Der Ring des Nibelungen

Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) is a cycle of four epic operas (or "dramas" to use the composer's preferred term) by the German composer Richard Wagner (1813–83). The works are based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied. The four dramas, which the composer described as a trilogy with a Vorabend ("preliminary evening"), are often referred to as the Ring Cycle, Wagner's Ring, or simply the Ring.

Wagner wrote the libretto and music over the course of about twenty-six years, from 1848 to 1874. The four operas that constitute the Ring cycle are, in the order of the imagined events they portray:

Although individual operas are performed as works in their own right, Wagner intended them to be a coherent whole, performed in a series.



Wagner's title is most literally rendered in English as the Ring of the Nibelung. The Nibelung of the title is the dwarf Alberich, and the ring in question is the one he fashions from the Rhinegold. The title therefore denotes "Alberich's Ring".[1] In German the "-en" ending of "Nibelungen" and the article "des" preceding it denote the possessive (genitive) case. "Nibelungen" is occasionally mistaken as a plural: thus the Ring of the Nibelungs is incorrect.


The cycle is a work of extraordinary scale. Perhaps the most outstanding facet of the monumental work is its sheer length: a full performance of the cycle takes place over four nights at the opera, with a total playing time of about 15 hours, depending on the conductor's pacing. The first and shortest opera, Das Rheingold, typically lasts two and a half hours, while the final and longest, Götterdämmerung, takes up four and a half hours, excluding act breaks.

The cycle is modelled after ancient Greek dramas that were presented as three tragedies and one satyr play. The Ring proper begins with Die Walküre and ends with Götterdämmerung, with Rheingold as a prelude. Wagner called Das Rheingold a Vorabend or "Preliminary Evening", and Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung were subtitled First Day, Second Day and Third Day, respectively, of the trilogy proper.

The scale and scope of the story is epic. It follows the struggles of gods, heroes, and several mythical creatures over the eponymous magic Ring that grants domination over the entire world. The drama and intrigue continue through three generations of protagonists, until the final cataclysm at the end of Götterdämmerung.

The music of the cycle is thick and richly textured, and grows in complexity as the cycle proceeds. Wagner wrote for an orchestra of gargantuan proportions, including a greatly enlarged brass section with new instruments such as the Wagner tuba, bass trumpet and contrabass trombone. Remarkably, he uses a chorus only relatively briefly, in acts 2 and 3 of Götterdämmerung, and then mostly of men with just a few women. He eventually had a purpose-built theatre constructed, the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, in which to perform this work. The theatre has a special stage that blends the huge orchestra with the singers' voices, allowing them to sing at a natural volume. The result was that the singers did not have to strain themselves vocally during the long performances.

List of characters

Gods[2] Mortals Valkyries Rhinemaidens, Giants & Nibelungs Other characters
  • Wotan, King of the Gods (god of light, air, and wind) (bass-baritone)
  • Fricka, Wotan's wife, goddess of marriage (mezzo-soprano)
  • Freia, Fricka's sister, goddess of love, youth, and beauty (soprano)
  • Donner, Fricka's brother, god of thunder (baritone)
  • Froh, Fricka's brother, god of spring/happiness (tenor)
  • Erda, goddess of wisdom/fate/Earth (contralto)
  • Loge, demigod of fire (tenor in Das Rheingold, represented instrumentally elsewhere)
  • The Norns, the weavers of fate, daughters of Erda (contralto, mezzo-soprano, soprano)
  • Hunding, Sieglinde's husband, chief of the Neidings (bass)
  • Gunther, King of the Gibichungs, son of King Gibich and Queen Grimhilde (baritone)
  • Gutrune, his sister (soprano)
  • Hagen, their half-brother, son of Alberich and Queen Grimhilde (bass)
  • A male choir of Gibichung vassals and a small female choir of women
  • Brünnhilde (soprano)
  • Waltraute (mezzo-soprano)
  • Helmwige (soprano)
  • Gerhilde (soprano)
  • Siegrune (mezzo-soprano)
  • Schwertleite (mezzo-soprano)
  • Ortlinde (soprano)
  • Grimgerde (mezzo-soprano)
  • Rossweisse (mezzo-soprano)
  • Woglinde (soprano)
  • Wellgunde (soprano)
  • Flosshilde (mezzo-soprano)
  • Alberich (baritone)
  • Mime, his brother, and Siegfried's foster father (tenor)
  • The Voice of a Woodbird (soprano)


The plot revolves around a magic ring that grants the power to rule the world, forged by the Nibelung dwarf Alberich from gold he stole from the Rhine maidens in the river Rhine. Several mythic figures struggle for possession of the ring, including Wotan (Odin), the chief of the gods. Wotan's scheme, spanning generations, to overcome his limitations, drives much of the action in the story. His grandson, the hero Siegfried, wins the ring, as Wotan intended, but is eventually betrayed and slain. Finally, the Valkyrie Brünnhilde, Siegfried's lover and Wotan's estranged daughter, returns the ring to the Rhine maidens. In the process, the Gods and their home, Valhalla, are destroyed.

