Everything you need to know about Wagner’s epic Ring cycle in one place, right here!

In 2016, Opera North’s extraordinary journey through Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen came full circle, in a series of six full Ring cycles. Comprising the four operas which make up Wagner’s epic masterpiece, Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, more than 15 unforgettable hours of music and passion are now also available online, in full, for free.

Watch The Ring Cycle online

Michael Druiett as Wotan, Jo Pohlheim as Alberich and Wolfgang Ablinger-Sperrhacke as Loge © Clive Barda

Das Rheingold

What is the story?

Das Rheingold features more gods than any of the three following ‘dramas’, and no mortals whatsoever! The introduction to the cycle, it tells of the theft of the magical Rhine gold and the forging of a ring by the greedy dwarf Alberich. He renounces love in order to gain the ring’s power, but when the ring is stolen by Wotan, the leader of the gods, to pay a debt to the builders of his new fortress, Valhalla, Alberich confers a terrible curse upon the ring. Anyone who does not possess the ring will covet it, and anyone who does will live in fear of losing it, and will ultimately be robbed of it and killed by its next owner…

What is the music like?

The Ring’s musical score makes some pretty lavish orchestral demands – Wagner was a man who knew exactly what he wanted and wasn’t afraid to skimp, with 105 orchestral musicians required for Das Rheingold! As Scene II comes to a close, an orchestral interlude ‘paints’ the descent of Loge and Wotan into underground Nibelheim. As the orchestra fades, it gives way to a cacophony of no less than 18 tuned anvils, which are all indicated in the score with specific size, quantity and pitch! They beat out the dotted rhythm of the Nibelung theme (or leitmotif) to represent the toiling of the enslaved dwarves as they forge Alberich’s stolen gold…

Die Walküre

What is the story?

In Die Walküre, it is human emotion that takes centre stage. Above all, there is the great confrontation between the god Wotan and his favourite daughter, Brünnhilde – the Valkyrie of the title – who love each other deeply, yet whose relationship has been irreparably broken by her disobedience.

The story of Die Walküre is based on Norse mythology. Deriving from an Old Norse word, a valkyrie is a ‘chooser of the slain’ — they have power to choose who lives and who dies, and afterwards bring the souls of their chosen fallen heroes to Valhalla. This plays an important part in the opera, as the valkyrie of the title, Brünnhilde, is ordered by her father Wotan to ensure that his son Siegmund dies in his conflict with Sieglinde’s husband Hunding (confused yet?). However, when Brünnhilde sees Siegmund’s love for Sieglinde, she chooses to disobey her father and grant victory to Siegmund instead of Hunding.

Die Walküre features the first appearance of the Ring’s famous sword: Nothung. It is revealed that an old man plunged the sword into an old ash tree which no-one has ever been able to remove since. Realising that this old man must have been Wotan himself, Siegmund knows his destiny and finds that (surprise surprise!) it is he who is able to draw the blade out of the tree.

Kate Valentine as Ortlinde, Claudia Huckle as Schwertleite, Heather Shipp as Waltraute, Giselle Allen as Gerhilde, Kelly Cae Hogan as Brünnhilde, Lee Bisset as Sieglinde, Katherine Broderick as Helmwige, Sarah Castle as Siegrune, Fiona Kimm as Grimgerde and Madeleine Shaw as Rossweisse © Clive Barda

What is the music like?

The ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ (‘Walkürenritt’), scribbled down on a loose sheet of paper in July 1851, has become the best-known passage of music in the entire cycle. The ‘Ride’ builds up multiple layers of accompaniment, until the eight valkyrie sisters of Brünnhilde gradually appear, gathering to prepare for the transportation of fallen heroes to Valhalla. The familiar tune is carried by the orchestra, while, above it, the Valkyries greet each other and sing their battle-cry.

Siegfried

What is the story?

Siegfried tells the coming-of-age story of the hero that Wagner has promised us at the end of Die Walküre. The most light-hearted of the four dramas, it contains genuine moments of humour. Siegfried, the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde, has been raised by the whining dwarf, Mime. However, impatient and inquisitive, he sets off on an adventure like no other. His journey through the opera traces his journey into adulthood, culminating in the meeting with our heroine, Brünnhilde, and the realisation that he must cast off his reckless youth and become a man…

Lars Cleveman as Siegfried © Clive Barda

What is the music like?

Wagner’s orchestral scene painting reaches new heights in Siegfried. The depiction of nature and the forest in which Siegfried arrives in Act II (known as the Forest Murmurs), along with the appearance of the Woodbird, is particularly poetic. Littered with prominent solos, the Ring cycle is also a pretty big deal for all French horn players. However, THE solo is what is known as the Siegfried Horn Call, or just the ‘Long Call’. This is performed in Act II as Siegfried spots a Woodbird outside the cave of the dragon Fafner, and attempts to communicate with it by playing his hunting horn (inadvertently waking up the dragon).

Götterdämmerung

What is the story?

In Götterdämmerung, the Ring cycle reaches its overwhelming conclusion. The title itself is a German translation of the Old Norse Ragnarök, which refers to a prophesied war that ultimately results in the burning, immersion in water, and renewal of the world.

At the start of this final instalment, Wotan, resigned and now waiting inside Valhalla for the end, has left his united grandson Siegfried and ex-valkyrie daughter Brünnhilde with the task of ‘working the deed which redeems the world’. However, the forces of evil are still alive and kicking, and the malevolent meddling of Alberich’s son Hagen, desperate to get his own hands on the all-powerful ring, results in bitter betrayal for Siegfried and Brünnhilde, leaving our heroine alone to make the ultimate sacrifice and bring to fruition the long awaited Twilight of the Gods…

What is the music like?

tterdämmerung contains two huge orchestral showcases – Siegfried’s Rhine Journey and Funeral March, that are often extracted and performed as stand-alone pieces outside the opera house. The Funeral March is one of the most famous extracts in the whole Ring and is played as Siegfried’s dead body is carried away. This solemn march is epic, heroic, and less a depiction of mourning than a celebration of our hero and of the imminent redemption of the world.

To add to Wagner’s enormous orchestra (which already includes the Wagner tuba, specially invented to fill the gap between the tone qualities of the horn and trombone), Götterdämmerung features four steerhorns. A long bugle horn with a straight tube and no bell flare, a steerhorn was originally used during the medieval period as a battle instrument, sounds just one note, and its use in an orchestral context is unique to Wagner’s work.

Experience the power of Wagner’s masterpiece with the film of Opera North’s critically acclaimed 2016 dramatic concert staging of the complete Ring cycle, conducted by Richard Farnes and directed by Peter Mumford, available to watch now on demand, for free.

Watch The Ring Cycle online

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