An unbroken 'Ring' is this opera-lover's dream

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DAY ONE. Monday. I arrive at the Metropolitan Opera for "Das Rheingold," prologue to Richard Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen." This is the shortest of the four operas that make up "The Ring." Running time: an intermissionless 2 hours, 35 minutes.

My seat is in the last row in the Family Circle. The Family Circle is above the balcony. Mountain goats would be challenged to reach my seat. Acoustically, this is the best seat in the house. Visually, it is two city blocks from the stage.

The opera begins. For a tall person like me, the legroom is woeful. During the performance, I twist and turn in my seat, assuming the shape of a pretzel.

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Heat rises. In seat 109, row K, it is very warm. I dare not whisper complaints to my neighbors. Wagnerians are not forgiving of distractions.

Day 2, Tuesday. "Die Walkre." Running time: 6 to 11:15 p.m. I am wearing lighter clothing to forestall the heat problem and carrying roasted almonds and dried peaches to reduce hunger during the performance.

I travel from my office to the opera house by subway. The D train crawls up the West Side. Signal problems. The subway cars are jammed with people. Babies crying. Will I be on time? The Met is strict about not seating late- comers.

On the subway I munch a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Wagner intended that his listeners arrive in a relaxed and tranquil frame of mind after reflecting on the opera to be performed that day. This is not my situation.

Snacks notwithstanding, my mind wanders to thoughts of food during "Die Walkre." At the opera's conclusion, I partake of a cheeseburger and vanilla milkshake at an all-night diner.

Day 3, Wednesday. Rest day. No opera tonight. I relax by playing basketball at the gym and then watching a televised NBA playoff game.

Day 4, Thursday. "Siegfried." Running time: 6 to 11:30 p.m. When I stand by my seat, I can touch the gold ceiling of the opera house. I am becoming friendly with my neighbors, a nice young German couple, and with the standees behind me.

Today, I left my office at 4:45 p.m. "If anyone calls," I said, "just tell them I am at the opera." "The Ring" is all-absorbing. I am falling behind in work and reading.

Following the conclusion of "Siegfried," the 65th Street crosstown bus returning to the East Side through Central Park is jammed with Wagnerians who express strong views on the performance. Seldom do such spirited exchanges take place on a bus.

Day 5, Friday. Rest. Play basketball.

Day 6, Saturday. "Gtterdmmerung." Six hours. This is close to the time it takes to fly from New York to London. The biggest challenge yet to this listener's Sitzfleisch.

At the conclusion, thunderous applause, a standing ovation, and bravos. Everyone in the house, all 3,800 of us, has shared an extraordinary musical journey. The standees, who have been upright for 19 hours, thump the wall paneling in approval.

I bid the occupants of row K farewell. I am one of the last people to depart from the hall. Rumblings are heard backstage behind the curtain as the remains of Valhalla are removed by the stage crew.

Past midnight, I walk from the opera house across Lincoln Center Plaza to my bicycle and ride home through Central Park. I need the cool night breeze on my face to revive me after the heat of the auditorium, and I want to reflect on the wonderful music I have heard. Cherry and magnolia trees are in full bloom in the park. I feel very proud, and privileged, to have participated in this towering achievement of Western music.

I exit from the park at 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue. Several families stand on the sidewalk by my apartment house. They hold lit candles. It is Easter Sunday according to the calendar of the Orthodox Church. We are fellow celebrants in the joy of life.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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