I believe I’ve mentioned how I’ve formed a recent addiction to the Radiolab podcast. This is an NPR radio show about science, and I’ve found many of the episodes to be fascinating. I really haven’t been spending enough time with science over the past few years, and it’s been good to get my feet wet again.
A few months ago, I listened to a Radiolab episode that had nothing to do with science. Instead, this episode was about Wagner’s Ring cycle of operas – a trilogy of four hour operas, with a two hour prelude that occurs before the first, based on Norse mythology and covering the struggle between power and love, good and evil, and the end of the world.
I’ve never really gotten into opera, though I’ve seen a couple over the years. But of late, I’ve thought it might be something to pick up. Over-the-top passions, big classical music, larger-than-life stories – it all sounded like the thing for me.
And the Radiolab episode made Wagner’s Ring sound like the place to start. First off, it discussed the parallels between Wagner’s Ring trilogy and Tolkien’s – and I’ve been a serious Lord-of-the-Rings geek for years. Second, it was clear that there’s lots of Wagner geeks out there – this was something that generated a passionate following in its fans, and that sounded interesting. And third, it just sounded pretty cool.
So I decided to do my research. I started by reading The Nibelung’s Ring by Peter Bassett. Then I got a copy of the operas on both CD (the Georg Solti recording) and DVD (Daniel Barenboim). And over about a month, Julie and I watched the four operas on DVD. And enjoyed them far more than I had hoped to – it really is great stuff.
Finally, last Saturday Julie and I went to see “Siegfried,” the middle opera of the trilogy, and our favorite, at the Kennedy Center. And we were blown away. You have a teenage hero raised by an evil dwarf, a legendary treasure guarded by a dragon, and an enchanted princess surrounded by magic fire. It’s incredibly good, and the Kennedy Center performance was marvelous.
At the very end, Siegfried seduces the princess (“You say you’ve loved me always? Then love me now! You say you will love me forever? Then love me Now!”). And she, although aware that their love is fated to bring about the end of the world, finally gives in and falls into his arms, singing of glorious love and joyous death. All full of passion and romance that in scale is, well, operatic.
And there’s some pretty funny scenes too. At one point, Siegfried encounters Wotan, the king of the gods. Wotan wants Siegfried to succeed at his quest, but Siegfried manages to get Wotan so angry that he tries to stop Siegfried instead. (Truth be told, Siegfried is a bit of a brat: he makes his first entrance leading a bear into his cottage so he can terrorize Mime, the dwarf who is raising him.) (He’s not too bright either, but that’s another story.) Anyone who has raised teenagers can appreciate Wotan’s feelings: you try to be rational, and the next thing you know you’re threatening the kid with a spear.
Anyway, Julie and I are now big fans of Wagner’s Ring. Give the Radiolab episode a listen and see if it sounds good to you too.