For most people, Opera conjures up visions of large women wearing blond wigs with long braids, Viking helmets, and metal breastplates. The remarkable thing is that the characters associated with those trappings are featured in only one Opera, Die Walkure (The Valkyrie)
But "The Ride of the Valkyrie" has to be one of the most recognizable pieces of classical music for the general public. Either they've heard Elmore Fudd singing "Kill The Rabbit," or they have fond memories of Robert Duvall getting off on the smell of napalm in Apocalypse Now after attacking at first light with Wagner blasting from his helicopter.
Sometimes I wonder what must be harder for the ghost of Richard Wagner to live with; his associations with Nazism or Elmore Fudd. I'd say the former, just because at least people think kindly of Mr. Fudd. It's also highly unfair to associate a man with people who co-opted and perverted his work to suit their needs as Hitler and his cronies did to the music of Wagner.
Der Ring Des Nibelungen (The Ring Of The Nibelungen), of which "The Ride" is merely one aria amongst four operas, remains one of the most ambitious musical projects ever attempted. I don't believe that anyone before, or since, has had the vision and the motivation (perhaps obsession) that it took to complete a project of such scope.
Four operas, fifteen hours of music, all built around an epic Norse/Germanic saga,The Nibelungenlied. Fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy will have no problems identifying with these works; the fates of the Gods and the world are closely intertwined with a ring of gold, and comparisons between the Riders of Rohan and the Norse warriors will be inevitable.
The Ring Cycle, as the four are referred to in English, is comprised of: Dan Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Gotterdammerung. As far as a plot summary is concerned, it's probably best left in the hands of an expert. In the booklet accompanying the Opera d'Oro version under review, commentator Robert Levine offers this capsule review of the story:
…filled with codes and references about love, greed, and every other human and social subjects, (it) is also a thrilling series of mythic adventures…a hoard of gold is stolen, a helmet that allows the wearer to change form is invented, a rainbow bridge is built to a castle, twins are re-united…And all because the absolute power offered by the Ring forged from gold stolen by a wretched dwarf also holds a deadly curse…
Of course, there's a lot more to it than that, but you get the idea. We're talking non-stop action and adventure of the highest order. How many stories are there where the Gods die so the world can be re-born as a better place?