Several months ago the Los Angeles Opera staged Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, the most discussed and written about work of opera in history. It has influenced music, art, religion and philosophy in the western world since the 19th century. It is, in essence, a story about the triumph of human consciousness over the will of the Gods. The Cycle has four operas – Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung – which make up the most famous Gesamtkunstwerk, a union of music, poetry, stage design, costumes and myth.

Richard Wagner (1813 -1883), who worked on this masterpiece over 20 years, called this 16-hour work a “music drama”. He called the cycle a trilogy with a preliminary drama Das Rheingold.


The story is based on Nordic legend and the German Nibelungenlied. Wagner was also influenced by Greek mythology and philosophy. Aeschylus’ Orestia plays an important role in the Ring Cycle, a complex story of a mythological cosmos with several generations and many characters both divine and human, each character being only a small part of a whole. It is a story of power, love, greed, control, faith, loyalty, incest, and ultimately destruction. The music has famous passages such as the Ride of the Walküre (think helicopters in Apocalypse Now) and Siegfried’s funeral march, often a backdrop for state funerals and grave events. The concept of the leitmotifs, a musical description of a person, thing or event, reaches epic proportions throughout the Cycle with recurring themes interacting with the characters. The underlying question always remains: At what price power?


The timeless Ring Cycle has been produced and interpreted hundreds of times across the world. A community of followers called “Ring Nuts” travel worldwide to see the different interpretations by opera companies. Bayreuth, Germany, where Das Rheingold was first performed in 1876, remains a pilgrimage site for Wagner and his followers.


German artist Achim Freyer, the director and designer of the Los Angeles Opera Ring Cycle, created a brilliant and intoxicating, surreal atmosphere with symbols and dream- like imagery and exotic puppet costumes set upon a raked stage of geometric abstractions. The overall theme of alienation and timelessness was always present, since Freyer’s roots are in Brechtian theater.

James Conlon, the director of LA Opera and passionate and enthusiastic conductor for the Ring Cycle, gave a talk before every performance and spoke at various events.

This extraordinary performance and innovative staging of the Der Ring des Niebelungen was mesmerizing and hypnotic – it captured my interest and imagination unlike anything I had ever seen.

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