People get intimidated by Wagner’s Ring Cycle, but I encourage you not to be!
True, it is long; there are lots of interrelated characters and lots of interconnected music.
It’s not your normal opera story, it’s trying to representing all of time. Or has it all happened before our world began? Or after? Or now? The many differently styled productions that set The Ring in different times and places do not help in making it accessible; they just make things more confusing to Ring newbies.
But I still maintain you don’t need to be intimidated by this opera version of a mini-series.
To begin with, just experience the story unfold as a mythological fairy tale. The story is engaging with amazing music – just absorb it*. If you want more information about the plot, Wikipedia is quite thorough or this page, on Lyric Opera of Chicago’s website, does a great job as well: Click Here
*we don’t all have the big bux to attend a full Ring Cycle in person but there are many free options with subtitles available on YouTube. I watched my first Ring Cycle on DVD’s from the library!
There is a misconception that you have to know everything before you go into an opera, but part of the enjoyment of the Ring story is the discovery of how the characters are connected to each other. However, if you want some advance information, this chart is great. Click here. However I’m tempted to think it might make someone new to this story more overwhelmed than comfortable with the knowledge.
Obviously the story is told through music and in the Ring there is another level to this: Leitmotifs, themes which represent characters, places or ideas. This is the beauty of the Ring. You will be inspired to see the Ring repeated many times because you continuously hear new themes and connections which enrich the story.The musical themes weave through all 4 operas and create a tapestry not only of repeated sound but of connections between characters and ideas.
Example: Loge. Loge is demi-god of fire. He appears as himself with his theme only in Das Rheingold, trying to bail Wotan out of the corner he has backed himself into. The theme appears again as Loge is called to protect Brunnhilde as fire at the end of Die Walkure- morphing slightly into the “Magic Fire Music”. We hear the music again as Siegfried enters the fire to free Brunnhilde at the end of Siegfreid. In Gotterdammerung we hear the music again and understand the real importance of fire in the story, as Brunnhilde uses fire to purify the world of the Ring’s curse.
This sounds complicated and maybe off putting- or maybe your interest is peaked? You don’t have to study up on these themes, discovering them through listening is a magical experience. But if you would like to explore leitmotifs, this YouTube channel breaks The Ring down by theme so you can hear it identified: Click here
Check out Anna Russell's comedic but accurate run through of the Ring Cycle synopsis with leitmotifs! Click Here
I hope you will try out this magical opera story!