Wagner created the story of the Ring by fusing elements from many German and Scandinavian myths and folk tales.[attribution needed] The Old Norse Eddas supplied much of the material for Das Rheingold, while Die Walküre was largely based on the Völsungasaga. Siegfried contains elements from the Eddur, the Völsungasaga and Thidrekssaga. The final opera, Götterdämmerung, draws from the 12th century High German poem known as the Nibelungenlied, which appears to have been the original inspiration for the Ring, and for which the cycle was named. For a detailed examination of Wagner's sources for the Ring and his treatment of them, see, among other works, Deryck Cooke's unfinished study of the Ring, I Saw the World End, and Ernest Newman's Wagner Nights. For the philosophic ideas behind the Ring, see Bryan Magee's Wagner and Philosophy. Also useful is a translation by Stewart Spencer (Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung: Companion, edited by Barry Millington) which, as well as containing essays, including one on the source material which provides an English translation of the entire text that strives to remain faithful to the early medieval Stabreim technique Wagner used.

In weaving these disparate sources into a coherent tale, Wagner injected many contemporary concepts.[attribution needed] One of the principal themes in The Ring is the struggle of love, which is also associated with Nature and liberty, against power, which is associated with civilization and law. In the very first scene of The Ring, the scorned dwarf Alberich sets the plot in motion by renouncing love, an act that allows him to acquire the power to rule the world by means of forging a magical ring. In the last scene of that opera this ring of power is taken from him, so he places a curse on it: "Whosoever holds the ring, by the ring they shall be enslaved."

The Ring has been the subject of myriad interpretations.[attribution needed] George Bernard Shaw, in The Perfect Wagnerite, argues for a view of The Ring as an essentially socialist critique of industrial society and its abuses. Robert Donington in Wagner's Ring And Its Symbols interprets it in terms of Jungian psychology, as an account of the development of unconscious archetypes in the mind, leading towards individuation.

Among other references, the ring is a symbol of the power of art to make or transform a world.[attribution needed] It relates to the circular Shield of Herakles (and Hesiod's poem of that name), which had sculpted on it the entire mythology and history of ancient Greece. A more contemporary reference is to the theory of Schopenhauer, who opposed the universal force of the Will or life-drive, largely sexual, to art and image (Vorstellung). In a simple sense, Alberich renounces the Will, including erotic power, for the power of representation and the image. Wagner gives the myth a treatment that emphasizes the close bond between eros and aesthetics, which was a key topic for symbolists and thinkers of the Symbolist era like Nietzsche, for example, in his section on art and idealization in Twilight of The Idols.

It is noteworthy[peacock term] that, during the same quarter-century that Wagner composed his Ring Cycle, Alfred Lord Tennyson in Britain constructed and wrote the twelve books of his "Arthur" cycle, The Idylls of the King. This great epic is organized largely around the conflict between ideals and idealism as against the free erotic impulse of nature, as expressed by characters as diverse as Tristram and Vivien. Both the Idylls and the Ring Cycle (and the general European craze for Nordic-Icelandic myth) were what Oswald Spengler in The Decline of the West later characterized as "second religiousness", a sentimental "toying with myths that no one really believes [any more], a tasting of cults that it is hoped might fill an inner void." It starts with Rationalism's fading out in helplessness, and finally the whole world of the primitive religion ... returns to the foreground..."[3]

A humorous interpretation of the Ring Cycle is Tom Holt's book, Expecting Someone Taller. Although a work of fiction, like the original, the book provides a broadly accurate account of the Ring Cycle in a way many who lack an ear or mental training would be able to appreciate without sitting through 15 hours of opera.

There has been long debate over the influence, if any, that Wagner's story had on Tolkien's conception of his own Ring-Saga. Tolkien always strongly denied any such influence, but the inexorable evil of the ring, and its consequent corrupting power, is a crucial theme in both works (see below).


