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?