position came up in Toronto, and that was that. Fifteen years and several cities later, we knew a new Ring had been given in Seattle in 2001, and that its next production was set for 2005. None of us had ever seen any of the cycle performed, so, upon our friend’s proclamation that it was time we did, we pledged to see one, together. That was how our goal was set. And we did make it to Seattle: we had three tickets together for the third cycle.

I had, though, very little time to prepare for the 2005 Ring; so I took to listening to the opera each time I ran. Years earlier, I had transferred the Solti to audiotapes, 45 minutes per side; so 15 runs of an hour would take a person through the cycle. Now, I run in Stanley Park, which, being sylvan and nearly surrounded by water, is a remarkably suitable place in which to run with the Ring on.

McCaw Hall, home to Seattle Opera, Seattle Cen...

McCaw Hall, home to Seattle Opera, Seattle Center, Seattle WA (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seattle Opera ought to get the Nobel Prize for music if there were one. The Ring was a tremendous artistic experience, one of the most significant I’ve had. This is drama and music of the very highest order, and I was very moved when it concluded. I discovered many actions and nuances that one cannot derive from recordings, or even from videos. I was astounded how rapidly these very long operas with great lengths of slow music seem to move so quickly upon the stage—it was particularly astonishing that the first act of Götterdämmerung, which consumes two hours, did so. It takes guts to be a Wagnerian singer. Wotan, Siegfried, Brünnhilde, are staggeringly demanding roles; and those of Loge, Mime, Alberich, Fricka, Siegmund, Sieglinde, Hunding, the Rhinemaidens, Fafner, Hagen, Waltraute are no walks with the forest bird either. As to the orchestra, it’s a wonder the musicians don’t die in the pit, especially the brass. I’m a former classical clarinettist, and my embouchure empathizes.

In keeping with some tradition we’d read about, we had agreed not to eat before the operas, so afterwards to be able to talk into the night on the waves of our operatic exhilaration. Our Albertan friend had introduced the cycle with a magnificent 1985 Tokay Aszu (indeed, 5 puttanos!), and concluded it with a seafood repast (well, it was the Rhine, after all, that had just overflowed its banks): smoked salmon, shrimp, oysters, and a multitude of other delectables—and Mumm’s champagne.

But back in Vancouver, I’ve resumed running with Wagner. I took a small interlude with Tristan, but now I’m nearly through Rheingold once again.

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