Despite the hype that has overblown the importance of its brand-new Ring cycle, Lyric Opera is delivering on many of its promises, presenting a musically glorious and astute production of the final installment, Gotterdammerung. A lot of the credit goes to Zubin Mehta and his crackerjack pit orchestra, who on opening night negotiated expertly through the five-and-a-half-hour-long, motif-ridden score and kept Wagner’s convoluted mythodrama riveting to the ear. The singing by a well-chosen top-drawer cast showed intensity and psychological insight. Never mind that Eva Marton, as Brunnhilde, is no longer in total command of her fabled voice: she still gives a convincing (and tearjerking) portrayal of a lovelorn iron maiden. Siegfried Jerusalem, as the heroic yet ill-fated Siegfried, proves once again why he’s today’s preeminent heldentenor, a singer of amazing stamina and sturdy physique (even though on the first night his voice came off strained at times). Bass Matti Salminen, in the role of the sinister Hagen, is all reptilian charm and greed–scary yet oddly sympathetic in his burning ambition for the Rhinemaidens’ cursed ring. And Alan Held and Elizabeth Byrne, as Gunther and his half-sister Gutrune, breathe life into the ambiguous, insular relationship of a couple swept into the impending doom of the gods. John Conklin’s design, as throughout this Ring cycle, is heavy on neon-lit symbols and geometric shapes: a billowy strip of blue cloth stands for the overflowing Rhine; neon circles and braided ropes offer a constant reminder of the ring (in all its definitions). The fiery demise of the gods, however, is perversely unspectacular, a finale mired in abstraction. August Everding’s direction, consistent with his overall conception for the Ring, is enlivened by cutesy stunts and melodramatic gestures. This production will be held four more times in March. Saturday, 5:30 PM, Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker; 332-2244. TED SHEN

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Dan Rest.