In his previous operas, Wagner had tried to make minimal use of recitative and scena ed aria. For the Ring he decided to do away with them entirely and adopted a through-composed style, whereby each act of each opera would be a continuous piece of music with no breaks whatsoever. In the essay Opera and Drama, (1852) Wagner describes the way in which poetry, music and the visual arts should combine to form what he called The Artwork of the Future. He called these artworks "music-dramas", and thereafter very rarely referred to his works as operas.[4]

As a new foundation for his music-dramas, Wagner adopted the use of what he called Grundthemen, or "base themes", although they are usually referred to elsewhere as leitmotifs. These are recurring melodies and/or harmonic progressions, sometimes tied to a particular key and often to a particular orchestration. They musically denote an action, object, emotion, character or other subject mentioned in the text and/or presented onstage. Wagner referred to them in Opera and Drama as "guides-to-feeling", and described how they could be used to inform the listener of a musical or dramatic subtext to the action onstage in the same way as a Greek Chorus did for Attic Drama. While other composers before Wagner had already used leitmotifs, the Ring was unique in the extent to which they were employed, and in the ingenuity of their combination and development.

Any important subject in the Ring is usually accompanied by a leitmotif. Indeed, long stretches of music are constructed entirely from them. One such example occurs in the link between the prologue and first act of Götterdämmerung: Siegfried's departure from Brünnhilde and his journey down the river Rhine is described first through a rhapsody on several ideas associated variously with Siegfried, Brünnhilde, and their love for each other; then with references to Loge's magic fire; then with the 'Rhine' theme and ideas derived from the singing of the Rhine-daughters; then with shapes originating in discussions of the ring and demonstrations of its power, and finally in new motifs denoting the Gibichung Hall.

There are many dozens of individual motifs scattered throughout the Ring. They often occur as a musical reference to a presentation of their subject onstage, or to a direct reference in the text, or more subtly implied by the text. Many of them appear in several operas, and some even in all four. Sometimes, as in the character of the Woodbird, a cluster of motives is associated with a single character.

As the cycle progresses, and especially from the third act of Siegfried on, these motives are presented in increasingly sophisticated combinations. Wagner also used Franz Liszt's technique of "metamorphosis of themes" to effect a dynamic development of many leitmotifs into quite different ones with a life all of their own. A clear example occurs in the transition from the first to the second scene of Das Rheingold, in which the musical theme associated with the ring of power, newly forged, transforms into that of Valhalla, Wotan's just-completed fortress, intended as a base from which he as chief of the gods can impose his law on the world, embodied by his spear. Thus an implication is made but left unstated in the libretto. However, regardless of how a listener might make the implied connection by associating the "ring" motive with Valhalla (which will be destroyed along with the ring), the burden of the argument at this point is entirely musical. The most important result of this kind of technique is the setting up of an infinitely complex web of musico-conceptual associations that continues to provide material for discussion.

Aspects of the leitmotif system did attract criticism for being too obvious. Some have misunderstood the function of leitmotifs, imagining them to be mere 'calling cards' whose function is tautological – simply informing the listener as to which character, object or idea has just arrived on stage or been mentioned; but this is no more what leitmotives are for than when, for example, Debussy wrote La mer to describe the sea to people who had not seen it for themselves. In particular, the leitmotivic profile of the cycle's end has attracted much criticism. George Bernard Shaw dismissed the final bars of the Ring (the so-called "Redemption through love" motif, heard only once before, in Die Walküre when Sieglinde learns she is to bear Siegfried), saying "the gushing effect which is its sole valuable quality is so cheaply attained that it is hardly going too far to call it the most trumpery phrase in the entire tetralogy". Other critics, such as Theodor Adorno in his essay In Search of Wagner, have speculated that Wagner did not actually know how to end the cycle, and merely spun together a few obvious motives that he chose simply because they were the most beautiful sounding. More veneratively Mark Doran has sought to explain the cycle's final bars as the 'all-knowing orchestra's "purely musical praise of Brünnhilde".[5]

The advances in orchestration and tonality Wagner made in this work are of seminal importance in the history of Western music. He wrote for a very large orchestra, with a palette of seventeen different instrumental families used singly or in myriad combinations to express the great range of emotion and events of the drama. Wagner even went so far as to commission the production of new instruments, including the Wagner tuba, invented to fill a gap he found between the tone qualities of the horn and the trombone, as well as variations of existing instruments, such as the bass trumpet and a contrabass trombone with a double slide.

