Wagner and the Gods, both Greek and Norse

The four part Ring cycle became Wagner’s best attempt at accomplishing his goal. To begin with, the four operas: Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold), Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), Siegfried and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods) are based on ancient stories from Norse and German mythology. Like the Greeks, Wagner believed ancient myths dealt with timeless themes that affect us even today. Also, The Ring cycle is a continuous story told in four parts. This was the form that most Greek dramas were written in, where a dramatic story told out in three plays was finished by a fourth comedy which would function as a palate cleanser. Most importantly, the drama focused on the clash of two orders and two different systems of belief where the rule of Gods eventually gives way to the rule of mortals. This is similar to the Greek trilogy, The Oresteia, where the old rule of revenge for crimes is replaced at the end by the rule of law. Wagner’s most significant innovation, however, was in the musical composition of The Ring. He invented a system of leitmotifs, or musical phrases associated with each character that change in different ways as the drama progresses to show how the characters evolve. This was Wagner’s way of inserting a Greek chorus into a drama which comments on the action.

Wagner’s innovation continued with the theater he built in Bayreuth, Germany, specially designed for performances of The Ring. He was the first composer to insist that the lights be dim during the performance so the audience could not people-watch. All ornate decorations and even boxes were abolished. This way there would be no visual distractions or distinctions of hierarchy and everyone could experience the opera on the same plane. Lastly, the orchestra pit was underneath the stage, thus invisible to the audience, as such spectators would not be distracted watching the conductor. Additionally a subterranean orchestra pit allows the audience to fully immerse themselves in the music.

Categories Blog | Tags: , , | Posted on May 4, 2016

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