Accompanied by a slowly swelling E major chord, a mythical cosmos rises from the depths of the Rhine in the Prelude to “Das Rheingold”, carrying with it the entire world of gods, humans and dwarves. Wagner lays the foundations of deception and violence from the very beginning of his Nibelungen saga: Alberich, an underworld dweller, robs the Rhine maidens of their gold and forges it into a ring around which an ominous and epic power struggle is set to unravel. He curses the ring to henceforth only bring potential world domination to those willing to renounce love at the price of possessing its power.
In 1896, George Bernard Shaw shrewdly referred to the cycle as a “present-day drama”, one which may as well have been written under the influence of imperial power struggles and industrial advancement after the second half of the 19th century. To date, the political and socio-critical content of the work has not lost its relevance. The triumphant rising of the gods, culminating in the construction of Valhalla, only forebodes their very demise. “The injustices which they pursue cling to them instead”, Wagner wrote in his prose draft to the drama.
First performance: 1869 in Munich
First performance: 1870 in Munich
First performance: 1876 in Munich
First performance: 1876 in Bayreuth
Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)
Libretto: by the composer
The 2017 International May Festival offers two complete cycles of Wagner’s “Ring”, each spread over the course of six days. On the “rest days” during the first cycle, we offer the Wagner Gala Concert
, a lecture matinee and a reading from Thomas Mann’s “Wälsungenblut
”, while the second cycle offers the operas “Le nozze di Figaro
” and “Die Zauberflöte
“The incomparable thing about myth,” wrote Wagner in 1851, “is that it is true for all time.” His “Ring” is a drama about the genesis and demise of a mythical world which is, despite everything, more current than ever before. With human co-existence at its core, Wagner’s mammoth four-part work is filled with symbols such as ring, speer, gold, helmet and sword, as well as countless musically and textually interwoven elements. Figures, ideas, thoughts, feelings and naturalistic references blend with words and music to form images in which endless associative properties are hidden and expressed. In the end, what ultimately remains after all the violence and death, is hope for a new beginning – an unredeemed wish not only for the 19th, but also for the 20th and 21st centuries.