After a decades-long struggle, the patience and slavish commitment of numberless friends, an inspiration that can truly be called superhuman, and a streak of luck that beggars the imagination, Richard Wagner finally finished his epic "Ring."
Despite the luminaries in attendance over the years - from Hugo Wolf and a who’s who of European royalty, to Tchaikovsky, Bernard Shaw and others - it could never pay its way.
The dream of a "German work" that would be supported by the people and transform society was a beautiful illusion. In the end, as Cosima and Richard counted up the receipts, it appeared that "the Master’s" dream was just that.
In his letters - with a dark clarity - he admits that the whole crazy wooden structure that was Bayreuth would surely be torn down - it was only meant to be temporary - and that’s why "Parsifal " later became his great hope.
He would only stage it there, and just maybe something would be left over for Cosima and the kids. None of it came true, but still he succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
The whole mad thing
This year - 200 years after his birth - the entire musical world is in celebration as the Metropolitan Opera prepares to globally broadcast the whole mad thing, beginning with "Das Rheingold."
As Margaret Atwood, the great Canadian novelist, admitted to me in an interview after seeing her first performance of "Ring" in Canada, "Wagner’s music is greater than the man."
"Rheingold" was supposed to constitute a great prelude to the cosmic drama and it is an ingenious, playful beginning. The domestic life of the gods is a wonderful, laughable mess - sort of a cross between "Dallas" and the Norse Sagas.
At home, Wotan is hen pecked by wife Fricka and in debt. There are scrabbling servants (giants), reluctant vassals filled with caustic wit (Loge) and most threateningly, a vast discontented underclass led by the calculating and ambitious dwarf Alberich.
Wotan awakens after a series of sustained chords, which evoke nothing less than the birth of the world, to a nagging wife and the discovery that his great villa Walhalla is very "underwater" indeed.
The giants who built it have not been paid, and the extended family is threatened with an abduction as payment. This leads to the need to conceive a scheme that requires a descent into the underworld, a lie, a theft and finally a curse that everyone nervously laughs off. Wotan knows that if it is not resolved it will bring the family to ruin, he will loose his power and may mean the end of the world.
That is just the beginning.
Robert Lepage's landmark production of Wagner's "Der Ring des Nibelungen" is back on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the composer's birth. In the epic's first installment, the theft of the Rhinegold and Alberich's curse set in motion the tragic events that will lead to the downfall of the gods.
Fabio Luisi leads a cast that includes Stephanie Blythe, Stefan Margita, Mark Delavan and Greer Grimsley as Wotan. Tune in for the prelude to the end of the world with Wagner’s "Das Rheingold" this Saturday at noon from the Metropolitan Opera, here on KPAC.
- Learn more about the entire "Ring" cycle at: ringcycle.metoperafamily.org