Welcome to the all-Wagner week. If you have not yet seen the entire Ring Cycle, this week of opera at home offers the opportunity to do so over four consecutive nights. The Met has assembled a stellar cast to take us on this epic operatic voyage. I believe that everyone interested in opera should experience Richard Wagner’s Ring at least once in their lifetime. After all, the Ring is the ultimate mini-series; opera’s own Game of Thrones… on steroids. At home you can skip the opera-going attire, lounge on your most comfortable couch, and press pause whenever you need to as you get acclimated to the many hours of music, in other words: to Wagner time. Here is Week 2 of the Met’s Nightly Opera Stream on its homepage, beginning at 7:30 p.m. each evening and available until 6:30 p.m. the following day.
Monday, March 23
Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde – Starring Nina Stemme, Ekaterina Gubanova, Stuart Skelton, Evgeny Nikitin, and René Pape, conducted by Simon Rattle. From October 8, 2016 – Read synopsis
A supreme landmark of the operatic repertoire. The opera’s complex love story is based on Gottfried von Strassburg’s twelfth-century romance Tristan – available in English on Poetry in Translation. The iconic “Liebestod” (love death) finale (watch the conclusion of Tristan und Isolde) has been used in films and television to symbolize doomed love, while the prelude underlines the suffering and the impending destruction of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. Donizetti’s opera, L’elisir d’amore (The Elixir of Love) gives a comedic wink to the legend (watch the Elixir’s main female character read/sing a lighter version of the Tristan legend.)
Tuesday, March 24
Wagner’s Das Rheingold – Starring Wendy Bryn Harmer, Stephanie Blythe, Richard Croft, Gerhard Siegel, Dwayne Croft, Bryn Terfel, Eric Owens, and Hans-Peter König, conducted by James Levine. From October 9, 2010 – Read synopsis
Gods, Giants, Nibelungs, Rhinemaidens, and a ring of power. The journey begins. This is the first of the four operas—or music dramas as Wagner called them—that form Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) also known as the Ring Cycle. Considered the prelude to the Cycle, it provides the background to the drama that will unfold over the next three evenings. Some have speculated on the Ring Cycle’s influence on The Lord of the Rings, but author J.R. Tolkien famously dismissed any association, declaring “Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceased.”
Wednesday, March 25
Wagner’s Die Walküre – Starring Deborah Voigt, Eva-Maria Westbroek, Stephanie Blythe, Jonas Kaufmann, Bryn Terfel, and Hans-Peter König, conducted by James Levine. From May 14, 2011 – Read synopsis
The story of the Ring Cycle’s second music drama is based on Norse mythology and Teutonic literature. Here we are introduced to one of the bravest and most noble characters in opera, Brünhilde, a Valkyrie (female figure in Norse mythology who chooses those who live and those who die in battles). “The Ride of the Valkyries” is one of the best-known pieces in all classical music: often performed on its own as a concert piece. Its themes have even made their way into the world of cartoons as in this excerpt from What’s Opera, Doc.
Thursday, March 26
Wagner’s Siegfried – Starring Deborah Voigt, Jay Hunter Morris, Gerhard Siegel, Bryn Terfel, and Eric Owens, conducted by Fabio Luisi. From November 5, 2011 – Read synopsis
As the plot thickens, the Cycle’s third opera centers on Siegfried, the hero who knows no fear. That is, not until he falls in love with Brünhilde, who, returning his love, renounces the realm of the gods for him.
Friday, March 27
Wagner’s Götterdämmerung – Starring Deborah Voigt, Wendy Bryn Harmer, Waltraud Meier, Jay Hunter Morris, Iain Paterson, Eric Owens, and Hans-Peter König, conducted by Fabio Luisi. From February 11, 2012 – Read synopsis
The conclusion of the epic, known in English as The Twilight of the Gods, brings the end of the old order. Almost everyone and everything ends up in flames, including (spoiler alert!) Siegfried, Brünhilde, the Gods and their realm, Valhalla, itself. At over five hours, it is the longest of the four operas.
Saturday, March 28
Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Starring Annette Dasch, Johan Botha, Paul Appleby, and Michael Volle, conducted by James Levine. From December 13, 2014 – Read synopsis
Another operatic tour de force—four and a half hours—The Mastersingers of Nuremberg provides the only comic relief this week. Its subject revolves around the art of songwriting and a song competition that must be won by the hero in order to attain love. For a change, there are no supernatural elements involved. In fact, the guild of mastersingers actually existed and Hans Sachs, one of the characters, is based on a sixteenth-century real-life mastersinger.
Sunday, March 29
Wagner’s Tannhäuser – Starring Eva-Maria Westbroek, Michelle DeYoung, Johan Botha, Peter Mattei, and Gunther Groissböck, conducted by James Levine. From October 31, 2015 – Read synopsis
Here too, fate turns on a song contest. The story is based on the legend of Tannhäuser, a thirteenth-century German poet and “Minnesinger” (lyric and song writer), and on the tale of a song contest at Wartburg, among other sources. Christianity and Greek-Roman mythology clash in the battle for Tannhäuser’s soul between Venus, the goddess of love, and the hero’s quest for penance, motivated by his love for the pure Elisabeth. The opera’s majestic overture is frequently performed in concerts.
Top photo: Bigstock