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Time on your hands? Tackle Wagner!!


For those who’ve joined us recently, there’s an elephant in our U3A room – Richard Wagner. Every composer we discuss owed to him a new style or radical approach to music drama, or else rebelled against his triumphant taking over of European opera – or both.


In 2016, when the Ring Cycle returned to Melbourne, we spent a term on Wagner. Here’s the link to those pages. Wagner's rule-breaking impact on opera was well summarized here: ‘As a composer, he rewrote the rules for opera—reenvisioning its musical forms and creating dazzling and unforgettable dramatic tapestries that melded orchestral magnificence with the soaring beauty of the human voice. As a theater artist, he pioneered the "Gesamtkunstwerk" or "total artwork" that incorporated music, drama, poetry, philosophy, myth, and ritual, building a theater of revolutionary design and creating musical dramas on a scale never before attempted in history.’

Götterdämmerung antiheroes: Alberich and Hagen
Das Rheingold stats: note, no mortals!

When we resume classes, Wagner will be right back in the room. Meanwhile, since we all have to achieve social distancing, it’s a chance to get close to Wagner the man (if you want to) and the music (you have to!)

There's links to information and videos about the man and his story on our Wagner pages. Thus prepared, defying all travel restrictions, we can all go…

Off to the Rhine! (via Leeds, UK).


This week’s treat is a fascinating Ring Cycle from Opera North, now available online. Go to this link and it links you to each of the opera videos. Or start by clicking their link to their excellent and genuinely fun Ring Cycle in a nutshell guide - complete with graphic summaries (see right!)


Not sure about the plot? Well, don’t worry, dive right in. There are video messages to help you sort it out, and subtitles to follow the amazing libretto (Wagner wrote it himself).

Brünnhilde and her father god Wotan

It’s a bizarre but enveloping story of the decline of the gods and renewal of the world. (Sounds useful, currently, but it’s not a simple story.) And all about love and power - there’s a super piece on those themes on BBC here. And, arguably, about the decline of the world with industrialisation, as George Bernard Shaw saw. 'The Rhine Gold is an allegory, do not forget that an allegory is never quite consistent except when it is written by someone without dramatic faculty, in which case it is unreadable. There is only one way of dramatizing an idea; and that is by putting on the stage a human being possessed by that idea, yet none the less a human being with all the human impulses which make him akin and therefore interesting to us.' Shaw's 'The Perfect Wagnerite' is available online.


So - 'Maestro to the pit!' And 20 hours of this extraordinary, opera-revolution await you. Opera North offers a fascinating contrast to the Ring Cycles we have seen here or at the Met; a bare stage with video screens weaving in images the fabric of the myths, the music in the forefront, the camera hovering on the conductor, actors stumbling around the orchestra. You can view a list of reviews here. Here's what Bachtrack said.

Hit the discussion list with your responses!

For a fine introduction to the Ring Cycle, try this offering from Classic FM in the US.

And for a good laugh, at this time when we all need many more of those, tune in to Anna Russell’s classic saucy reduction.

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