"A MAGIC SCENE contrived to please
the eyes and ears at the expense of the understanding."
Lord Chesterfield's opinion of opera may be generally correct, but one's mind must
be prepared if one is to fully enjoy Richard Wagner’s Ring
of the Nibelungs cycle of operas.
This explains why.
We greatly enjoy Patrice Chéreau's production on
DVD inspired by Bernard Shaw's
in The Perfect Wagnerite.
If you read only one book it should be Thomas May's Decoding Wagner which comes with two CDs -
one of "greatest hits" from the Ring and one from the other operas.
Joachim Köhler's enthralling biographyRichard
Wagner: The Last of the Titans gives a fully documented analysis
penetrating the smokescreen Wagner set up to hide the origins of his ideas, his musical masterpieces
and his often disgusting behaviour.
Bryan Magee's The
Tristan Chord, published in Britain as Wagner and Philosophy,
is delightfully easy to read yet it gives one a profound understanding of all of
Thanks to Wagner's narcissistic personality disorder and emotional conflicts,
his characters have great psychological depth, so the Ring also demands a Jungian interpretation.
How that illuminates our own experiences is best shown in Jean Bolen’s book Ring of Power.
The Jungian ideas may be summarised thus:
In the flowing realm of the
unconscious Self, the Rhinemaidens protect the gold
with its life-giving power or libido.
Alberich snatches the gold into
the Shadow, that unloving part of the unconscious personality which self-esteem
will not permit one to recognize as one's own, and which may be projected onto
To mature one must overcome the
Shadow. This Wotan does, but his castle building expresses inflation of the Ego, an exaggerated
consciousness of one's own importance. This
leads him to contract with Giants, whose egos are
even more inflated.
The slaying of the giant Dragon by
Siegfried in an heroic struggle represents the
deflating of Ego. His love of Brunhilde is a vital
union of the conscious Ego with the spiritual aspect of the unconscious.
Siegfried's death ends domination by the Ego,
and Brunhilde's immolation entirely burns away the
distinction between Ego and Self.
The return of the ring to the Rhinemaidens' realm completes the process of individuation
by which a person becomes a psychological individual, that is, a separate,
indivisible whole. Now the Self is
experienced as a numinous, transpersonal power, as God. It is often symbolized
by a mandala,
Appreciation of the music is
greatly increased by knowledge of the leitmotivs.
The Ring Disc is a CD-ROM that plays the entire Ring (with
Solti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic), while displaying the piano-vocal score and German libretto with
English translation; it also includes a list of leitmotivs, synopsis, and character
Árni Björnsson’s Wagner and the Volsungs
details the sources Wagner used in compiling the libretti of the Ring. It shows that he derived at least 80% of his material from Old
Icelandic writings (the Prose Edda, Eddic poems, and various sagas); 15% is
common to both German and Icelandic texts, but no more than 5% is solely from
German books such as Das Nibelungenlied. The Gotterdammerung concept of
the world being consumed by fire, and the flames surrounding Brunnhilde's
mountain fastness, were known to Wagner from Icelandic sources alone, and may
have been inspired originally by Iceland’s frequent volcanic eruptions.
A must-read article in the British Medical Journal argues that
the potion taken by Tristan and Isolde was brewed from a nightshade plant such as henbane.
That could also be true of the potion given to Siegfried, because henbane contains scopolamine, the date rape drug,
which induces retrograde amnesia.
The best acoustics for Wagnerian opera is found in the
Bayreuth Festspielhaus, which looks as it did in 1876 when Wagner built it as a temporary theatre.
You need to plan well ahead to get tickets for Bayreuth,
but it is far easier and much more enjoyable to bookwith International
Curtain Call: you will be escorted by the genial owner, Gerry Glaser, an opera buff who provides not only excellent
seats and first-class hotel accommodation but also gourmet meals and site-seeing with wonderful guides.