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KING OF THE RING GLYNN ROSS WANTS TO KNOCK YOU OUT WITH WAGNER'S MASTERPIECE

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But Wagner was merely the centerpiece of a grander plan that Ross had been busily hatching. Two years after he had the Ring in full flower, Ross announced his ambition to create a Pacific Northwest Festival. With the Ring as its linchpin, the festival would include music, dance, theatre and other arts. To fund his dream, Ross talked the Washington State Legislature into appropriating money for the project, Weyerhauser corporation into donating 30 acres of forestland and Washington Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson into introducing a bill to support the project in the U.S. Congress. The project went as far as architectural models for a three-theatre complex that was to have cost $12.5 million.

But Watergate and the political uncertainty it engendered killed any hope of federal money. At the same time, there was also growing opposition on the Seattle Opera board to Ross' dream. Members felt he wanted to grow too big too fast. They wanted to consolidate and focus on their season. To Ross, an inveterate schemer and salesman who during his Seattle tenure had also launched Pacific Northwest Ballet and founded Opera America (a professional organization of opera companies), the handwriting on the wall was clear. In the spring of 1983, after 19 years as the founder and general director of the Seattle Opera, he resigned. Since Ross' departure, the Ring has lost most of its former momentum; it is currently being produced once every four years. The end of Ross' tenure in Seattle seemed to end his reign as one of America's foremost Wagnerians. But now, at age 77, at the helm of the Arizona Opera Company since 1984, Ross is again talking of heldentenors, otherworldly rear projections and the trials of finding a good Brnnhilde.

Ross is determined to bring a complete, in-sequence production of Wagner's Ring to Arizona in 1995. He'll begin by including one opera in each of the next three regular seasons. In the 1992-93 season, the Arizona Opera Company will stage its first Wagner opera in 11 years, The Valkyrie.

"It's interesting to me," says Speight Jenkins, the current general director of the Seattle Opera and the man who replaced Ross, "that it took Glynn around eight years here to begin thinking of a Ring, and now, after eight years in Arizona, he's at it again."
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@body:The stories about Glynn Ross are legion. He is a larger-than-life director who once approved a press release calling La Boheme "the story of six old-time hippies in Paris." In trying to drum up support for the Seattle Opera, he issued bumper stickers with the risqu message, "Get Ahead With Salome." His press kit contains quotes calling him the "Nebraskan Siegfried," "The Paganini of Public Relations," an impresario possessing "the energy of Jiminy Cricket, the charm of Cary Grant and the promise of Santa Claus." Under all this self-promotion is the irrefutable fact that Ross did, through simple force of will, bring America its first complete performance of Richard Wagner's Ring. And he has made the Arizona Opera Company the only professional arts organization in the state to stay in the black.

Glynn Ross is a man who over a 40-year career in American opera has made devoted friends, implacable enemies and a lot of good opera. In 1965 he brought a rising star named Beverly Sills to Seattle to sing. A year later she had a New York triumph in Julius Caesar. In 1967 Ross convinced Joan Sutherland to sing Lakme in Seattle by convincing her she needed to sharpen her skills before recording it. In recent years, Ross discovered Ealynn Voss, an American soprano who, since her first major role in a 1990 Arizona Opera production of Turandot, has gone on to the world's best stages.

Ross is a curious mix of incessant dreamer and hard-nosed pragmatist. He's an affable, Nebraska-bred farm boy and a snobbish aesthete. A multilingual mythology buff who can swear like a trooper. A walking encyclopedia of pasta, Chardonnay and other refined pleasures. A snake-oil pitchman. A cantankerous visionary who wants to balance the budget and not only do a Ring, but do it in Sedona.

A Shakespearean actor turned opera impresario, Ross combines a penny-saved-penny-earned philosophy with a finely honed sense of stagecraft, vocal performance and the kind of pageant opera needs to be successful. Able to sing many of the roles from the standard repertoire by heart, he's also able to stage-direct or conduct. A maddeningly stubborn egotist hard on both board members and employees, Ross has more than a touch of megalomania. Everything from Mimi's wig in La Boheme to the gargantuan Egyptian court sets for Aida had better be his way or else.

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Robert Baird