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Over the past month, I’ve had the pleasure of watching PBS’s airing of Wagner’s Ring Cycle of operas on TV.
As part of my homework for writing about King Ludwig, I learned that the king was a huge fan and patron of composer Richard Wagner. I’ve enjoyed Wagner’s music for years. I remember, during my senior year of high school, being asked in a scholarship interview who my favorite composer was. I specified Wagner for orchestral works, and … umm, I forget, but I specified another composer for piano. So Wagner and I have been soul mates for a while 🙂 You just have to listen to his music to know why Ludwig was so taken with it. It’s soaring, emotional, divine.
The Ring Cycle is Wagner’s crowning achievement: a series of four operas, making up 16 hours of music. I knew the basic synopsis of what happened, but this was the first time I’d actually seen the operas. A few of my thoughts …
The slow pacing is striking. Two characters will sing a conversation that could be summed up in about 30 seconds, yet they’ll stretch it to 30 minutes. I’m assuming part of this is just opera, and part of it is that it was written in the 1800s, before the days of 140-character tweets. It reminds me, too, of how long many of the classic books are. We’ve lost a lot of our patience for that these days.
- I loved to watch, imagining Ludwig’s perspective. With his love of beauty, no wonder he was in heaven sitting in a theater (usually alone), enjoying the voices, the stories (which he was already familiar with), the costumes, the props. He was a dramatic guy, and watching dramatic scenes come to life must have been a real thrill.
- Although I know a little German, I would have been totally lost on the story without the subtitles. I wondered if a live audience still got the subtitles, and a bit of searching informs me that they do.
- The singers amazed me. Very few of them spoke German, yet they memorized hours of music in that language. And much of the singing isn’t very melodic — seems more like random chants. I wonder how on earth people can memorize that? Of course, I would not notice any mistakes.
- One of my biggest enjoyments was the way my 11-year-old took a shine to the operas. I began watching them myself, and one day she came in and got caught up in the action as well. Soon, she was begging for “Siegfried!” each evening. Ah — bliss :).