Let's Talk About The Ring!
As great an achievement, as lofty and towering as the Ring is, no one – and I mean NO ONE – should ever be daunted by it, or confounded into thinking they are not “intellectual” enough to understand it. Please.
My problem with almost all of these methods of “introducing the Ring” to folk is that they are entirely unnecessary to the enjoyment of, and appreciation of the Ring. In fact, I would go so far as to say that in many instances these methods can be far more detrimental than helpful. (I can hear already the screams of Valkyries from hither and yon!) I’ve seen too many neophytes become confounded and confused when all that is necessary to understand the Ring is a pair of ears (and hopefully eyes, though these are nowhere near as necessary as the former).
Research and investigating, musico-dramatic analyses, in-depth probes into the common and deviated mythologies as well as a working knowledge of the leitmotifs simply are not important to have a damned good time hearing all those gals yelping, witness the grandeur as well as the pettiness of the Gods, a fire breathing dragon, the forging of a mighty sword and more all set to one of the most amazing scores ever penned. Over analysis, in fact, can take away too much of the spontaneous enjoyment and surprise a newbie can feel. Everyone is different, however, as can always be proved by the proverbial phrase, “on the other hand.”
A number of people can ONLY learn to appreciate the Ring by one of the above methods (and I have several friends who found Wagner “boring” until they’d memorized every leitmotif and practically knew the piano/vocal score by heart.) The truth is, the majority of people who attend it are just not “that” into opera – at least not to the level most here are (c’mon you sought out and joined a list devoted exclusively to it – an act that can hardly be considered “common.” While insights are indeed nice, we seem to have come to this impasse where, I believe, many find the effort of getting to know the Ring too daunting a task and just not enough fun. (Remember fun?)
I’m not a TOTAL Neanderthal and do think someone expressing more than a fleeting interest in Wagner’s Holy Tetralogy that indeed, some study can be a welcome and positive thing. For those folk, pretty much all of the aforementioned “methods” (particularly the invaluable volumes by Deryck Cooke and Father Owen Lees) should do nicely.
While verdicts vary on importance of the product known as The Ring Disc – I have found it to be a rather enjoyable tool and have used it since it came out to share with friends who had mild interests. There is not, to my thinking at least, nearly enough in-depth, analyses or study guides for those already familiar with the work, but it is pretty neat to be able to hear (compressed into mono, but still acceptable sounding) as well as read along with the piano/vocal score.
In my opinion the only absolutely essential guide to understanding and appreciating the Ring, happens – by no coincidence – to also be the most enjoyable: The Ring of the Nibelungs (An Analysis) by Anna Russell. Everything else (literally) pales by comparison!
As to DVD sets of the Ring there seems to be a new one coming out every few months now! I’m an awfully big fan of three: The Met’s classic (and frequently maligned version – often due to its literalness or because of the expressed dislike for Hildegard Behrens); and productions for Bayreuth by Chereau Kupfer. Each has their merits, each has their flaws.
No one’s asking, but my personal favorite is the Met’s for countless reasons, but here are a few: of reasons: Hildegard Behrens touches my heart in a manner that no Brunhilde has before or since. James Morris’ youthful boy-god slant on Wotan is nothing less than remarkable. Siegfried Jerusalem’s Loge in Rheingold is one terrific bit of operatic acting his knowing glance towards the audience/camera as the gods cheerfully head for the Rainbow Bridge is visually one of the slickest, visual “aha!” moments I’ve ever seen.
The biggest selling point for this cycle, however, is its Die Walkure and Wotan’s Farewell. Here, Morris and Behrens achieve something so unique and special, a quality of acting rarely seen – especially in close up. At one point, the camera angles to shoot down giving us the perspective of Brunhilde’s face looking up toward her father, Behrens’ enormous, wet doe eyes beaming love, honor and awe at this being, both father and god; Morris through voice and composure lets us in just enough to see Wotan’s genuine heartbreak at the act he is compelled to do and all of this makes for one of the greatest scenes in the whole of opera and here, spectacularly done.