March 27, 2005


The timeless appeal of Wagner's epic (WYNNE DELACOMA, March 27, 2005, Chicago Sun-Times)

"We're getting jazzed," said a top Lyric staffer last week about the company's upcoming immersion in Wagner's "Ring of the Nibelung.''

They aren't the only ones. Music lovers throughout the world have been getting jazzed, or the linguistic equivalent appropriate to their era, about Wagner's four-opera saga since its premiere as a complete cycle in the Franconian town of Bayreuth, Germany, in August 1876.

Loosely based on Nordic mythology, the first "Ring'' cycles were presented in a brand-new theater built to Wagner's specifications. Among the audiences in 1876 were Kaiser Wilhelm, Tchaikovsky, Grieg, Saint-Saens, Liszt and a tribe of 60 international music critics, including critics for London's Daily Telegraph and the New York Times.

Of course, not everyone was smitten by the "Ring'' and its 15 1/2 hours of music. The score has few long, definable melodies and more than 100 different "motifs'' or themes, small musical phrases whose rhythms or melodies identify specific characters or situations. Wagner weaves those into a more or less seamless musical flow.

"We've been rehearsing for two hours,'' complained British conductor Thomas Beecham during rehearsals of "Gotterdammerung," in the 1960s, "and we're still playing the same bloody tune!"

There's no question, however, that hundreds of thousands of music lovers can't get enough of the "Ring.'' They plan their vacations around "Ring'' cycles, traveling to Bayreuth or Toronto, Seattle or Berlin, New York or Chicago, to catch the "Ring'' of the moment. Lyric's will attract visitors from 27 countries and all 50 states. Approximately a dozen people have bought tickets to all three cycles. In 1996, the company estimates that "Ring'' audiences pumped $34.7 million into the city's economy.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 27, 2005 8:24 AM

It's here in Seattle this summer, but it's been sold out for years. A great shame.

Posted by: Timothy at March 27, 2005 4:53 PM

"What's Opera Doc?" is excactly the right amount of Wagner for any sane person.

"Kill the Wabbit! Kill the Wabbit!"

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at March 27, 2005 5:05 PM

I despise Wagner as a man, but the final minutes of Gotterdammerung are absolutely transcentent.

(Pity that money, a three year old, a 6 month old, and an unfinished dissertation will keep me away. Next year in Jerusalem.)

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at March 27, 2005 11:12 PM