In addition, Wagner weakened traditional tonality to the extent that most of the Ring, especially from Siegfried act 3 onwards, cannot be said to be in traditionally defined "keys", but rather in "key regions", each of which flow smoothly into the following one. This fluidity avoided the musical equivalent of "full stops" or "periods", and was an important part of the style that enabled Wagner to build the work's huge structures – Das Rheingold is unbroken at two-and-a-half hours long. Tonal indeterminacy was heightened by the vastly increased freedom with which he used dissonance and chromaticism. Chromatically altered chords, as well as a variety of sevenths and ninths are used very liberally in the Ring, and this work, together with Tristan und Isolde, is frequently cited as a milestone on the way to Arnold Schoenberg's revolutionary break with the traditional concept of key and his rejection of consonance as the basis of an organising principle in music.


Wagner scored the Ring for an orchestra which, in his era, was exceptionally large. His score specifies the types and numbers of instruments for each of the four operas.[6]

All four operas have a very similar instrumentation, requiring the following core ensemble of instruments:

Das Rheingold requires the following additional instruments:

Die Walküre requires the following additional instruments:

Siegfried requires no additional instruments.

Götterdämmerung requires the following additional instruments:

History of the Ring Cycle

Composition of the text

In summer 1848 Wagner wrote The Nibelung Myth as Sketch for a Drama, combining the medieval sources previously mentioned into a single narrative, very similar to the plot of the eventual Ring Cycle, but nevertheless with substantial differences. Later that year he began writing a libretto entitled Siegfrieds Tod ("Siegfried's Death"). He was likely encouraged by a series of articles in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, inviting composers to write a "national opera" based on the Nibelungenlied, a 12th century High German poem which, since its rediscovery in 1755, had been hailed by the German Romantics as the "German national epic". Siegfrieds Tod dealt with the death of Siegfried, the central heroic figure of the Nibelungenlied.

By 1850, Wagner had completed a musical sketch (which he abandoned) for Siegfrieds Tod. He now felt that he needed a preliminary opera, Der junge Siegfried ("The Young Siegfried", later renamed to "Siegfried"), to explain the events in Siegfrieds Tod. The verse draft of Der junge Siegfried was completed in May 1851. By October, he had made the momentous decision to embark on a cycle of four operas, to be played over four nights: Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Der Junge Siegfried and Siegfrieds Tod.

The text for all four operas was completed in December 1852, and privately published in February 1853.

Composition of the music

In November 1853, Wagner began the composition draft of Das Rheingold. Unlike the verses, which were written as it were in reverse order, the music would be composed in the same order as the narrative. Composition proceeded until 1857, when the final score up to the end of act 2 of Siegfried was completed. Wagner then laid the work aside for twelve years, during which he wrote Tristan und Isolde and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

By 1869, Wagner was living at Tribschen on Lake Lucerne, sponsored by King Ludwig II of Bavaria. He returned to Siegfried, and, remarkably, was able to pick up where he left off. In October, he completed the final opera in the cycle. He chose the title Götterdämmerung instead of Siegfrieds Tod for this opera. In the completed work the gods are destroyed in accordance with the new pessimistic thrust of the cycle, not redeemed as in the more optimistic originally planned ending. Wagner also decided to show onstage the events of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, which had hitherto only been presented as back-narration in the other two operas. These changes resulted in some discrepancies in the cycle, but these do not diminish the value of the work.


First productions

Amalie Materna, the first Bayreuth Brünnhilde, with Cocotte, the horse donated by King Ludwig to play her horse Grane

On King Ludwig's insistence, and over Wagner's objections, "special previews" of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre were given at the National Theatre in Munich, before the rest of the Ring. Thus, Das Rheingold premiered on 22 September 1869, and Die Walküre on 26 June 1870. Wagner subsequently delayed announcing his completion of Siegfried to prevent this opera also being premiered against his wishes.

Wagner had long desired to have a special festival opera house, designed by himself, for the performance of the Ring. In 1871, he decided on a location in the Bavarian town of Bayreuth. In 1872, he moved to Bayreuth, and the foundation stone was laid. Wagner would spend the next two years attempting to raise capital for the construction, with scant success; King Ludwig finally rescued the project in 1874 by donating the needed funds. The Bayreuth Festspielhaus opened in 1876 with the first complete performance of the Ring, which took place from 13 August to 17 August.

In 1882,[17] London impresario Alfred Schulz-Curtius organized the first staging in the United Kingdom of the Ring Cycle, conducted by Anton Seidl and directed by Angelo Neumann.

The first production of the Ring in Italy was in Venice (the place where Wagner died), just two months after his 1883 death, at La Fenice.[18]

Notable modern productions

Dame Gwyneth Jones performing at the 1976 Bayreuth production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, conducted by Pierre Boulez and directed by Patrice Chéreau.

The complete cycle is performed most years at the Bayreuth Festival: the first staging of a new production becomes a society event attended by many important and popular people like politicians, actors, musicians and sportsmen. Tickets are hard to get and are often reserved years in advance.

