Wagners The Ring Cycle from an Opera Skeptics POV
Posted on 10 Sep 2012
This week, Great Performances at the Met presents Robert Lepages acclaimed new production of Wagners "Der Ring des Nibelungen," or "The Ring Cycle," a series opera lovers will surely appreciate. But what if you arent convinced that opera is your cup of tea? From one skeptic to another, let me reassure you. If youre a fan Tolkiens fantastic hobbit journeys and you enjoyed watching wascally wabbits on Saturday mornings, The Ring Cycle is for you. Youre at least already familiar with the music!
Is that a bit of an oversimplification? Maybe. Okay (opera aficionados), probably. But I think we can all admit that, for better or worse, a certain stereotype about opera exists, and, if allowed to, that stereotype can intimidate us and limit our appreciate of an amazing series.
So lets talk about what opera is. We know nothing is over until the proverbial fat lady sings. And we know that operas highbrow, for the highly educated (aka snooty) crowd. We stereotypically think of operas as historical, in one sense or another, and realize that theyre generally sung in a foreign language.
Unless you speak Italian fluently (and in the case of The Ring, German, as well) and are comfortable in the circles of the intelligentsia, opera can be a bit intimidating. But the fact of the matter is that, like other formidable classics Shakespeare, Dickens, the theater at large, classical music in general and what-have-you opera began as a part of pop culture. Its stars were referred to only by their last names; screaming fans swarmed the performers in public; and operas divas gave the word a new definition the one the majority of us use most frequently today. And, really, though weve set opera upon a pedestal, its still quite present in our lives today.
Exhibit A? Bugs Bunny.
Now, Whats Opera Doc? though voted the best animated clip of all time by animation professionals in 1994 is obviously not an complete approximation of Wagners opus. But its a start, and proof that, on some level, we all probably not only know Wagners work, but also enjoy it. However, What, you say, if we only like the plot involving Bugs, and we couldnt enjoy whats happening if the music doesnt document a helmeted Elmer chasing a wabbit?
Exhibit B. The Lord of the Rings.
Again, not an exact replica. But if you Tolkienites enjoyed the series general plot, you might enjoy a bit of a musical variation. A cursed golden ring and treasure, guarded by a dragon, power struggles between good and evil for the rings control, love and deception, plenty of magic and a fiery end? The Ring Cycle has it.
Still not convinced? Well, I suppose theres not much I can do for you, but I know that Ill be watching. In addition to catching a preview, I cheated and got the plotlines in brief, and after a considered review, Im in.
Monday night's "Wagner's Dream" provides a primer for the production's history and gets you acquainted with the composer himself.
Then, Tuesday through Friday, you can experience Wagners Ring Cycle in full. Ill be posting spoiler breakdowns strictly from the book of me every afternoon in preparation for the evening. Check back on the Engage blog for your entertainment, and give us your critiques in the comment section!
*Spoiler alert.* Follow this link for an immediate, much more … reverent … outline of The Ring Cycle. Itll quickly bring you up to speed for tonights presentation of Wagners Dream.