Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Preparing for The Ring

Photo © Rozarii LynchHi all! It’s Rachel, the Education Department Intern. The other interns and I have been researching Wagner’s Ring cycle in preparation for the upcoming production and the "Experience the Ring" program in August.

Before jumping into the Ring, I have spent a lot of time looking at Wagner’s life and background, as well as other events and movements in the time period that would have affected Wagner’s life. Perry Lorenzo, the head of the Education Department, gives a lecture series with each Ring performance in Seattle, and he stresses the historical happenings that paralleled Wagner’s life. For example, Wagner and Verdi were born in the same year. Two composers with huge impacts on the art of opera, as well as nationalism in their respective countries, and they never met each other. As a matter of fact, they hardly knew of each other and neither of them listened to the other’s music.

In my Music History classes, much of the discussion on Wagner focused on Tristan und Isolde and the famous "Tristan chord". So, many of what I’ve read regarding Wagner is new to me! Not only was Wagner a music revolutionary by pushing the boundaries of tonality, he also participated in the Dresden Revolution and had to flee the German states to avoid arrest! I had no idea!

In studying the Ring, we interns have met with Seneca Garber in group meetings to listen through the entire Ring. This gives us time to pause and share our thoughts with how Wagner uses the music to enhance the story. His famous leitmotif technique is prevalent throughout the Ring as one would expect, allowing the audience to make connections between characters and events within the plot. I love this technique because it creates a cohesive sound picture to match the plot, there are no stagnant moments where musical form takes over and the plot is put on hold. Since there is no set "recitative-aria" form in the Ring, the vocal melodies tend to lie somewhere between recitative and aria styles. Like recitative, the Ring features dialogue set to music, but it is less dry and with full orchestral accompaniment rather than chords played on a harpsichord.

It also fascinates me how Wagner used a variety of different influences to create his Ring cycle. The story originates from Norse myths that Wagner put together to create a cohesive plot. However, the presentation of the 4 operas is divided into a prelude (Das Rheingold) and a trilogy (Die Walküre, Siegfried, Götterdämmerung). This is modeled after the great Greek dramas that Wagner studied as a youth. Similarly in Greek drama, long-lost siblings reuniting and even incest occurred in many plots. However, Wagner was not only influenced by art of the past, but also events in his lifetime. The Humanist revival that Man was greater than God(s) is a main theme in the Ring. But Wagner also added bits of himself to his characters. Ideas such as failed marriage, adultery, a man seeking fulfillment through love, alone against the world: were all things Wagner experienced in his life.

This study has opened my eyes to a world Wagner created, and having this background makes me very excited to see how Seattle Opera will bring this world to life in August!

1 comment:

  1. Hallo, Rachel & Operalovers!
    Excellent essay; well-worth reading for those planning to attend the "Ring".
    Though not strictly an aria in the Verdi sense, Loge's "In Wasser, Erd, und Luft" in Scene ii of "Rheingold" is very "ariaesque".