The Ring is a major undertaking for any opera company: staging four interlinked operas requires a huge commitment both artistically and financially. In most opera houses, production of a new Ring Cycle will happen over a number of years, with one or two operas in the cycle being added each year. Bayreuth is unusual in that a new cycle is almost always created within a single year. The Ring Cycle has been staged by opera companies in many different ways. Early productions often stayed close to Wagner's original Bayreuth staging. Trends set at Bayreuth have continued to be influential. Following the closure of the Festspielhaus during the Second World War, the 1950s saw productions by Wagner's grandsons Wieland and Wolfgang Wagner (known as the 'New Bayreuth' style), which emphasised the human aspects of the drama in a more abstract setting. Perhaps the most famous modern production was the centennial production of 1976 directed by Patrice Chéreau and conducted by Pierre Boulez. Set in the industrial revolution, it replaced the depths of the Rhine with a hydroelectric power dam and featured grimy sets populated by men and gods in business suits. This drew heavily on the reading of the Ring as a revolutionary drama and critique of the modern world, famously described by George Bernard Shaw in 'The Perfect Wagnerite'. Early performances were booed but the audience of 1980 gave it a 90 minute ovation in its final year[citation needed]; the production is now generally regarded as revolutionary and a classic.

Ring productions tend to fall into two camps: those that try to remain close to Wagner's original stage design and direction, and those that re-interpret the Ring for modern audiences, often inserting stage pictures and action Wagner himself might not recognise. The production by Peter Hall, conducted by Georg Solti at Bayreuth in 1983 is an example of the former, while the production by Richard Jones at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in 1994–1996, conducted by Bernard Haitink, is an example of the latter.

Another interesting complete Ring Cycle was begun in 2004, performed by the English National Opera at the Coliseum Theatre in London. The production is notable for its use of contemporary minimalist sets and costumes.

Certain opera companies, such as the Seattle Opera, produce entirely new Ring Cycles every 4 to 6 years. Seattle Opera's next cycle will be performed in August 2013, which will likely be the final use of the present production.

2004 saw the first full modern Australian production of the Ring Cycle, in Adelaide, which was directed by Elke Neidhardt. (Two full cycles were performed in Melbourne in 1913 by the Quinlan Company and one in Sydney.) The corresponding recordings are the first from the cycle to be released in the SACD format.

The Canadian Opera Company conducted its first complete Ring Cycle in 2006. This production of the Ring Cycle opened the new Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. This production saw four directors: Michael Levine (Das Rheingold), Atom Egoyan (Die Walkure), François Girard (Siegfried), and Tim Albery (Götterdämmerung).

The Royal Danish Opera performed a complete Ring Cycle in May 2006 in its new waterfront home, the Copenhagen Opera House. This version of the Ring tells the story from the viewpoint of Brünnhilde and has a distinct feminist angle. For example, in a key scene in Die Walküre, it is Sieglinde and not Siegmund who manages to pull the sword Notung out of a tree. At the end of the cycle, Brünnhilde does not die, but instead gives birth to Siegfried's child.

The Los Angeles Opera presented its first complete Ring Cycle in 2010. New productions of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre were performed in early 2009, followed by Siegfried (September/October 2009) and Götterdämmerung (April 2010). Three full cycles were performed in May and June 2010. The production was directed and designed by Achim Freyer and conducted by James Conlon. Principal roles were sung by Linda Watson, Vitalij Kowaljow, Michelle DeYoung, Plácido Domingo, John Treleaven, Graham Clark, Richard Paul Fink, Eric Halfvarson, Alan Held and Jennifer Wilson.

San Francisco Opera and Washington National Opera began a coproduction of a new Ring Cycle in 2006 directed by Francesca Zambello. The production uses imagery from various eras of American history and has a feminist and environmentalist viewpoint. Washington National Opera produced Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, and Siegfried in 2006, 2007, and 2009 respectively; San Francisco Opera presented Das Rheingold in 2008 and Die Walküre in 2010. In 2008, Washington National Opera announced they would not stage Götterdämmerung and presented two concert performances of the work in 2009. San Francisco Opera presents the entire production in three cycles in June and July 2011. Principal roles in San Francisco's 2011 performances will be sung by Mark Delavan, Nina Stemme, Ian Storey, Larissa Diadkova, Gordon Hawkins, Brandon Jovanovich, and Anja Kampe.

