In her production of The Ring, Francesca Zambello set herself to reveal “the intimate inside the epic” and she has triumphantly done just that. Before anything, these sagas were fireside tales, and well, we did sit around a sort of fire, and hear stories spun in marvellously vivid detail until the end of tonight’s Twilight.

Eric Halfvarson (Hagen) © Scott Suchman
Eric Halfvarson (Hagen)
© Scott Suchman
At several removes from the original crime of the violation of nature, but still guilty partners in its continuation, the Gibichung siblings were re-imagined as on-the-make nouveaux-riches, the fact of their industrial fortune as apparent from montages of smoke-belching power-plants as their chrome-and-glass domain, complete with white sofa, leopard-print cushions, and dry-bar. Wealthy but insecure, they aspire to status through marriage, and who better than the ultimate trophy spouses – Brünnhilde and Siegfried – secured through the ruses of their go-to man, Hagen?

Florid-voiced Melissa Citro played to perfection a vapid Gutrune, waist-length blonde hair straightened to within an inch of its life; her moral development in the course of the opera was convincing. Ryan McKinny’s morally-torn Gunther was in better voice here than as Donner. Eric Halfvarson brought his 3D-voice to bear as Hagen, and malice in super-sinister abundance. Puppet-master like, he controlled people – Gutrune literally acted the part he scripted – but we glimpse another side when Alberich appears to him in his sleep, and holding up his limp arms, instructs him in guile. Axis of evil indeed.

The Norns inhabited computer innards, attached to the cable of destiny. They weren’t the most convincing voices; those of the Rhinemaidens, however bedraggled their habitat, littered with all the detritus of first-world mass production, plastics, wires, tires, and a semi-sunken car, rose fluty and other-worldly. Single voices in The Ring do the work of whole choruses; here, the chorus of commandos and henchmen sung powerfully as a single voice.

Marcy Stonikas, Lindsay Ammann and Jamie Barton (Norns) © Scott Suchman
Marcy Stonikas, Lindsay Ammann and Jamie Barton (Norns)
© Scott Suchman

Catherine Foster’s voice opened up in the high register with gratuitous effulgence. Her weakness in acting (there was never much of a Valkyrie in Foster) was unimportant in the final scenes where all she must do is stand, process and look dignified, regal even, in sacrificing herself and redeeming the world. Truly, she evoked the epitome of feminine power.

Daniel Brenna continued his eminently likeable Siegfried – still the boy-man, wearing his mother’s sky-blue scarf. From his moving love-scene with Brünnhilde where each outdid each other in protestations of love, to his rustic faux-pas in the sleek Gibichung domain, from the guileless expansiveness of his male camaraderie, to his heartbreaking end, his last gesture an attempt to reach the hand of his ‘blood-brother’, Brenna captured the character’s central magnetism, that is to say the magnetism of his innocence. While others in it for something – some for the Ring itself, some for a bit of status, dreaming of real glory among their leopard-print cushions – only Siegfried is in it, as it were, for the jolly, because he happens to be alive. Only he has always been free of the desire for power or wisdom; the only thing he wanted was to learn fear, and he never quite managed that.

Eric Halfvarson (Hagen) and Melissa Citro (Gutrune) © Scott Suchman
Eric Halfvarson (Hagen) and Melissa Citro (Gutrune)
© Scott Suchman
And so to the end of all things. Women alone presided over the world’s destruction and resurrection. Men were swept off stage, already dead or, in Hagen’s case, suffocated in plastic. Mugshots of gods tumbled into the licking flames. Women, suppressed earlier for taking Brunnhilde’s side, became the agents of transformation, a redemptive sisterhood, there to witness the fallen ash become cascading water.

And here we come to the most American part of this American Ring. Zambello has the iconoclastic impulse of rebellion – the gods can be overthrown – but also the impulse for positive and complete re-invention: the next generation can dust itself off, begin afresh, do better. The “right to have it all in our own lifetime” is, she maintains, an attitude both post-Christian and American. Not a pie-in-the-sky when you die: Zambello would prefer the real sky, thank you very much. Unsurprising that she mentions faith, though, because this was a faith ending, a sacral moment for true believers. The faith exhorted was in America, which is why, being an un-American heretic, the last moments with the little girl in white, planting a green sapling, left me cold.

America is not bound by its past so much as by the mythology of its new-world status and Zambello writes, passionately, from within this mythic framework. But the American myth may well be to modernity what the great Scandinavian sagas were to the medievals. And that is why her Ring worked so well and ended so fittingly.

The American dream is dead. Long live the American Dream. A new one.

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