The only thing I could think of to pair with a complete telling of Wagner’s Ring Cycle (aside from the entire thing itself, which… forget about it), was the smallest, most inconsequential music I could find.
HMSTR played the Tiny Desk Christmas show in 2014. And really, they must be seen to be believed. Not because they are spectacular, but because the joke isn’t really very funny if you just listen to the music.
Starting with some bizarre synth sounds, after 20 seconds the songs bursts into a lo-fi punk anthem. It’s all buzzing guitars and a simple synth over some majorly lo fi drums. There’s even a somewhat catchy “chorus” section. After a minute, the guitars fade and sleigh bells signal the end of the song.
So whats the joke? See for yourself
All in a tiny Tiny Desk setting.
[READ: May 20, 2015] Richard Wagner’s The Ring of the Nibelung
Yes, this is a massive graphic novel depicting Wagner’s “Music Dramas.” The text was translated by Patrick Mason and then Russell adapted the whole thing to fit his story.
Everyone loves “Flight of the Valkyries,” but hardly anyone has listened to the entire Ring (it’s 4 operas and 15 hours long). Except for the Bugs Bunny version, of course. I have been interested in the Ring for a long time, but I wasn’t willing to devote that much time to it either. So this book is perfect.
Part 1 is the Rhinegold. In it the water nymphs (or something) frolic in the water and guard a piece of gold (the Rhinegold). It can only be taken by someone who removes love from his or her life. And a troll-like guy named Alberich curses love and is able to steal the gold from the maidens.
The story shifts to the gods. Voton awakes to see his dream castle finished. He has offered his sister-in-law as payment to the giants Fasolt and Fafnir for building the castle. When they finish it, he tries to get out of the deal, of course. So he calls on the help of Loge the trickster who tells the giants about a pile of gold that has been taken. We see it is being mined by the new Lord of the Nibelung–Alberich. Voton is able to subdue Alberich and his Nibelung minions (most of whom resent Alberich anyway) and let the giants at the treasure.
There is a gold ring among the treasure. The ring has been cursed with incredible power and anyone who wields it will be all powerful. Voton has trouble getting rid of the ring when he gives up all the gold to the giants but he eventually does. And then as soon as one of the giants takes the ring, he knocks out the other one and keeps the gold for himself.
Part Two is The Valkyrie. It opens with a man alone in a storm. He collapses in a house (with a tree growing in the center of it–and in that tree is a sword). There is a maiden there who takes care of him and fixes him up. But when her man (husband?) returns, he is critical of her tending this strange, young man.
After a night the hero is revealed as Siegmund (which means victorious one) and the sword, which only he is able to pull from the tree is known as Nothung. And it is revealed that the woman is Siegunde, his sister. And they leave together hand in hand (and the final word of the section is incesttttttt).
We then see the Valkyries and meet Brunhilde, Voton’s daughter. The gods have been fighting and Voton pledges that Siegmund must die, but Brunhilde knows he cannot mean this. Neverthless, a battle ensues and indeed Siegmund is killed and Nothung is destroyed. Siegunde is pregnant and Brunhilde takes her away. When Voton realizes this he swears vengeance. He makes Brunhilde an outcast and puts her atop a mountain surrounded by a ring of fire. Only the purest soul will be able to enter it.
Part Three is about Siegfried. Siegfried is the boy born from the Siegmund and Siegunde. Siedunde died in childbirth so he was raised by Mime, Alberich’s brother. The creature is disgusting but Siegfried is gorgeous and strong and he knows no fear. He hates Mime and can’t wait to get away from him. And soon enough, Siegfried has recreated Nothung from the pieces of his father’s sword.
Siegfried has no fear and easily bests a dragon and steal its gold (the dragon is in fact the giants, ultimately turned into a dragon). Then he learns about the treachery of Mime and his kind. He learns about Brunhilde and decides to retrieve her. He fights against the man who killed his father and ascend the mountain. Then Brunhilde and Siegfried become a couple.
The final book is Gotterdammerung (the twilight of the gods). As it opens the three sisters sing of Voton destroying Valhalla in a ring of fire.
The scene shifts to the kingdom of Gibich in which Gunther, the king, is unwed and his sister Gutrune is also unwed. His servant Hagen speaks of Brunhilde and her beauty. But Gunther knows he cannot get her. And so when Siegfried happens upon the island, Gunther sets a plan in motion. They trick Siegfried into agreeing to let Gunther look like him. And soon (with magic involved) Gunther is set to wed Brunhilde and Siegfried is set to we Gutrune.
Of course, the truth comes out and all Valhalla breaks loose.
It’s really quite an exciting story and this graphic novel does an amazing job of capturing it all. P. Craig Russell is a great artists and his style is dramatic and classic and suits the story perfectly.
I really enjoyed this book a lot. In fact I couldn’t put it down. And given the way operas turn out, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect at the end, but it was very satisfying indeed.
I imagine that listening to the whole thing and understanding the plot would be a challenge. And while you definitely miss out on hearing the great music (and yo ho toh ohs!), this is a great wait to learn about this pretty incredible story.