The Metropolitan Opera began a new Ring Cycle in 2010, conducted by James Levine with Bryn Terfel as Wotan. Deborah Voigt is to be Brünnhilde in the April 2011 production of Die Walküre. The staging of Das Rheingold by Robert Lepage involves 24 identical wedges able to rotate independently on a horizontal axis across the stage, providing level, sloping, angled or moving surfaces facing the audience. Bubbles, falling stones and fire are projected on to these surfaces, linked by computer with the music and movement of the characters.

It is possible to perform The Ring with fewer resources than usual. In 1990, the City of Birmingham Touring Opera (now Birmingham Opera Company), presented a two-evening adaptation (by Jonathan Dove) for a limited number of solo singers, each doubling several roles, and 18 orchestral players. This version made its American premiere at the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh. Subsequently, it was performed in full at Long Beach Opera in January 2006, and was performed in full with the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh in July 2006.

Recordings of the complete Ring Cycle

See also:

The four operas together take about 15 hours, which makes for several records, tapes, or CDs, and a lot of studio time. For this reason, many full Ring recordings are the result of "unofficial" recording of live performances, particularly from the Bayreuth Festival where new productions are often broadcast by German radio. Live recordings, especially those in monaural, may have very variable sound but often preserve the excitement of a performance better than a studio recording.

Here are some of the best-known and most appreciated recordings of the complete Ring Cycle:

Conductor Orchestra Year Label Stereo/Mono Live/Studio
Wilhelm Furtwängler La Scala Opera Orchestra 1950 Music & Arts, Opera D'Oro, Gebhardt, Archipel Mono Live
Wilhelm Furtwängler Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro della Radio Italiana (RAI orchestra and chorus) 1953 EMI Classics, Gebhardt Mono Studio (for radio broadcast)
Clemens Krauss Bayreuth Festival Orchestra 1953 Gala, Archipel, Opera D'Oro, Orfeo Mono Live
Joseph Keilberth Bayreuth Festival Orchestra 1955 Testament Stereo Live
Hans Knappertsbusch Bayreuth Festival Orchestra 1956, 1957, 1958 cycles Music & Arts, Melodram, Orfeo Mono Live
Georg Solti Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra 1958–1965 Decca Records/Polygram Stereo Studio
Herbert von Karajan Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra 1966–1970 Deutsche Grammophon/Polygram Stereo Studio
Karl Böhm Bayreuth Festival Orchestra 1966–1967 Philips Stereo Live
Hans Swarowsky Prague National Theatre Orchestra 1968 Denon Essentials Stereo Studio
Wolfgang Sawallisch Orchestra Sinfonica e Coro della Radio Italiana (RAI orchestra and chorus) 1968 Myto Stereo Studio (for radio broadcast)
Reginald Goodall English National Opera Orchestra 1974–1978 EMI Classics, Chandos Stereo Live. Sung in English
Pierre Boulez Bayreuth Festival Orchestra 1979–1980 Philips Stereo Live
Marek Janowski Staatskapelle Dresden 1980–1983 (Eurodisc/BMG Stereo Studio
James Levine Metropolitan Opera Orchestra 1987–1989 Deutsche Grammophon Stereo Studio
Bernard Haitink Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra 1988–1991 EMI Classics Stereo Studio
Wolfgang Sawallisch Bayerische Staatsoper 1989 EMI Classics Stereo Live
Daniel Barenboim Bayreuth Festival Orchestra 1991–1992 Warner Classics Stereo Live
Günter Neuhold Badische Staatskapelle 1993–1995 Brilliant Classics, Bella Musica, Documents Stereo Live
Gustav Kuhn Orchester der Tiroler Festspiele 1998–2001 Arte Nova Stereo Live
Asher Fisch Adelaide Symphony Orchestra 2006–2007 Melba Recordings Multichannel Stereo Live
Hartmut Haenchen Netherlands Philharmonic Orchestra 2005 Etcetera Multichannel Stereo Live
Christian Thielemann Bayreuth Festival Orchestra 2008 BBC Opus Arte Stereo Live

The Solti recording was the first stereo studio recording of the complete cycle, and it remains popular. In a poll on the BBC Radio 3's long running radio programme CD Review, this set was voted as the greatest recording of the 20th century.[19] Although Solti's was the first studio stereo recording, the cycle had previously been recorded live in stereo by Decca engineers at the Bayreuth Festival in 1955 under the baton of Joseph Keilberth. Although unavailable for over 50 years, this cycle has now been issued on CD and vinyl by Testament.

