September 4, 2012 by Reader's Connection
Richard Wagner’s four-opera cycle The Ring of the Nibelungen is coming to WFYI-TV next week. At 9:00 p.m. on Monday, September 10th, Susan Froemke’s documentary “Wagner’s Dream” about the Metropolitan Opera’s most recent Ring staging will be aired (you can click above and watch a clip from the documentary on YouTube). Then the four parts of that Met production of the cycle will be aired on the following evenings, Tuesday through Friday, at 9:00.
I’m excited, but more than a decade has passed since I last watched a Ring cycle; and in an attempt to prepare, I’m about two-thirds of the way through Finding an Ending: Reflections on Wagner’s Ring (2004) by Philip Kitcher and Richard Schacht. These men are professors of philosophy, authors of many books–and they also sing! They close their book’s acknowledgments by thanking four musicians who have guided our aspirations as (relatively serious) amateur singers. They have taught us much, not only about singing, but also about listening–and about what they both have to do with living.
Singing philosophers. I love it. Finding an Ending traces the efforts of the god Wotan (that is he to the left, standing by his flame-encircled daughter Brünnhilde) as he discovers the flaws in his various plans to improve the world.
Anti-Wagnerites (my wife, for example) might think that the book’s title refers to opera-goers who are waiting in agony for these evenings to end; but we’re dealing with the ending of the gods, the kind of world that’s left when free human beings are left on their own.
I loved the 1990 (?) Met staging of the Ring , but I have to admit that the whole wandering story makes more sense to me thanks to Kitcher and Schacht. The way they look at individual characters (like the wily Loge) is enlightening.
(The DVD of Siegfried, the third opera in the cycle, has gone missing from the set to which I linked up above. I’ll ask if we can re-order. For the time being, we have other Siegfried DVDs.)
Popular reference question: What are the four parts of The Ring?
Brief write-ups of the operas are available if you click on the first textual link above.
Of the books that I read fifteen years ago, when first encountering The Ring, my favorites were probably Michael Tanner’s Wagner (1996) and Deryck Cooke’s I Saw the World End: A Study of Wagner’s Ring (1979).
There’s nothing original about recommending the latter book. Everyone who writes about The Ring recommends Cooke, who does a wonderful job of going through the older myths and sagas that went into the work, and looking at the uses Wagner made of them.
I wanted to close with inspiring words from Finding an Ending, but everything required a deadly paragraph of introduction. Instead, I’ll be uninspiring and show that the singing philosophers don’t think the Ring cycle is a perfect work. Here they are on “The Ride of the Valkyries.” It’s the most popular bit of music from the cycle, but not with them: The exclamations of the Valkyries are tedious (when not comical); and their celebrated “ride” is a gratingly raucous but shallow introduction to a splendidly dramatic act, better suited to its many popular-cultural uses than to its original setting.
Rather harsh, but the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now is indeed what first comes to mind when I hear the music. Perhaps that will change next Wednesday, when I watch Die Walküre. In the theatrical trailer for “Wagner’s Dream,” the Susan Froemke documentary that will air on WFYI on the 10th, you get a glimpse of Valkyries on the fantastic (and dangerous-looking) moving set that was built for this production .
Category Announcement, Booklist, Event | Tags: Deryck Cooke, Finding an Ending: Reflections on Wagner's Ring, I Saw the World End: A Study of Wagner's Ring, Michael Tanner, Richard Wagner, Ring of the Nibelungs, WFYI