Reappearing after a four-year hiatus for a three-cycle run August 3-24, the Seattle Opera's version of Wagner's "Ring" fully demonstrated that it's not getting older, it's getting better.

Every aspect of this interpretation worked for the company, under the inspired general direction of Speight Jenkins and his talented artistic and technical staffs.Most noticeable improvement over the Seattle "Rings" of the mid-'80s is the vastly refined design of Robert Israel, who had the goods from the start but went off on some pretty radical tangents.

This time around, everything contributes harmoniously to a "Ring" of Victorian feeling, with Wotan cast in the mold of Richard Wagner, where gods and humans move naturally between reality and mythology. In getting to the heart of the matter, Israel has cleared away clutter, softening some scenes and firming up others, and again and again replacing the former reaction of "What the heck is that?" with "Oh, I get it!"

The Valkyries on flying horses and the leaping yellow flames of Brunnhilde's Immolation remain as spectacular as ever. But gone are the Rhinemaidens' floozy black tights and garterbelts, replaced by chaste pantaloons and black stockings that convey just a bit of naughtiness. Hunding's hall has lost its harsh metallic wall, and the puzzling row of chairs has become a conversational grouping, suitable for a gathering of chieftains. (Gone, too, is the horrid plastic deer in the spring scene.)

The Rhine's acres of blue cloth seem natural, the shrill children who comprise the Nibelungen are as poignant as ever, and the giants are tall guys in carpenter's attire. The entrance to Valhalla is a symbol of class distinction and materialism only exceeded by the many dark pillars of the Gibichungs, among which the uptight characters walk in tension and dread.

Israel and stage director Francois Rochaix seem to have come to excellent rapport in improving upon a staging based on convention but including countless brilliant touches of imagination and adventure that challenge and titillate the viewer.

Conductor Hermann Michael nightly reaped cheers and bravos for his inspired leadership, with solid support (only occasionally overpowering) for the singers, and some moving instrumental interludes from the king-size orchestra.

Triumphing against all odds, Jenkins assembled a giant cast of singers among whom there were few weak links. Even late substitutions came through admirably, and on a scale of one to 10, no one fell below a seven.

Taking her place in the Seattle Opera lineup for the first time, statuesque Gudrun Volkert stayed the course for a touching and dramatically satisfying Brunnhilde, after the style of Hildegard Behrens.

Her big, warm soprano seemed more like a mezzo carried up, and not always too successfully. With high notes that she could sit on, Volkert could be a great Brunnhilde; and there were signs that they might still be coming in, especially throughout the taxing "Goetterdaemmerung," with a crowning triumph in the Immolation scene.

Also noteworthy was the Wotan of Roger Roloff, about whose tall, spare frame the accoutrements and authority of royalty hung naturally. Especially effective were the tableaux where he sat at the side of the proscenium, raven on his shoulder, surveying the action as a benign and silent deity. Roloff could stand a touch more sheer voice but was generally effectual.

The role of Siegfried suffers from basic unattractiveness, ranging from peevish brat to flip teenager to adult betrayer. Though the latter is under the spell of a potion, it's always hard for me to separate that fact out, and equally hard to feel much pain when he's finally eliminated; and impossible to believe in him as the greatest hero in the world.

It takes a good actor to find the shreds of sympathy in Siegfried, and while William Johns discharged the role serviceably enough in an often ringing tenor, he never aroused anything resembling audience sympathy, nor rose to any dramatic heights.

A hit with each appearance was basso Gabor Andrasy as Fafner, Hunding and Hagen, with his unlimited voice and compelling dramatic presence. Julian Patrick continued to add stature to a great characterization of Alberich, with tenor Thomas Harper as a sneaky Mime who walked the fine line between comedy and petulance, and tenor Kenneth Riegel as a brittle, showy Loge. Diane Kesling's opulent high mezzo gave more substance than usual to Freia and the ineffectual Gudrune, and Alexandra Hughes impressed as the first Fricka, as did Shiela Nadler as the second Fricka and Waltraute.

A tenor to watch is Warren Ellsworth, whose Siegmund was vocally ample and dramatically sincere and romantic. Ellen Shade's Sieglinde was touching, but somehow just on the edge of vocal excellence, with frequently unfocused tones.

After three sold-out cycles, the Seattle "Ring" is put to sleep, tentatively to reappear in 1995. Make plans to attend if you can - this "Ring" is an American artistic treasure.

Many Ring-goers enjoyed "Das Barbecu," a spoof of "The Ring," set on Texas Rancho Gibich, where a party celebrates the double wedding of Siegfried and Gutrune and Gunther and Brunnhilde. Jim Luigs' text, with music by Scott Warrender, hits many bull's eyes, such as the Norns doing lariat tricks or jumping in bed with Wotan and Erda.