First-time buyers looking for a Ring recording are often recommended the Solti. Gramophone, for example, list it as their recommendation on their website.[20] However, when their long-time Wagner critic Alan Blyth reviewed recordings of the Ring for the feature "Building a Library" on CD Review (then Stereo Review) in 1986, he favoured the Böhm and Furtwängler/RAI recordings. When John Deathridge carried out a follow-up review for the programme in 1992, he favoured parts of the Goodall, Haitink and Boulez cycles for individual operas and Levine overall.[21]

The Ring Cycle is also available in a number of video or DVD presentations. These include:

The first four of these are also available as audio recordings.

Richard Wagner and J. R. R. Tolkien

J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings appears to borrow some elements from Der Ring des Nibelungen; however, Tolkien himself denied that he had been inspired by Wagner's work, saying that "Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases."[22] Some similarities arise because Tolkien and Wagner both drew upon the same source material for inspiration, including the Völsungasaga and the Poetic Edda. However, several researchers posit that both authors draw upon many of the same sources but Tolkien was indebted to some of the original developments, insights and artistic uses made of those in Wagner, such as that the ring gives its owner mastery of the world, the ring's inherently evil nature, its consequent corrupting influence upon the minds and wills of its possessors, and the necessity for its destruction so that the world can be redeemed.[23][24] Tolkien's Ring seems to merge the features of two magical items of Wagner's Ring: Alberich's Ring, that make its owner ruler of the world, and the Tarnhelm, a magical helm that makes who bears it invisible or capable of shapeshifting (the shapeshifting is not present in Tolkien's novel). Both the rings are cursed and want/will go back to their first owner. Note that it was Wotan, grandfather of Siegfried, who stole Alberich's Ring, as it was Isildur, Aragorn's forefather, who stole Sauron's Ring. There is also a resemblance between Siegfried and Aragorn: they are both orphans (their fathers died fighting an enemy) and they both possess a broken sword that they re-forge (Siegfried's Nothung and Aragorn's Andúril, the first being the sword of Siegfried's father Siegmund and the latter being the sword of Aragorn's ancestor Elendil). Furthermore, they both fall in love with an immortal relative that then becomes mortal: Siegfried (the grandson of Wotan and a mortal woman) falls in love with Brünnhilde (the daughter of Wotan and Erda) who has become mortal because she disobeyed her father's orders; (only referring to the movie verson of Aragorn) Aragorn (a descendant of Elros, twin brother of Elrond) falls in love with his distant relative Arwen (daughter of Elrond) who refuses immortality in order to be bound forever with him. Moreover, the fathers of the heroes' beloved ones do not allow them to marry their daughters at the beginning (Siegfried must fight Wotan and Aragorn must become King of Gondor and of all the other mortal men). Both Aragorn and Siegfried seem to have/have an affair with another woman (Éowyn, Gutrune). Bilbo finds the ring while heading to the Lonely Mountain (where the dragon Smaug lives), Siegfried takes the ring (as well as the Tarnhelm) from the hoard of the dragon Fafner. Both Wagner and Tolkien's dragon watch a hoard they stole from the Dwarves: Fafner watches Alberich's gold, while Smaug watches the treasure of Thrór.

There is evidence that Tolkien's denial of a relationship between his Ring and Nibelungen Ring "was an overreaction to the statements of" Åke Ohlmarks, Tolkien's Swedish translator that, in his introduction to his much criticized translation of Lord of the Rings, while analysing Tolkien's sources, "mixed material from various legends, some of which mention no ring and one that concerns a totally different ring." Tolkien was infuriated by this statement and used the often quoted "one sentence rebuttal"[25] that "wasn't strictly accurate".[26][27]



