Monday, August 16, 2021

Dan Wallace Miller shares Ring memories

Before and after at Seattle Opera: Dan Wallace Miller atop a prop horse from our 1995 Die Walküre and now, about to direct our Welcome Back concert of the same opera in 2021. 

Our upcoming concert of Die Walküre will be directed by an artist raised on the Wagnerian tradition at Seattle Opera. In this blog post, stage director Dan Wallace Miller shares more about his love for all-things Ring. Fresh off his acclaimed presentation of Seattle Opera's streaming Tosca ('21), Miller returns to direct a concert version of the Ring cycle's most popular opera.

This abridged version of Die Walküre will feature more than two hours of Wagner’s incredible music, featuring an internationally-renowned cast of Wagnerian stars (Eric Owens, Brandon Jovanovich, Angela Meade, Alexandra LoBianco, Raymond Aceto and Maestro Ludovic Morlot).

The concert is officially sold out. However, all are welcome to come down to Seattle Center to enjoy as the music of Richard Wagner's iconic opera fills the campus. The performance will include jumbo screens which will be visible from various non-ticketed areas of the Seattle Center Campus. To learn more, go to

By Dan Wallace Miller

It would be an understatement to say that the Ring has been a big part of who I am—not only as a director but also as a person. One of my first operas was the entire Ring cycle at age 4 here in Seattle: the Francois Rochaix/Robert Israel production in 1991. My dad, a huge Wagner fan himself, took me to the dress rehearsal. As most kids would, I ended up nodding off in Siegfried Act 3 and through most of Götterdämmerung. But I sure was wide-awake for the Immolation scene where they practically set the entire stage on fire. I remember feeling the heat on my face from way in the back of the orchestra section. 

Since that moment, I was obsessed. I've almost lost count, but over my life I've seen around 35 complete cycles (seven of which were standing-room) and worked on two. I wrote my thesis on Wagner. I've seen all of his canonical 10 operas performed in the states, and I've even managed to direct some excerpts of the Ring here and there. The Ring is the reason I got into opera professionally in the first place. I've also had an unhealthy infatuation with fire onstage, though the implementation of fire in my shows has never reached the spectacular and record-setting level of that Rochaix Ring. (I've really only ever managed pyrotechnics that fun in my bartending).

I have too many memories and life experiences tied to the Ring and to Wagner to recount anything too specific. It's like pulling up just one strand of shag carpeting: You'll just wind up ripping out the tacks. I'll never stop talking about it, for hours at a time. Just ask anyone who has had the misfortune of knowing me for more than 20 minutes. But one particular memory tied to Die Wälkure stands out. 

Seattle Opera's 1995 Die Walküre. Gary Smith photo

In 1995, when I was eight, I had the opportunity to ride one of the Valkyrie's horses. The big showstopper in Rochaix's Wälkure was that all eight Valkyries rode carousel-style horses. These prop animals were flown in from the top of the proscenium, and floated through the air at the top of Act 3. During a tech rehearsal, they let mea small, translucently pale ginger kid with a haircut that looked like it was a bowl cut made with two bowls at oncehop on one and fly around a little bit. I think I was a little too terrified to be exhilarated, but it always stuck with me. Maybe that's where my fervent desire to work offstage AND my crippling fear of heights both came from.

I reached a point in the pandemic where I was convinced that I would never see Wagner performed live again. Wagner wrote his mature works essentially as experiments in transcendence. The forces in the orchestra are massive, the singing otherworldly and intensely difficult. The audience, all packed together in a dark theater, are meant to experience something communal and unifying. Everything is contrived to transport the audience member outside of themselves. Trippy stuff that comes not only at a large financial cost, but also at the cost of thousands of people breathing on each other in the dark for five-to-seven hours. So I'm absolutely thrilled to be a part of this live and in-person presentation of Die Wälkure at Seattle Center. It's quite literally a dream-come-true, and I can't wait to live it with you all together in the audience.

Miller and Adam Lau during the filming of Seattle Opera's June 2021 Tosca. 

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