PBS Will Air 17-Hour `Ring' Cycle

TELEVISION

GET ready. A fantastic world of battling giants, gods, dwarfs, and dragons is headed for your living room, about to emerge from your television set. No, this is not another Nintendo game. It is Richard Wagner's momentous four-opera classic ``The Ring of the Nibelung.''

Beginning Monday night, the Metropolitan Opera brings ``The Ring'' cycle to American television to be seen in its awesome entirety over four successive nights. Never before have TV audiences had a chance to view the sprawling epic as Wagner himself had intended - one opera right after the other (PBS, Monday through Thursday, starting at 8 p.m., check local listings).

Along the banks of the Rhine, within dark forests, and on the cliffs near Valhalla, characters vie for possession of the all-powerful golden ring in a drama thick with twisting intrigue, murder, greed, and passionate romance.

``This is going to take up where `Twin Peaks' left off,'' says William Livingstone, editor-at-large of Stereo Review magazine. And yet, he adds, ``The whole thing is about redemption through love ... and the triumph of human love.''

The fact that PBS set aside four evenings of prime time for the 17-hour-long undertaking is ``truly staggering,'' comments Livingstone.

``We wanted to make it a cultural event,'' explains Melinda Ward, director of drama, performance, and cultural programming at PBS in Washington. ``It's the way the `Ring' ought to be done.''

Translating the theatrical production, replete with special effects like moving clouds and walls of fire, into the medium of television is ``terribly difficult and painstaking,'' says Peter Gelb, executive producer of the Met's telecasts. The finished product, he says, combines live performances before an audience with certain effects filmed separately and edited in later. ``We're trying to imitate what the audience feels in the theater.''

Taping of the four operas - ``Das Rheingold,'' ``Die Walk"ure,'' ``Siegfried,'' and ``G"otterd"ammerung'' - was done between March 1989 and June 1990. James Levine conducted the cycle, widely considered the Met's finest achievement in recent years. The cast brings together Hildegard Behrens, Jessye Norman, James Morris, Tatiana Troyanos, and other stars.

The production, directed by Otto Schenk and designed by G"unther Schneider-Siemssen, ``follows Wagner's stage direction more closely than any other,'' says Livingstone. Rather than overlayed with Freudian or Marxist interpretations, the production is naturalistic and straightforward, allowing ``you to interprit as you will,'' he says.

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