04/13/15 Wagner: The Real Lord of the Rings?

Before there was The Lord of the Rings, there was The Ring of the Nibelungen. The two stories share many similarities:

– A gold ring that imparts magical power to whoever possesses it (and also causes big problems for them)
– Influenced by Norse and German mythology
– Mythical creatures such as dwarves, elves, and wizards (The “Nibelungen” are a race of dwarves)
– Epic battle scenes

J.R.R. Tolkien denied being influenced by Wagner’s operas, saying, “Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases.” But there is plenty of evidence that he was influenced!

Some of the similarities are explained here.

Wagner told his story over the course of four operas:
– Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold)
– Die Walküre (The Valkyrie)
– Siegfried (one of the characters)
– Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods)

His idea was to have the set of operas performed on four consecutive evenings — kind of like a film festival before film existed. He had a theatre built especially for this, in Bayreuth, Germany. This series of operas is still performed there every summer.

The whole story is long and complex, but we’ll look at one part of it, and how Wagner uses leitmotifs to help tell the story.

– Wotan, King of the Gods
– Siegmund, son of Wotan
– Sieglinde, daughter of Wotan
They are twin brother and sister who have a forbidden romantic relationship. Wotan’s wife Fricka, the goddess of marriage, demands that they be punished.
– Brünnhilde, one of the Valkyries, who are also daughters of Wotan
– Siegfried, son of Siegmund and Sieglinde

Wagner: Die Walküre, Act III Opening: “Ride of the Valkyries”

Wotan tells Brünnhilde that Siegmund must die in battle, but she disobeys her father and saved Siegmund. Her punishment is to become a mortal and be put into a magic sleep that will be broken by a mortal man. But Wotan grants her request to be surrounded by a ring of fire so that only a very brave man will be able to get to her.

What’s Opera, Doc? Features Seigfried and Brünnhilde’s romance later on:

What's Opera Doc by MistyIsland1

What about sacred music in the romantic era?

“Verdi’s Requiem Mass, one of the masterworks of late Romantic choral repertory, is an example of sacred music transitioning from the church to the concert hall.” (Textbook, p. 249)

Mozart: Dies Irae

Berlioz: Dies Irae

Verdi: Dies Irae

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