Saturday, August 10, 2013

Ring Cycle Diary, Day Four

Posted by on Sat, Aug 10, 2013 at 3:35 PM

Opera critic, novelist, Stranger Genius Award-winner, and all-around good egg Rebecca Brown has been keeping a diary of her first experience of watching the full Ring cycle at Seattle Opera, the final one under the guiding hand of SO general director Speight Jenkins. You can read her previous installments here and here and here. —Eds.

The sacrifice of Brunhilde, a romance up in smoke.
  • Casting, costume, design by Mrs. Chris Galloway
  • The sacrifice of Brunhilde, a romance up in smoke.

Siegfried and BrunHilda at home. Who forgot to check the battery in the smoke alarm?
  • Casting, costume, design by Mrs. Chris Galloway
  • Siegfried and Brunhilde at home. Who forgot to check the battery in the smoke alarm?

There's a t-shirt they're selling at the Ring gift shop that says "4 nights, no sleep." Seeing the four-part Ring is all about excess. It's about living inside a big dark room with a group of other enthralled, worshipful, or stupified people watching pictures of lives bigger than life and hearing sounds bigger than sound and getting your brain fried. It was first performed as a cycle in 1876 in Bayreuth, Germany. Five years before, somewhere in France, a teenage Rimbaud had written a letter in which he declared that “A Poet makes himself a visionary through a long, boundless, and systematized disorganization [often translated as ‘derangement’] of all the senses.” In the late 1870s, Europe was being deranged by war and humans were being deranged by love (Freud was just around the corner...) and history was being deranged by the dismantling of the narrative of God. No wonder Wagner made a big hunk of art that would exhaust us.

When I say this art exhausts us, I am not necessarily being pejorative. Exhaustion—being spent—can be the result of having gone through something and come out the other end. Like Holy Week for Christians when you re-live the Passion of Christ. Or those several-day-long dance-chant ceremonies I used to go to in New Mexico with my mom and her friends who were Pueblo Indians. Or the long brutal days in a birthing hut when women help someone through labor. Or finals week at college when everyone lives on no-doze and studying and sex. Cultures need to periodically re-enact their stories of creation, formation, demise, and renewal. Your participation in this reenactment not only makes you think about big themes (love, betrayal, envy, greed, sacrifice, longing, death), it also ties you to a tradition and a community.

Chris and I had the same seats every night, and every night we sat next to a couple from DC. They'd seen it several times before, both in the states and Europe. Around us, other people talked about having seen it before in Seattle and other places too. It was like being around, I imagined, Dead-Heads or Phish-followers or Dylan or Springsteen fanatics who remember, exactly, set lists.

The story of Gotterdammerung (The Twilight of the Gods) is very complicated. Basically, Siegfried accidentally betrays Brunhilde and everyone dies. The finer points include: three Fate-like Females and three mermaid-like females. A villain, a hero in disguise. A girl on a cliff, a spiked beverage, amnesia, sword, bed, horse. A stab in a back, a death of a guy, a guy buried with a sword, flood, castle, pair of lovers in flames, a culture destroyed etc.

Tenor Stefan Vinke (Siegfried) continued to shine and displayed the most remembered new voice of the year. Stephanie Blythe continued to command the entire universe whenever she appeared (Fricka, Second Norn). Lori Philips’ Brunhilde wonderfulness made me all but forget the wonderfulness of Allyn Mellor earlier in the week in Valkyrie.

I must say, though, that I was somewhat let down by the end. I think I'd been imagining some HUGE vocal/stage set conflagration to end this freshman Wagner Week, but the last scene was oddly quiet—a production choice to send us home thoughtful and reverent rather than depressed or wanting to mess stuff up.

Or maybe the fact that Brunhilde, rather than staying angry and hurt, decides to forgo the romantic justice she might seek, and give up the last thing she has in order to make room for the new.

Is there a sequel?


Comments (15) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
dnt trust me 1
A sequel? Are you taking requests? I'd like an exhaustive four-day diary of the long dance-chant ceremonies in New Mexico. You're a fun writer.
Posted by dnt trust me on August 10, 2013 at 3:47 PM · Report this
The sequel is "Das Rheingold"
Posted by Geige on August 10, 2013 at 3:50 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 3
Unless they changed it, I'm stupefied by your reaction to this production's finale. But some critics down through the years have felt that the music is anticlimatic.
Posted by Matt from Denver on August 10, 2013 at 5:53 PM · Report this
Unregistered User 4
Sex during finals week?
Posted by Unregistered User on August 10, 2013 at 6:33 PM · Report this
stonato 5
I think you have a gift for sizing up the situation accurately and making often amusing observations about your experiences. Of course, I hate Ricard Wagner's later work for the most part. But, I LOVE Mudhoney and, I'm a Dead-Phish head.
Posted by stonato on August 10, 2013 at 7:07 PM · Report this
Really good writing, again!
Posted by derkle on August 10, 2013 at 7:22 PM · Report this
@2 FTW. Of course there's a sequel. That's the point.
Posted by cracked on August 10, 2013 at 10:29 PM · Report this
Oh, and thanks again for the write ups. Hope I get another shot at going in this life.
Posted by cracked on August 10, 2013 at 10:35 PM · Report this
There are basically two major schools of thought on the ending of Götterdämmerung, one being the Shavian interpretation (and please, by all means read Shaw's The Perfect's short, witty, and. IMHO, completely wrong, but well worth the read), in which the Ring cycle is an allegory for the introduction of the socialist paradise. (The reason I think Shaw was wrong has to do with a lot of stuff that happens in this final opera, most notably Siegfried's death)

