Giacomo Susani

Giacomo Susani
Giacomo Susani (Photo by Luciano Tomasin, 2015)

Monday, May 01, 2017

Twilight Of The Gods: The Ultimate Wagner Ring Collection – The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, James Levine, Fabio Luisi (Download 44.1kHz/16bit)

The Ring in Later Mythologies

"It's not just a story, it's not just an opera or a series of operas: it's a cosmos. It's a very tightly knit, tightly woven world", explains Robert Lepage, director of the Metropolitan Opera's new (2010-2012) staging of the Ring cycle. "And yet, there's a lot of space – because of the mythological aspect of the Ring, not just the storytelling – for your own imagination and your own poetry." Just as Wagner's tetralogy grew out of his countrymen's attempts earlier in the 19th century to forge a modernized German version of the old medieval Icelandic hero myths, his own Ring cycle became a potent encouragement to 20th-century novelists and filmmakers to find that space for their own imagination and poetry.

"There is no sex and everyone is always stopping for tea." This is not a commentary on early 20th-century British novels and plays, but a musicologist's response to British scholar J.R.R. Tolkien's 1937-1949 trilogy of novels The Lord of the Rings. He had been asked to take part in an exercise that has become almost a parlour game in the English-speaking world – at first in academe, later on the Web: comparing Tolkien's "modern" mythology with that of Richard Wagner in Der Ring des Nibelungen.

Tolkien shared with Wagner the desire of providing a mythology for his own people – "my own beloved country had no stories of its own (bound up with its tongue and soil), found (as an ingredient) in legends of other lands". Both men raided Icelandic and German sources from the Eddas, the Volsunga Saga, and the Nibelungenlied, Tolkien turning also to the Heimskringla and the Finnish Kalevala. Both men came up with stories of a Utopian cleansing of an innocent world under threat (Wagner's perhaps from industry, Tolkien's from mechanized warfare). A combination of the "lighter" races of human beings and gods was able – through energy, love and trust – to outwit the plots of "darker" forces; in both epics the temptation of a ring with magical powers has to be resisted and, at great peril, the object returned to its original source and destroyed.

Comparisons between the two works have undoubtedly moved on to a wider world stage since the 2001-2003 release of Peter Jackson's films of Tolkien's trilogy. The New Yorker's music critic Alex Ross was hugely enthusiastic – "[they] transcend the apparent limitations of their medium in the same way that Wagner transcended the limitations of opera. They revive the art of Romantic wonder; they manufacture the sublime". He hoped that "at least a small fraction of the huge worldwide audiences for these films will one day be tempted into Wagner's world, which offers something else again – a magnifying mirror for the average, desperate modern soul".

It is, however, with another, older movie franchise that a much closer comparison with Der Ring des Nibelungen can be made: the first Star Wars films – A New Hope 1977, The Empire Strikes Back 1980 and The Return of the Jedi 1983. They are, in fact, episodes 4-6 of a sextet – like Wagner with Siegfried's Tod / Götterdämmerung, George Lucas started at the end first. Both opera and film cycles have a range of characters with alternative characteristics from different planets and worlds: in Star Wars talking robots (C-3PO) and creatures (the Wookie Chewbacca), large, evil Hutts (Jabba), small, forest-dwelling Jedi (Yoda) and human heroes (Luke Skywalker); in the Ring mermaids, dwarves, giants, gods, half-humans, humans and dragons.

On the technical side it's noteworthy that Lucas remodelled his own film studio and company for the creation of novel visual and computer effects, just as Peter Jackson would for his New Zealand-based Tolkien films and Robert Lepage, Carl Fillion (set design) and Ex Machina have done with this new Metropolitan Opera Ring. There is, of course, a strong parallel with Wagner's special building of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus in order to stage the Ring with hidden orchestra, a wooden auditorium and new instruments (Wagner tubas).

The storylines of movies and opera cycle take the comparison further. Anakin Skywalker's move to the "Dark Side" (becoming Darth Vader and working for the evil Emperor) parallels Wotan's selfish destruction of the World Ash-Tree, cynical deal with the giants and attempts to manipulate history though his various offspring. For the greater good, Anakin's children Leia and Luke have to turn against their father as Brünnhilde and Siegfried have to oppose Wotan. In both the Ring and Star Wars love overcomes lust for power. The heroes (Siegmund, Siegfried, Luke and Leia) are essentially orphans. A dwarf (Mime / Yoda) plays a vital role in the upbringing and training of the hero figure. There is either a suggestion of or actual incest between the hero twins (Siegmund / Sieglinde, Leia / Luke). A sword (or light sabre in the films) has to be mended by the hero before it can withstand the final, clinching battle with a father figure.

