Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Caution! Rhine Maidens Slippery When Wet

Just got back from a fabulous Blogger Break spent with gods, demigods, giants, dragons, dwarves, flying horses, magic swords and water nymphs.  Who knew you could find all that in Seattle, Washington?  

Entrance to McCaw Hall
Yes, dear Readers, you can fnd all that and more at the Seattle Opera's McCaw Hall.  And during 16 hours of thrilling music over four nights, you can take an incredible journey with these mythical creatures in Richard Wagner's masterpiece Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung).  Prepare yourself for lust, anger, love and hate, adultery and incest, murder, death and destruction, and a wronged woman's final revenge.  You'll neve have so much fun!! 

The “Ring Cycle,” a series of four operas, is a monumental undertaking for any opera company.   Few ever attempt it.  It takes years to produce something this massive from conception, staging and costumes to opening night.  And then, there are the singers………….at any given time in history, there are only a handful of singers in the entire world capable of producing a sound big enough to fill an opera house, cut through a 110-piece orchestra blasting away, and do it for five to six hours at a clip without electronic amplification.  These are not Broadway Babies.  The vocal and physical stamina required to do all this is staggering.

The magnificent Swedish soprano,
Birgit Nilsson (1918–2005), was the reigning Brünnhilde for decades.  No one I have heard since can come close to producing her glorious sound.  She could caress you with a tender tone one minute and knock you back in your seat with the power of a mighty Valkyrie in full battle cry the next. 

She was also known for her delightful sense of humor.  When asked once what advice she would give to young singers preparing for these long Wagner roles, she replied, “Wear comfortable shoes.” 

Among opera goers, the Wagner groupies who are willing to fly anywhere in the world to attend a “Ring Cycle” are affectionately known as Ring Nuts.  They are the Trekkies of the opera world.  You’ll see them wandering around the auditoriums wearing their own horned helmets, which they politely remove during the performance.  While I do not have my own helmet, I do number my husband and myself among the hard core Ring Nuts.  We’ll go anywhere for a “Ring,” and by my count, this makes 15. 

The first opera of the “Ring Cycle” (Das Rheingold) starts off in the Rhine River (yes, that’s right………IN it), where we find the three beautiful Rhine Maidens frolicking about in the water as they guard their father’s Gold.  An ugly dwarf named Alberich, who is smitten by their charms, tries to catch one of the water nymphs, but Rhine Maidens are very slippery when wet.  So, the furious Alberich renounces love and steals the Sisters’ gold, which sets everything in motion.  At the end of the fourth opera, 16 hours later, we find ourselves right back where we started……….IN the Rhine River with the frolicking Rhine Maidens whose gold has been restored to them.  I kid you not!  But what a journey it’s been!

In this production of Das Rheingold each Rhine Maiden is suspended on two cables attached to a harness on either side of her hips, while two unseen technicians high above her work to create the effect of swimming.  Not only are these water nymphs required to sing incredibly difficult music (it is, after all, Wagner, my Dears), but they are in perpetual motion, executing mid-air somersaults and constantly flipping their flippers back and forth in unison with undulating arms.  The three singers who perform the roles went through months of physical training to accomplish these mid-air acrobatics, and the effect is truly spectacular. 

Here the Rhine Maidens come up for air to plead with the hero Siegfried to return their gold, now in the form of a golden ring. 

Having slain a dragon to obtain it, he refuses to return it.  Unfortunately for our intrepid hero, the ring has been cursed and he pays the ultimate price in the final opera. 

Here’s a little sample of how it looks.

Now, I should warn you that, other than the svelte Rhine Maidens, you will see some rather hefty singers in this clip.  We Ring Nuts expect a bit of bulk on our Wagnerian singers.  By and large, Wagnerian voices do not come in Kate Moss bodies.  Frankly, Wagnerites don’t care what you look like, so long as you deliver the vocal and dramatic goods.   On that, we insist. 

So, that said, have a little look and a listen….

Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games in the Rhine last week. 

We also had the great joy of spending an afternoon with my dear friend, Véronique (“French Girl in Seattle”).  Here we are having lunch at Véronique’s favorite restaurant in Pike Street Market, Café Campagne.  Notice the two Kirs in front of my husband and me, both of which I drank.  Hmmm! 

And here we are (Véronique and I) outside the Café looking very happy and rosy indeed following a wonderful lunch and two Kirs each.  I highly recommend having the Duck Confit salad in the company of a gorgeous gasconne in a marinière who knows how to add that all important dash of je ne sais quoi and joie de vivre to any meal!!   Big bisous, ma chère amie.

For Véronique’s take on our delightful afternoon and the joy of friends and friendship, click here. 

