The Wagner Journal

Arnold Whittall, Heroic Gestures and Family Values in Wagner’s ‘Ring’

Arnold Whittall, Heroic Gestures and Family Values in Wagner’s ‘Ring’

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March 2013, Volume 7, Number 1, 4–21.

The familiar idea that Wagner’s Ring cycle offsets its mythic and epic concerns with something closer to those more realistic, naturalistic dramatic subjects which other 19th-century opera composers made more explicit use of can always yield a certain shock value, as numerous recent stagings have confirmed. The frisson of witnessing characters capable of magically, superhumanly manipulating events also wrestling with mortal emotions and dilemmas – even in the heightened form ensured by Wagner’s music – might even constitute the essence of what is commonly assumed to be most authentically ‘Wagnerian’: a potent blend of something supremely naturalistic and something utterly unreal, that can seem uniquely uplifting or blatantly manipulative, according to taste.

No surprise, then, that Die Walküre is often declared the most popular of the Ring’s four music dramas, and that its closing scene should provide a major reason for that popularity, as Wotan’s grand, godly authority is transformed to embrace simple paternal affection and concern for his errant daughter, Brünnhilde.

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