The other, more interesting one, is the proto-psychological/mythological interpretation (Wagner antedates both Freud and Jung, whom he particularly anticipates), in which the current state of humanity is personified in Wotan especially. If there's any work of art that approaches the mythology of the Ring Cycle, it's 2001 (note that the movie, too, begins with the creation of the world, moves to a conflagration in which the sum total of human understanding, HAL, is destroyed, and then something wonderful and new is born)

Probably the best introduction to the Ring that I've read is Fr. Owen Lee's Wagner's Ring: Turning the Sky Around. It's short, very readable and aimed at beginners. It improved my understanding and appreciation for the cycle immensely when I was just starting out.
Posted by Corydon on August 11, 2013 at 4:12 AM · Report this
@2 @7, actually, if you pay close attention to the music at the end, you'll find that Das Rheingold really can't be a sequel, even though the Ring ends up back in the hands of the Rhinemaidens. There's definitely an arrow to history in the Ring.
Posted by Corydon on August 11, 2013 at 4:22 AM · Report this
@9 I've always held the position that whatever Wagner thought he was doing with the Ring, in the end it totally slipped the leash, which is one of the things that make it a work of genius and true art. Shaw really helped me get to this conclusion because his obvious over the top wrongness really freed me to experience and interpret the Ring wholly on my own.

@10 It seemed to me that when Brunhilde invokes the End, it turns everything to slag, except the "elementals" like Loge and the Rheinemaidens, leaving the foundation rebirth from the beginning. But I'm with the review here, I confess that by that point I'm swept up into a semi(?)conscious experience of the event.
Posted by cracked on August 11, 2013 at 10:45 AM · Report this
this guy I know in Spokane 12
I always thought it would be interesting to find out what happens to Gutrune, who was sort-of-innocently mixed up in this by her family. Say if she doesn't die in the apocalyptic fire/flood, and is carrying Siegfried's bebbeh.
Posted by this guy I know in Spokane on August 11, 2013 at 11:05 AM · Report this
@12 Gutrune stabs herself committing suicide at the end of the opera. You don't see her fall dead but I believe that death is implied.
Posted by I'm OK, You're OK on August 11, 2013 at 11:22 AM · Report this
@11 I think it's very true that Wagner didn't consciously understand everything he was doing with the whole cycle. And of course, the wonderful thing about it is that it can be understood on so many different levels and in different ways, which is why I find it endlessly fascinating decades after I first discovered it and truly started studying it. It's the rare work of art that still gives you sudden insights (that zen moment) over and over again for years and years and years. There's a depth there that I haven't found anywhere else.

There's a couple pieces of evidence I'd offer to suggest that things don't return to the status quo ante. First of all, the gods and Rhinemaidens are all on the same level, of the same species really. Wotan himself, Sky-Father, as he's sometimes called, is an elemental like Loge. Ambitious, yes, but fundamentally, he's a god of the air, like Donner or Froh.

Second, there's strong evidence (at the beginning of the 3rd act of Siegfried and the beginning of Götterdämmerung that Erda, while not consumed in the end, has fallen into endless slumber, indicating that her time, too, has passed. And Loge himself, at the end of Das Rheingold pretty clearly sees disaster not just for Wotan's family gods, but himself too. This is a true twilight of all the gods, a real passing of the whole order.

And then finally, as Lee points out, there's the issue of the key changes in the final bars, where instead of returning to E♭ (the key of the primal element motif at the beginning of Rheingold) as you would expect, but rather in D♭ instead, with heavy emphasis on that Brunnhilde motif otherwise heard only when she rescues Sieglinde at the beginning of act 3 of Die Walküre.

All of this leads me to believe that this is not a return to the beginning, but rather the beginning of something new, that cannot be foreseen from where we are.
Posted by Corydon on August 11, 2013 at 4:59 PM · Report this
this guy I know in Spokane 15
@13, does that happen, or is it some director's idea of what happens? If it happens in this production, well, I haven't seen it & won't be able to. I haven't looked at the libretto in a long time.
Posted by this guy I know in Spokane on August 12, 2013 at 5:14 PM · Report this

Add a comment


All contents © Index Newspapers, LLC
1535 11th Ave (Third Floor), Seattle, WA 98122
Contact | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use | Takedown Policy