While it is well known that Wagnerian "influence" can be seen in the writing of Baudelaire, Joyce, Eliot, Thomas Mann, Bernard Shaw and countless other creators, the source of that influence comes more from actual stagings of the tetralogy and (especially for French artists) a generalized perception of Wagnerian atmosphere. Lucas's films are more directly from source, making extensive use of key tropes of character and situation in Wagner's Ring cycle, "modernizing" them into the world of space-located science fiction. Like the Tolkien book, the Star Wars films end on an upbeat. As Lepage says of the Ring cycle, "It implies that whatever you do, you go back to square one. But of course we're not starting again at exactly the same place, we are one level higher, we've learned from the first cycle".

Source: Mike Ashman (CD Booklet)

Twilight Of The Gods: The Ultimate Wagner Ring Collection

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

♪ Der Ring des Nibelungen, WWV 86 (1848-1874) [Highlights]

1. Das Rheingold, WWV 86A
2. Die Walküre, WWV 86B
3. Siegfried, WWV 86C
4. Götterdämmerung, WWV 86D

Featuring, in alphabetical order:

Patricia Bardon, mezzo-soprano (Erda)
Stephanie Blythe, mezzo-soprano (Fricka)
Richard Croft, tenor (Loge)
Dwayne Croft, baritone (Donner)
Adam Diegel, tenor (Froh)
Mojca Erdmann, soprano (The Forest Bird)
Wendy Bryn Harmer, soprano (Freia / Gutrune)
Jonas Kaufmann, tenor (Siegmund)
Hans-Peter König, bass (Fafner / Hunding / Hagen)
Waltraud Meier, soprano (Waltraute)
Jay Hunter Morris, tenor (Siegfried)
Eric Owens, bass-baritone (Alberich)
Iain Paterson, bass-baritone (Gunther)
Franz-Josef Selig, bass (Fasolt)
Gerhard Siegel, tenor (Mime)
Bryn Terfel, bass-baritone (Wotan / The Wanderer)
Deborah Voigt, soprano (Brünnhilde)
Eva-Maria Westbroek, soprano (Sieglinde)

Rhinemaidens: Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano· Erin Morley, soprano· Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano· Lisette Oropesa, soprano
Valkyries: Lindsay Ammann, mezzo/contralto· Marjorie Elinor Dix, mezzo-soprano· Molly Fillmore, soprano· Eve Gigliotti, mezzo-soprano· Wendy Bryn Harmer, soprano· Kelly Cae Hogan, soprano· MaryAnn McCormick, mezzo-soprano· Mary Phillips, mezzo-soprano
Norns: Elizabeth Bishop, mezzo-soprano· Heidi Melton, soprano· Maria Radner, contralto

The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Conductors: James Levine, Fabio Luisi

Executive Producer: Ute Fesquet
Associate Producer: Renaud Loranger
A Metropolitan Opera Production
Music Producer: Jay David Saks
Digital Remastering: Ken Hahn (Sync Sound)
Live Audio Technical Supervision: John Kerswell, Bill King
Cover Photo & Back Cover Photos: Brigitte Lacombe

All performances recorded and mixed live at the Metropolitan Opera 2010-2012 by Jay David Saks. The stage production of the Ring cycle is made possible by Ann Ziff and the Ziff Family, in memory of William Ziff.

The Metropolitan Opera 2012
Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Berlin 2012

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In spite of the hype of its packaging (whose intent seems to be to persuade that Wagner's Ring is as interesting as the epic Lord of the Rings and Star Wars films), this two-disc set offers a good sampling of highlights from the Metropolitan Opera's production of the complete cycle, unveiled between 2010 and 2012. The production by Robert Lepage generated considerable controversy, particularly over its gargantuan scenic elements, which necessitated rebuilding the Met's stage. Deutsche Grammophon has released the video of the Met's Ring, but there are no indications of plans to release a complete audio version, so this may be the only opportunity for anyone who was not a fan of the visual elements to simply listen to the music.

James Levine conducts the first two operas, but had to withdraw from the project for health reasons and Fabio Luisi, now the Met's principal conductor, leads the last two. Both draw sumptuous, expansive, dramatically surging performances from the Met Orchestra, whose playing throughout is thrilling. The singers are all at least very fine; although their consistency may not stand up to the casts of some recordings, there are no weak links. Several performers stand out for their remarkably astute and memorable singing and acting. Eric Owens' Alberich is exceptionally well-developed and emotionally complex, and his oaken tone is unforgettable. Stephanie Blythe's Fricka is sharply etched and similarly impressive. Jonas Kaufmann's baritonal tenor beautifully suits Siegmund, and he sings with Italianate fervor and heat. Hans-Peter König is chilling in the villainous roles of Fafner, Hunding, and Hagen. The set would make a good but brief introduction to The Ring for the uninitiated, and should be a teaser for anyone curious about the Met's ambitious production.

Source: Stephen Eddins (

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