Which do you want? Love or Power: Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen

I was living with my folks the last time I saw the Ring Cycle on PBS in the US.  I made my parents endure several hours of it before they said, enough!  After all I had hi-jacked the TV for several nights.  And I was in the middle of Siegfried, and well, maybe…..  actually my mother came to me and said, “Are you really enjoying this?” with a hint that she’d probably prefer something else.  And actually, then, without the absence of distraction–I was inside the living room of an active six person house with dog–I don’t remember much of the Ring Cycle at all.  I do remember telling my mom that we could change the channel.

I know, high recommendation eh?  But it was a small tv, on a fuzzy station, in a mad house of six people and dog— it wasn’t the Yukon Arts Centre, with its HD and surround sound.  It’s giant screen.  And it wasn’t hunky Bryn Terfel, the Wotan of this Ring Cycle.  I’m unabashedly crushing on Bryn Terfel.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to going through my first RING CYCLE in its entirety!  As a fully realized, aware, culturally-interested adult (without a dog).  I want the t-shirt that says I got through it.  I may ask Triple J’s to make some!

Anyway, a FREE movie begins the cycle–it’s Wagner’s Dream: the Making of the Ring Cycle at 7pm on Saturday, May 12.


Because we are offering the Ring Cycle and because I’m kind of the defacto host of these Met Opera’s, I needed to know more about it–so I looked up the story.  It’s freakin’ amazing!

It might sound familiar: A ring forged that will let the wearer rule the world, dwarves fighting for the ring, dragons that guard it, doomed lovers— seems like Wagner’s Ring Cycle might be  The Lord of the Rings with music.  It’s not true.

Though there is a strong case that Wagner and Tolkien both got their source material from the same places–German and Norse mythology and sagas–what they crafted is very different.  And with all proper credit to Tolkien, Wagner’s opera has just as much amazing storytelling as the tale of hobbits and wizards.

Tolkien’s Trilogy of books starts off with a prelude book, The Hobbit, just as Wagner’s trilogy of operas starts off with Das Rheingold.

The Story:

The story begins innocently enough—mermaids in the Rhine river singing.  An ugly dwarf comes along to try and woo them, and they laugh at him.  When he asks about a golden glow on top of a mountain, they reveal that they are to guard that glow–that it is gold and that particular gold can be shaped into a ring to rule the world.  They don’t mind telling him–because whoever wants that gold has to first renounce Love forever.  But they underestimate bitterness they’ve induced in the dwarf–and he spurns love and steals the gold!

So our story starts off with a choice:  Love or Power?  Which will bring more happiness.  To a spurned dwarf, all that’s left is to get power. He leaves to forge the ring that will rule the world.

High up in Norse Heaven, Wotan and his wife, Fricka, are having some reconstruction work done on their house.  But they don’t want to pay for it–not really.  They’ve promised two giant construction workers (nice) Fricka’s sister, Freia as payment.  That would satisfy them.  But Fricka’s not so sure giving her sister away to two giants is a good thing.  Not to worry, Wotan says–he’s had Loge, his brother, out searching for a better token to give the giants.  The giants get done, crack open a beer, and ask for their payment: Freia–the very picture (and Goddess) of Feminine Love.  Freia doesn’t want to go.  Freia’s brothers appear to save their sister.  Wotan doesn’t want to break the agreement.  He tries to stall long enough for Loge to get there.  Alas, Loge comes back and he can’t find anything that mankind wants more than love–(Wagner seems specific about “feminine love”, ah well).  The giants want their Freia.  Loge does say that only once in the history of mankind did anyone give up Love for something else—and that was that dwarf, who stole the gold and made a ring of power.  Well, the giants are all over that!  They make a new offer—they’ll accept the ring instead of Freia.

Seems like the desire for Love again takes a back seat to desire for Power.  (Of course, the giants were never going to get Freia’s love, just as the dwarf was never going to get the Rhine Maidens’ love–theirs was just the desire for sex, or Lust.)

To save his sister-in-law Wotan has to go get the Dwarf’s ring.  The giants carry Freia off as hostage till they can get the ring.

Well, they find the dwarf making slaves out of other people–using the ring to amass more gold.  He’s also contracted a magic helmet, that renders the wearer invisible, or a shape-shifter.  Through clever con-artistry they are able to nab the ring and the gold.  The dwarf curses the ring—whoever doesn’t have it will want it, whoever does have it will be too anxious to sleep, and will eventually be killed.  Curses be damned, Wotan doesn’t want to return the ring—but when the giants claim that all the gold must stack up high enough to completely shield Freia from sight, Wotan finds that the payment to get Freia back is short by a smidgen–the size of the ring–and he must give up the ring to the giants.  He relents and gives over the ring and the gold and the magic helmet.  They bicker over the gold and the ring and one giant kills the other.  And so begins the story of the ring.

That’s just Das Rheingold!


As you can see, Wagner wrote the Ring Cycle to turn on complex emotions–a desire for Love, a desire for Power.  Each of the stories in the Ring Cycle complicate this simple dichotomy more and more until it is tangled.  Those who want love can be bought with power.  What is good can be outbid by what is powerful.  Or maybe one desire trumps another.  And betrayed in love?  Oh, that person becomes more powerful the more scorned!

I’m excited about the Operas.  They appeal to the fantasy loving side of me, but also the reader/viewer who wants to see deeper emotional chords being struck, and more complicated plots.  I want to see less bang for my buck and more thoughtful exploration of character.  I think you got it in this opera–in this story!  I will write more when I know more.

The singers will do a great job–the set will be the interesting, twisting hardware that it sets out to be–but the story, the story from over a hundred and fifty years ago–still captures the imaginations of viewers, opera lovers and not opera-lovers alike.  They come for the story!

Maybe you will too.


All operas are shown with ENGLISH subtitles so you never lose the story.  All operas (except for the free short movie) will have soup available for a small donation.  Operas shown at the Yukon Arts Centre:

SAT, May 12, 7pm : Wagner’s Dream: The Making of the Ring Cycle—FREE

SUN, May 13, 1pm: Das Rheingold

TUES, May 15, 5pm:  Die Walküre

THURS, May 17, 5pm:  Siegfried

TUES, May 22, 5pm:  Götterdämmerung


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