A 30-year-long opera: The Ring of the Nibelung

Wagner was born in Lipsia in 1813. He lost his father at the age of six, so he received his education from his stepfather, who was a painter and an actor. He studied philosophy and literature and he learnt music as autodidact.

He was an undiscussed genius and the author of priceless masterpieces. He introduced into the world of opera some of the main themes connected to characters and facts.

Moreover, he considerably changed the orchestra by introducing instruments that had never been used, such as brasses. It was his the idea to locate the orchestra on the lower part in front of the stage and, thanks to king Ludwig II of Bavaria, he built the theatre in Bayreuth. The Ring of the Nibelung was performed at the opening night of the theatre in 1856. 

The Ring of the Nibelung consists of four musical dramas composed by Richard Wagner, which form part of a bigger narration (“the ring cycle”) including a prologue and three “days”. Each of them lasts about 4 hours:

  • The Rhinegold (prologue)
  • The Valkyrie (first day)
  • Siegfried (second day)
  • Twilight of the Gods (third day)

The opera’s genesis dates back to 1848, at the time of the revolutions. Therefore, it embodies a sort of social accusation, concealed under the story’s setting, which is taken from the German epic “Nibelungenlied” and the ancient sagas of the Edda. In fact, the musician studied the medieval Nordic mythology and he added to this knowledge his outstanding creativity.

The style of the composition represents Wagner’s revolutionary view of the theatre. The music is composed of a kind of dense mosaic made of several themes – melodies associated to specific objects, characters and feelings – that come and go during the performance, creating the groundwork of the score. Psychology plays a fundamental role in the musical evolution of the characters and in the different situations that they have to face. 

Wagner starts working to the Nibelung’s story in 1844. He writes a first draft (The Death of Siegfried) in 1848 and he finishes it all in 1874. This span of time represents almost thirty years of thinking, changes, meetings and obstacles. Even there we can find the origin, sometimes contradictory, of the poetical, philosophical and musical features of this opera.


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