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Even if you have no contact with classical music, especially with opera, I'm sure you've noticed that when an opera company that has you in its 100-mile radius performs all four operas in the Ring of the Nibelung cycle - Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, Die Götterdämmerung  -- you know about it.  It's a big deal. Such a big deal that what you might even call a cottage industry has sprung up to make fun of the operas, which really isn't that difficult to do. As it happens, today is the birthday of a woman who made a career out of making fun of The Ring (h/t aravir), so we'll commemorate that by watching and listening to her do so. I wasn't going to do a Thursday Classical Music diary this week, and this really isn't much of one in the usual sense, but this birthday is worth commemorating.

It's not like there isn't a tradition of this. The plots of operas have a tendency to absurdity. There's a not-so-serious debate among Verdi enthusiasts about whether the plot of Il Trovatore (a romantic triangle between a woman and two men, one of whose mothers is a gypsy and something of an occultist) or that of La Forza Del Destino (a soprano who dresses as a man and becomes a monk, and a baritone who unwittingly becomes the best friend of a man he has vowed to kill) is more absurd, and when you do a search for "absurd opera plots," the Metropolitan Opera synopsis of Bellini's I Puritani comes up on the first page. BUt Wagner receives special abuse It's not that there isn't a precedent for what's going to follow (and note Bugs in drag as Brunnhilde on her horse Grane).

Without all the free-lance studio artists in Los Angeles, this wouldn't have been possible either, and I especially like the reference to smog.

But I digress.  Today's birthday girl is the actress and musician Anna Russell, who would have been 101 today.  She made a career from a concert tour in which she claimed to demystify the Ring, and it's really sound in terms of musicianship (she explains what a  leitmotif is correctly, for instance). This is the first third of the presentation, which gets us almost all the way through Rheingold.

The second part deals with Walküre, and with Siegfried, who she describes as a L'il Abner type, and the "Do you remember" things start (as Fafner who we haven't seen since Rheingold appears in Siegfried [so Siegfried can kill him]). We end with the forest bird.

Part Three wraps up Siegfried and covers Götterdämmerung, paying special attention to the Norns who recount the story so far inat the beginning of the final opera in the sequence. For its length, it takes less time for her to explain Götterdämmerung than it did for her to explain the other three parts. But that gives her time to discuss the enormity of a Ring Cycle.

Of course, Götterdämmerung is the opera the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham described as having no rhythmical changes, saying

It simply goes on and on from half past 5 until midnight like a damned old cart horse.
. Let's face it.  Considering that Wagner built a theater at Bayreuth specifically for the performance of his works, something no other composer that I can recall did, it seems that Wagner's operas, especially the Ring cycle, demand to be taken seriously, and that in itself sets them up for lampoon and hilarity.

I was going to embed the scene from Apocalypse Now but I just couldn't because of the violence. So instead, here's Bryn Terfel from the Met broadcasts of 2011 instructing Loge to create a ring of fire around Brunhilde at the end of Die Walküre .

Happy New Year, all.  I'll be back with Debussy and French Impressionism after the first.

Originally posted to Dave in Northridge on Thu Dec 27, 2012 at 05:07 PM PST.

Also republished by DKOMA and An Ear for Music.

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