  1. ^ Magee, Bryan (2001). The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy. Clearwater, Fla: Metropolitan Books. p. 109. ISBN 0-8050-7189-X. 
  2. ^ John Weinstock, Professor (2007). "The Wagner Experience – Immortals Family Tree". Characters and Relationships. The University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved 28 October 2007. 
  3. ^ Spengler, Oswald (1986). The Decline of the West. Vol. 2. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 310f. 
  4. ^ Richard Wagner, Translated by William Ashton Ellis (1852). "Opera and Drama, By Richard Wagner – Translated by William Ashton Ellis". The Wagner Library. Retrieved 28 October 2007. 
  5. ^ Mark Doran, Wagner and the 'Paradise Garden': An Inter-Operatic Reference in Delius, Tempo 216, 24–29. April, 2001.
  6. ^ Orchestras routinely perform the Ring with fewer instruments that Wagner scored, because they lack space in the orchestra pit, because they lack sufficient funds, or for other reasons. However, Wagner himself never wrote any orchestration for fewer instruments.
  7. ^ Wagner writes the bass clarinet in both B-flat and A, as was typical in his era. See Bass Clarinet#History. A bass clarinet player today often uses only the B-flat bass clarinet, which is transposed down a semi-tone to play the A part.
  8. ^ In the 19th Century, the lowest note on a normal bassoon was B-flat. However, Wagner's score required that the bassoon reach both the lower B-flat and the even-lower A-natural, so Wagner developed the "Wagner bell", which is an extended bell with a key for both the low A-natural and the low B-flat. A contrabassoon should be used if the available bassoons lack the Wagner bell and thus are unable to play the low A-natural.
  9. ^ In Wagner's era, horns (the word "French horn" is now obsolete) were fully chromatic, but Wagner still composed the horn parts of the Ring for horns pitched in different keys for ease of range and simplicity of fingering. For example, Wagner scored Das Rheingold for eight single horns: They all start pitched in E-flat, but switch to C, F and even E natural through the use of crooks. In 1897, a practical double horn was developed, which was pitched in both F and B-flat. Today, orchestral parts for the Ring are usually transposed for use by such double horns, thus largely obviating the need for players to use separately-pitched horns for their lower and upper registers or for remote keys.
  10. ^ Wagner himself invented the Wagner tuba, which was in two forms: the B-flat, tenor Wagner tuba and the F-natural, bass Wagner tuba. Contemporary makers have constructed a double instrument, which can play in both B-flat and in F-natural.
  11. ^ The tenor-bass trombone is a 19th Century instrument, now generally obsolete. Modern orchestras use tenor trombones with F attachments.
  12. ^ Two players are required: one for each pair of timpani.
  13. ^ Wagner specifies six harps in several sections of the score, including six separate harp parts during the Rainbow Bridge, beginning in the Dover score at page 292. In addition, Wagner specifies a seventh harp, which is played onstage during the last minutes of the opera. The seventh harp is unseen by the audience but is heard when the unseen Rhinemaidens sing about their lost Rheingold: Wagner wrote in the score, "hinter der Scene, in der Nähe der 3 Rheintöchter gestellt" (behind the scene, in the vicinity of the 3 Rheindaughters). See Dover, at page 309.
  14. ^ Anvils are used only in Das Rheingold. If anvils are not available, some orchestrations substitute the glockenspiel.
  15. ^ The thunder machine is used only in Das Rheingold, but Wagner's score does not specifically include it by name. Instead, the score states that, when Donner strikes the hammer in Das Rheingold, "Ein starker Blitz entfährt der Wolke; ein heftiger Donnerschlag folgt" ("A flash of light envelops the clouds, followed by a violent clap of thunder"). See Dover score, page 291. However, the Dover score omits the thunder machine as an instrument in the instrumentation page.
  16. ^ Stierhorn is the German word for the extremely long, medieval bugle horn, which was used in war. It is a straight tube with an exact conical bore and no bell flare. In the English language, it is sometimes also called a cowhorn or bullhorn. The score requires one steerhorn in Die Walküre and three in Götterdämmerung. The original Bayreuth steerhorns were stolen when the city was occupied by allied troops at the end of the Second World War. Today, many orchestras substitute the trombone or bass trombone.
  17. ^ Christopher Fifield. Ibbs and Tillett: The Rise and Fall of a Musical Empire (Chapter 3, pp. 25–26). London: Ashgate Publishing, 2005. ISBN 1-84014-290-1, ISBN 978-1-84014-290-7.
  18. ^ From Beyond the Stave: The Lion Roars for Wagner
  19. ^ BBC Radio (2004). "The Greatest Recordings as Voted by CD Review Listeners". BBC. Retrieved 28 October 20078. 
  20. ^ Gramophone (2007). "Recommended Recordings". Gramophone. Archived from the original on 16 October 2007. Retrieved 22 December 2007. 
  21. ^ BBC (2007). "CD Review's Building a Library". BBC. Retrieved 22 December 2007. 
  22. ^ Tolkien, J.R.R. (1981). "Letter 229". In Carpenter, Humphrey; Tolkien, Christopher. The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-31555-7. 
  23. ^ "Author: Edward R. Haymes". Oral Tradition Journal. Center for Studies in Oral Tradition. 
  24. ^ Haymes, Edward R. (14 January 2004). "The Two Rings". 
  25. ^ Brown, Stan. "E21. How did the One Ring compare to Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung?". Frequently Asked Questions about the Rings of Power. Oak Road Systems. 
  26. ^ Spengler (11 Jan 2003). "The Ring and the remnants of the West". Asia Times Online. 
  27. ^ Spengler (24 Apr 2007). "Tolkien's Christianity and the pagan tragedy". Asia Times Online. 


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