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Speight’s Wagner Memories: 05 RING

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Jennifer Hines (Flosshilde), Wendy Hill (Woglinde), Mary Philips (Wellgunde), and Alan Woodrow (Siegfried) in Wagner’s Götterdämmerung, 2005 © Chris Bennion

This was the first time that we had rehearsed all four operas of Stephen Wadsworth Ring at the same time. Without Clare Burovac’s careful planning and constant watch over everything, it could not have been so successfully accomplished. It was in some ways—a few difficult moments particularly from one cast member aside—a remarkably easy Ring. The most vivid recollection made the national and international press. On the day of the second Rheingold Jennifer Hines ate some fish for lunch, and at about 3 or 4 PM started throwing up. By the time I heard about it and found her in the theater she was so weak and sick that she could hardly move. She was determined, she said, to fulfill her Rhine Daughter duties that night, but there was obviously no way she could. I think Gina Lapinski, one of the associate directors and the person responsible for rehearsing the Rhine Daughters, was sitting next to Seattle Opera’s Production Manager, Vinnie Feraudo, or maybe it was the Technical Director, Robert Schaub, when she said, “I can do it.” We were in a fix. We had a cover, but we had anticipated a cold that would allow the Rhine Daughter to act but not sing. The cover was not rehearsed in the air. Since Ms. Lapinski was about the size of Ms. Hines, Schaub said that he put her up. She didn’t go up until close to 5 PM and proved marvelously adept: she knew the moves perfectly. That night I announced to the audience what was going to happen, and Ms. Lapinski was fantastic, she swam, flipped and cavorted in the air as though she had done it through the rehearsals. The cover sang from the pit, and although the placement of the sound was a bit odd, it worked.

We also had a problem with Hagen in all three cycles. Gidon Saks sang brilliantly in the dress rehearsals but before the first cycle he developed an upper respiratory infection that wouldn’t go away. He made it through Fafner in both Das Rheingold and Siegfried in all three cycles, but Hagen was too much for his condition. In each case I had to go before the curtain and make an excuse. In the second cycle it was so bad that we put on his cover for Acts II and III; in the other two he finished the opera. The whole experience was more than difficult for the singer and all of us. This Ring will be, I hope, the only time that I had to come out four times to discuss a physical problem of a singer; I don’t remember ever doing it before in a Ring.

Planning paid off in this Ring, the first one in McCaw Hall. When the Ring was originally presented in the old opera house, Robert Schaub had tried to foresee how the new Ring would work in McCaw Hall. The proscenium’s increased height made a huge difference, as part of the grandeur of the Ring is the appearance of the “stone” surfaces of Brünnhilde’s rock and similar scenes seemingly extending further than the audience can see. With a higher proscenium the top of the rocks would have been all too plainly visible. The solution was an ornate, carved decoration over the proscenium, designed very much in the style of the Gibichung Hall, with the title screen in the middle. It filled the added space and worked wonderfully.