Recently, the “Green Ring” version of the Ring Cycle just finished up its second run (out of three this year) in Seattle. My broke self couldn’t afford to trek up to the Emerald City to see it, so I’ve been reading the reviews and pining away.
As a fan and an unofficial critic (I have a blog, but I’m not paid to write on it), I am dying to see the Ring Cycle live. At least once in my life, if not twice. You know, to compare performances.
But as a result of having to miss “Ring Season,” I’ve started thinking a lot about what makes the Ring Cycle such a desirable event to attend. I definitely what to hear YOUR answers to this question, readers (all four of you). Especially from those of you who have seen the Ring more than once. What makes someone so willing to sit down for hours on end, seeing an opera with so many characters you need a flowchart to understand them all.
A briefer for people who aren’t familiar with the Ring cycle: It a collection of four operas, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung. The main arch of the story centers around the ring of the Niebelungen, a dwarf-like species. It is an object of power, that grants “measureless might” upon anyone who has it. But don’t pull on your hobbit feet yet—this story of a powerful ring includes the Norse Gods, mighty heroes rescuing maidens, and a million other legendary figures Westerners have probably never heard of. Oh, and there’s a freaking dragon.
And lots of FIRE.
And that’s just two of the operas!
People go nuts over the Ring Cycle. As in Woodstock crazy. It’s the kind of event that young opera lovers like me dream of attending. It is an initiation into opera craziness like nothing else. But why? Why do people like it so much?
I started thinking about the aspects of the Ring Cycle that make it so appealing. And strangely enough, the first thing that came to mind was the multitude of characters within the four operas. It’s a rare quality for an opera to have many compelling characters. In addition, to have so many different compelling characters. Wanting to watch Wotan the god-king fight with his daughter Brunnhilde is not more noble than wanting to watch the fall of Fafner the giant (who uses the Ring to turn into a freaking dragon). The emotional states of Fricka, goddess-queen and wife to the roving Wotan, has been fodder for critics for years. Even Mime, the villainous dwarf often viewed as a symbol of the Jewish people (Wagner was unabashedly anti-Semitic) is an intriguing character. There are no simpering, one-dimensional Italian lovers here. The Ring cycle has transcending appeal because there are so many different kinds of people to like.
The transcending appeal of the Ring Cycle can definitely be compared to that of the The Lord of the Rings books. A big reason why the latter became more than “just fantasy” in the public imagination was because of the beautiful film adaptations that came out in the early 2000s. They were made by someone who loved the books. He spared no detail in making the movies, and almost by default they were amazing. It was a big story, and he wanted to do it right.
Similarly, the Ring cycle is an incredibly demanding show. To start, it’s four operas long. That’s an entire season for some opera houses. That’s not excluding the intricate settings of some of the operas, ranging from Valhalla itself to the Rhine river. It takes time and effort to put this thing together. You can’t just throw up a house set with a barber’s pole and call it a day. The cycle in Seattle this year is reportedly inspired by the Pacific Northwest itself, using trees and moss to create a forest wonderland for its gods to romp around in. For opera, the amount of money being sunk into production details can be a correlation to the quality of the production. This is an art form that is regularly afraid of dying for lack of money. If you’re going whole hog on a production, people will get excited. Cast included.
Finally, one of the biggest draws of the Ring Cycle is the fact that it doesn’t worship love. Opera has a serious love problem. So many view it as what makes life worth living, or a blatant lie. Either way, love is the star. But in the Ring Cycle, as the the Jungian psychologist Laurie Layton Shapira says in the brilliant Radiolab special on the cycle, the Ring is about the clashing human desires for love and fire. You have to forsake love forever to have the ring of power. But in a world of gods and dragons, what does having power really entail?
So that’s a short write-up on why opera freaks love the Ring. If you want to be a “true” opera fan, it pays to at least check it out. Which leaves folks like myself and the Opera Teen who haven’t yet seen it in a weird spot. But that craving for the Ring Cycle lingers within us. We want to see it and experience it with a desire uncommon to most works of art. Speaking for myself, my friends and family are often surprised upon learning that the Ring Cycle is a series of operas. It sounds closer to a film series, or maybe a book series on the level of Harry Potter. Ring fandom is difficult to comprehend because the Ring is so far removed from all negative stereotypes associated with opera. But that is what makes it so great.
Why is it that you love the Ring Cycle? Or do you no like it at all? What do YOU think is the big draw to this four-opera series? Tell me in the comments below!
About the Author: Brit McGinnis writes regularly for nerdy blogs, awesome magazines, and random video game sites that feature Sasquatch. In her free time, she edits and writes even more things. You can see some samples of her work on her website. She also loves running, watching horror movies, and playing video games.