Not Zambello, who has brought it to the fore, focusing unusual attention on the battle for power between Wotan and his nemesis, the dwarf Alberich, who forges the mysterious and cursed ring. This emphasis on the struggle for power gives the cycle philosophical heft, it raises the stakes for all the characters — the world itself is in peril — and while it is the most abstract of Wagner’s concerns, it intensifies all his other story lines. Long scenes that can be excruciatingly dull — Wagner’s recapitulations focus particularly on the fate of the ring — suddenly take on vitality and urgency in Zambello’s production.
And perhaps no part of the “Ring” cycle is so suddenly relevant, so ready-made for recasting in American terms, as Wagner’s depiction of an epic power struggle. Economic collapse, environmental degradation, decayed infrastructure, all have their roots in greed, self-interest and the blind quest for status and power. Zambello’s production represents it all: Act 2 of “Valkyrie” takes place under a crumbling highway overpass; Act 1 of “Siegfried” is set in a grubby trailer; and the nouveaux riches of “Gotterdammerung” live in the architecture of Joan Didion’s California with trimmings by Crate & Barrel.