And, if I’ve managed to whet your appetite even just a little for the “Ring Cycle,” you’ll love Anna Russell’s (1911–2006) hilarious take on it.  The late, dearly missed Anna Russell, was a singer, musician and comedienne par excellence, whose parodies of Wagner and Gilbert & Sullivan became legendary. 

Here she explains the first opera of the “Ring Cycle.”  (Note:  The picture quality is fuzzy and grainy, but Russell’s facial expressions come through with Wagnerian clarity.) 

So, dear Readers, have I convinced you to take the plunge?  Come on in.........the water is fine.


  1. Dearest Marie-Thérèse,
    What a lovely time you have had! Wish we could escape the wet summer drama in change of that! Our best friend Mathieu, in The Netherlands LOVES Wagner... he would have been in heaven I guess. Wagner is not our favorite but to watch such a fun performance of 'Der Ring des Nibelungen' would have been a great joy!
    It is always a treat for meeting with another blogger friend and in Véronique you for sure had a true French Connection!
    Hugs to you,

    1. I would love to meet Mathieu some day at a Wagner festival. I meet so many interesting people at these events from all over the world.

      I'm sure he would have loved the Seattle "Ring." It was spectacular, and the singing was first rate. The City of Seattle can be justifiably proud of such a great accomplishment. There was a group behind me from Munich who loved every minute of it. Next to me were Australians, and on the other side was a lovely couple from Mississippi.

      Of course, spending time w/Veronique was the high point. We never seem to have enough time to say everything when we're together. Thank goodness for e-mail.

      Big hugs, ma chère, M-T

  2. Each production is slightly different yet always magnificent. Stamina is required for the audience as well as the performers!

    1. Right you are on both counts. I have to count this production among my all-time favorites. As for stamina, yes, the audience needs it along with good, strong "bums" and good, strong kidneys.

      Cheers, M-T

  3. Well now I know EVERYTHING about the Wagnerian "ring..." :-)

    To me, it sounds like a marathon, complete with "Ring Nuts," but with the crazy stuff my friends and I have done in the past to celebrate new Harry Potter novels and movies, who am I to judge, n'est-ce-pas?

    My dear M-T, it goes without saying meeting with you and Dan chez Café Campagne was the highlight of my week. Kir Royal was just part of the fun. Conversation was fast-paced and lively , as always. Poor Dan. He is such a good sport :-)

    Can't wait to see you both again. Hopefully on the East Coast!

    Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

    1. Well.....perhaps not EVERYTHING. There's so much to learn about the "Ring," that one lifetime isn't really enough. But, it takes no time at all to fall in love with it. I love the thought of falling in love with something I don't fully understand. It adds such mystery to the relationship, n'est-ce pas? ...not to mention the promise of future delicious discoveries.

      "Poor Dan?" He has the time of his life when we three are together. He adores you. Besides, it's just like being w/my family in France where conversation bounces all over the place, except that you and I go back and forth from French to English. He always manages to keep up.

      Looking forward to our next get-together (très bientôt, j'espère).

      Big bisous, M-T

  4. The swimming singing maidens are fantastic. What a feat to pull off! I can't believe how different the sets are from one production to the next. The opera companies really seem to pull out all stops for the Ring Cycle operas. My husband showed me some of the Met sets from the 2011 production he was watching with our son and it just made my jaw drop that anyone would even conceive of those elaborate panels that move and change by lighting projections into different parts of the set. They loved the production so far, but aren't finished yet (just finished the second part).

    1. That's one of the many things I love about opera in general, and the "Ring" in never know what you're going to get when it comes to the production. The only thing you can count on is that glorious music, which is really why we keep going and going and going.....

      Drop me a line when your son and husband finish watching the entire Met "Ring." Since we've seen it live, I'd be interested in their reactions.

      Cheers, M-T

  5. Does the story tell if Birgit Nilsson would drink a few kirs before singing Wagner?????
    How nice to see all of you having such a fun time. You look great ma chère amie and your smile is radiant (is that something we can say in English? Oh well you know what I mean...)
    You made me feel like listening to my favorite opera (not Wagner; too dark and too complicated for a non specialist like me).Let's close you eyes and let's pretend we are both in Heaven while listening this... and while sipping our kir royal - because we deserve to be treated like queens!

    Mille bisous,

    1. Everything I've ever heard or read about Birgit Nilsson tells me that, although she was a serious artist, she never took life too seriously (especially Wagner) and enjoyed every minute of it. I have a feeling that we would have loved sharing some Kirs with her.

      We did have such fun, ma chère, and, yes, you can say my smile is "radiant" in English, "radieux" in French.

      Loved the clip you mentioned from Mozart's "The Magic Flute"...."La Flûte Enchantée" in French. It's a delightful German opera.

      Kirs to you, when at last we meet, ma chère Anne

      Mille bisous, M-T

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