If you need to know something about the Ring Cycle, you probably shouldn’t ask Cassidy Brettler. She really doesn’t know anything about Richard Wagner’s masterpiece. If you want to know what will make the Seattle Opera’s staging of the 15-hour-long, four-opera cycle exhilarating, though, she is the perfect person to ask. By the time Seattle Opera’s production begins later this month, the 20-year-old will have experienced how the Rhine Maidens fly, faced Fafner the dragon and absorbed more about Richard Wagner’s masterpiece than anyone could ever hope. Not bad for someone who is not, technically, a part of the massive production. Brettler is the winner of Confessions, a Seattle Opera contest that pitted four opera newbies against one another for the chance to host a 10-minute documentary on the Ring and the Seattle Opera. For the last month Brettler has been collecting her prize, shadowing singers, stagehands and others as they prepare for the major stage and musical event of the summer. Sound talked with Brettler about her experiences thus far.
ZC: Why did you decide to compete in the Confessions contest?
CB: I’ve done a lot of TV shows before, at college, but never anything documentary-style or relating to opera in any way. So I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to continue working on-camera, but also trying out something new. I’ve also always loved theater, especially musicals, and this seemed like a really cool opportunity to go backstage and see how everything works, and to get to talk to the people performing on the stage.
I’ve also always been intrigued by opera. I’ve only ever seen one opera before, and I, like many other people my age, never think about going to see an opera—it’s not really on our radar of things to do on a Friday night. So I thought this would be a cool chance to learn about something new that I’ve always been interested in.
ZC: How have the artists, musicians and Seattle Opera staff responded to your presence at rehearsals and backstage?
CB: So far, everyone has been very welcoming to me. I interviewed Speight Jenkins, the general director of the Seattle Opera, and everyone kept telling me “not to be afraid, but he’s an opera God.” So, naturally, I was pretty nervous to meet him. But Speight was actually really fun to talk to—he knows so much about opera, I know basically nothing.
The singers that I’ve talked to have also been very welcoming and open with me. They’ve all asked questions about how the project’s been going so far, and what exactly this project is. They understand that I started out knowing nothing about opera, or the Ring Cycle, so they’ve tried to help me out and fill me in on who their characters are and what it’s like to perform in an opera.
At times, it seems a little awkward standing and watching the singers rehearse, because the show is not yet performance-ready, and both the singers and I know that. But I think, for the most part, they’ve accepted me there watching them, and been okay with it.
ZC: How much did you know about opera before you decided to submit your video?
CB: Really, I knew next to nothing. I went to see Hansel and Gretel at Seattle Opera a bunch of years ago with my mom, but it was so long ago that I barely remember any of it. I knew that there were supertitles above the stage, so that the audience could understand the words being sung on stage. But I didn’t know anything about the Ring Cycle, except that it’s by Wagner (which I learned from the application). During one of our first Confessions shoots, the Reel Grrls crew asked me some questions about the Ring Cycle, and it was a bit embarrassing because I didn’t know the answers to any of them.
ZC: How much did you know about the Ring? Did you have any preconceived ideas about Wagner and the four operas of the Ring—which some people take very seriously—that changed when you started digging into the work as the Confession’s host?
CB: When I applied, I knew nothing about the Ring, except that it wasn’t like Lord of the Rings or the scary movie, The Ring. Other than that, I knew nothing. A family friend told me that the Ring is four days long and some of the performances even have multiple intermissions because they’re so long—that made me a bit nervous. I have some relatives who fly in from across the country to see Seattle Opera’s Ring Cycle, so I knew it was a pretty important opera.
When I started the Confessions shoots, I started getting Facebook messages from a bunch of Ring fans, who all wanted to make sure that I prepared sufficiently for seeing the Ring Cycle. One person told me to read a bunch of books about it, some told me to listen to the music a lot before I go and some wanted to make sure that I treat it with respect.
ZC: By the time the curtain drops on the final Ring Cycle, what do you hope you will achieve by hosting Confessions?
: I hope that a lot of my friends and other people my age will see my blog posts and the videos posted online, and start to become interested in opera. Even if they don’t become huge opera fans, opera will at least be on their radar of art forms. Maybe when they’re thinking of something to do one night, they’ll think, “Let’s go to an opera!”
I also want the reverse effect to occur. I think I, as a person my age, can bring a new perspective to opera that isn’t always heard or asked for. I hope that, through this project, the Seattle Opera learns that my generation can be very valuable to them and that it might be possible to take our opinions and include them in how they market and present operas.
This Q&A ran in the August issue of Sound Magazine available on newsstands now.