I have a friend who is about to embark on the journey of a lifetime, an epic I started back in 1974 and have yet to complete. It is a journey of many levels and depths. It is a journey of elements – earth, air, fire and water – brought into conflict with each other. It is a political journey, the clash of different ideologies. It is a journey on the edge between good and evil, morality and hedonism, truth and lies. It is a journey of philosophy, ideology and rhetoric, of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Above all this is a human journey, the maelstrom of love, hate, jealousy, betrayal, forgiveness and understanding. And this is a journey for our time, no less relevant today than at its world premiere in a sleepy Bavarian town 145 years ago. I’m talking, of course, about that enormous operatic tetralogy Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen.
I have done my best to prepare her, to point out the staging posts along the journey, the sights and sounds (above all, sounds) to be expected, the people she will meet along the way, who to trust and who to avoid. But in the end, nothing prepares you for the experience. And if you are lucky, the experience will be transformational.
You can enjoy The Ring at many levels and it doesn’t hurt to see it simply as one of the Norse sagas, the story of men and gods, of dragons, giants and dwarves. A Ring of drama, action, heroism and magic. There is plenty to entertain at this ‘entry’ level.
Or maybe, for you, The Ring is a huge sprawling transgenerational love story. And make no mistake, The Ring is a love story in physical, metaphysical and sentimental ways. The Ring is a story of unrequited love, of incest, rape, domination and passion – the currency of tabloids and Victorian prurience.
The Ring is a political drama, the clash of totalitarian, administrative, political and extremist, the balance of idealism and pragmatism, of alliances built and broken, of militias, trust misplaced or endorsed. The Ring is the reality of Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, a contemporary work of unsettling relevance.
The Ring is a Greco-Roman drama, narrated by the orchestra as Greek ‘chorus’, pregnant with symbolism and meaning, letting us into tiny secrets and explanations.
The Ring is an existential drama, a perennial battle of greed and generosity, parable for our time. The drama of The Ring is the drama of humanity.
And The Ring is a sound world, full of leitmotifs, tiny fragments of music swollen into torrents of orchestral sound. It is a drama of long architectural acts, of tiny shimmering passages, of mood and moment, a tsunami of sound.
My friend stands on the banks of the Rhine, waiting as that E flat sounds on the horns in the dark depths of the river. The world’s beginning, if you will. 15 hours in time as we know it, generations in opera time before the strings take the listener to redemption through love. Fasten your seatbelt.
I am on the one hand jealous of someone who still has that journey about to unfold in front of them. On the other, I feel responsible, taking her to the place where our travels part. Sure I can share what I learnt on the journey. But in the end, The Ring is a solo journey, a journey into the soul.