Last night I was at the opening of Seattle Opera’s “Ring” cycle: the four epic Wagner operas telling the story of “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” the Norse myth of a cursed golden ring that causes mayhem and destruction. You can read my Sunday story about the whole thing here.
And the first opera, “Das Rheingold,” truly lived up to the magic of the ring. Telling the tale of how Alberich the dwarf stole gold from the river Rhine, forged a ring and then cursed it as the god Wotan seized it from him to pay for his new castle Valhalla, the opera wove a magic of its own through beautiful sets and even, strong musicianship.
Three sets make up the location for “Das Rheingold.” The curtain opened on one of the best: underwater in the Rhine, created by shimmering blue-green lights on a gauze scrim, with strangely coiled rocks at the bottom. Through this watery expanse “swam” the Rhine maidens, attached at the hips to trapeze lines (which didn’t distract too much) and outfitted with stunning midnight-blue mermaid dresses, sparkling and finny. What’s amazing is not so much that Woglinde (Julianne Gearhart), Wellgunde (Michele Losier) and Flosshilde (Jennifer Hines) executed such impressive front and back flips between their ropes but that they sang so fluidly and harmoniously at the same time. A bit too giggly, perhaps, but the scene was delightful.
For the upper world, set designer Thomas Lynch created a perfect Northwest forest, full of conifers and mist for the gods to act out their destiny in. (The production is recycled from previous Ring cycles in 2001 and 2005.) Valhalla was a far-distant promise. Even better was the set for Nibelheim, the underground mine caverns where Alberich forged the ring and dominated his minions. Making excellent use of darkness, the slopes of the woodland became black tunnels with shimmering jewels, extremely spooky and great for the special effects of Alberich’s shape-changing.
But you don’t just go to opera for the sets, and this year’s “Ring” sees some sterling singers. Stephanie Blythe shines as the sexy, worried Fricka, Marie Plette is suitably light and young as the ransomed Freia, while Greer Grimsley as Wotan and Kobie van Rensburg as Loge make a dramatically tense pair, Grimsley fierce and full, van Rensburg lyrical and light.
Everyone looks like they come out of a “Lord of the Rings” set but it’s all so atmospheric you don’t really mind. About the only disappointing thing is the static, stylized blocking for all the gods – let’s hope that things move more in the next three operas. I’ll be going to “Die Walkure” (“The Valkyries”) tonight to see and hear those loud ladies riding through the clouds.