Completing the cycle
Home to Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks Coffee and Twin Peaks, Seattle is also the Ring centre of America.
Friday 18 August 1995
Thanks to its mostly Scandinavian and German settlers, the city has boasted a strong musical tradition since the late 1800s, but it was Seattle Opera's founder, Glynn Ross, who in 1975 made Seattle's name as the US's premier Ring city by presenting the first American cycles the way Wagner intended them - all in one week (the New York Met only caught up in 1990).
In 1986 Speight Jenkins, Ross's successor as general director, unveiled a new Ring directed by Francois Rochaix, with design by Robert Israel and lighting by Joan Sullivan. It offered an intimate, human conception of the characters, intended to provoke, stimulate and excite - but without doing violence to the music. From their decision that no singer should ever sing meaningless words came a post-modernist vision of a world where swords break, horses fly, fires flame. Jenkins loves to tell how Seattle's firemen all became Wagner fans while monitoring the incendiary rehearsals and performances of Gotterdammerung (272,000 BTUs of propane flame per minute: "the largest on-stage fire in theatre history"). There is even a live bear in Siegfried ("animals are trained using food and affection as positive reinforcement") and a huge, spinning God Tower. It is this Ring that is now being given for the last time, and loyal audiences are already lamenting the retirement of the famous flying horses.
As one would expect in this home of state-of-the-art technology, hi-tech wizardry features strongly in the staging: special effects for Das Rheingold include some dazzling disappearances and transformations by Alberich, a shimmering, slippery Rhine bed, and a "real" rainbow with lights and smoke. The capacity first-night audience was clearly delighted, and gave special ovations to the conductor Hermann Michael's warm, sympathetic reading, the excellent Seattle Symphony (whose horn section's foyer fanfares had lured us into the auditorium), and the luscious-voiced Erda, Nancy Maultsby (making her Seattle Opera debut). The cast, mostly American, is a strong one, with Monte Pederson's Wotan and Julian Patrick's Alberich - here seen as mirror-images of one another in a play-within-a-play in which Wotan is the theatre manager, planning the performances and controlling the actors in his Gesamtkunstwerk - particularly notable.
All this year's cycles were sold out in advance, with 85 per cent of the seats having gone by March. Yet so big a project is only possible thanks to the extraordinary civic support that plays such an important part in American funding of the arts. Much is made here of the economic impact of the 1995 Ring cycles on the local economy: for an investment of $3.7m, local businesses are expected to recoup an estimated $26m from the dozen sold-out performances. The marketing department reports that 70 per cent of ticket-buyers (53 per cent of whom come from beyond Washington state) are first-time Ring attendees in Seattle, providing an enviable base of money-spending tourists.
But the Seattle Ring is primarily supported by the Ring Fund, with "Ringleaders", the Boeing Company, in the $100,000-plus bracket, and Microsoft close behind ($55,000-$99,999). The International Ring Donor Roster boasts names from most of Europe (including Britain's Lord Young), as well as Australia, Japan and all 50 of the United States; while the ladies of the Seattle Opera Guild organise regular fund-raising events, including "Coffee Chats" with the production team (this is the home of Starbucks Coffee after all), "Ring for Beginners" talks and "Meet the Artists" sessions in the nearby Famous Pacific Dessert Company. With so much going on, it's no wonder Seattle is "sleepless".
n Ring cycles continue to 27 August, Seattle Center Opera House (001- 206-389 7699)
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
- 2 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Rashida Jones speaks out against male-centric porn saying 'women should have sex and feel good about it'
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
Game of Thrones really doesn't want Danny Dyer - EastEnders star rejected three times
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
25 years of Disney: How Darth Vader, Iron Man, Elsa and Pixar's geniuses helped the company conquer the world (again)
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures
King Abdullah dead: We can't afford not to hold Saudi Arabia's royals to account