The Ring of the Nibelung, ranked act by act (Part 4 of 4)

Previously: ranks 6 through 4

3. Götterdämmerung, Act Two. Once we’ve finally gotten Act One out of the way, Götterdämmerung is awesome. Here we start with a superbly creepy Alberich/Hagen duet, then the music expands gloriously as the day breaks, Hagen’s super-powerful menacing hoi-hos summon, what’s this, an honest-to-goodness chorus, who intone the beautifully simple wedding music, then Brünnhilde (understandably) loses her mind in front of everyone, and just in case anyone thought this act was too boring we finish it all off with a revenge trio. Growing up I had inherited from my composer grandfather recordings of all the operas but this one, and when I finally heard it it was a revelation.

2. Das Rheingold, Prelude and Scene One. This gets perhaps undeserved bonus points for familiarity because I’ve listened to it more than any part; as a kid I would generally start here, then fall asleep midway through Scene Two. But even so, you have the proto-Minimalist prelude, one of the most important passages in the history of music; a bunch of great tunes, including all-too-rare-in-the-Ring three-part harmony from the Rhinemaidens; and perhaps most importantly, a fast-moving and gripping plot.

1. Götterdämmerung, Act Three. Talk about going out on a high note; this last act of the whole cycle kicks ass from beginning to end. First the Rhinemaidens finally reappear, with even prettier music than the last time. Then Siegfried regains his memory and gives his recap of the last opera, delivered with such innocent sweetness that I actually feel sorry for him (he has not been particularly sympathetic up until now). Then comes his death, and the incredibly powerful funeral march, and as if that weren’t enough, everything wraps up with the epic immolation scene. It was worth the wait!

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3 Responses to “The Ring of the Nibelung, ranked act by act (Part 4 of 4)”

  1. -Raul says:

    I’d have to bump the last act of Die Walküre (hitting only the number 7 on your chart) to my top-3 list, I’m afraid. But I also find the two acts framing the entire cycle to be right at the top.

    Next, you need to rank all the leitmotifs.

  2. Zed Largo says:

    I’ve only been listening to the ring cycle for a year now and just caught my first live performance. I completely agree with Raul. The closing 20 minutes of Die Walküre are a top highlight for me. Not only do they signal that I will be able to go to the bathroom very soon, but when sung well, Wotan’s final monologue bring me to tears every time. Music and singing that is emotionally powerful without being loud and overpowering.

    Götterdämmerung, Act Two and first scene of Das Rheingold take my next two spots.

    Götterdämmerung, Act Three finale gets a bit loud and screechy and seems like the 2 minute warning for getting those leitmotifs in. Although I’m relieved that my 5.5 hour stay at the opera house is over, somehow the final bars go by too quickly and leave me unsatiated and wanting more music. Then again, maybe I’m just a sucker for basses and baritones.

  3. Jerusalem Zigfried says:

    Rheingold Act 1 at number 2? It’s easily the worst part in the cycle by far. It’s boring, the Rheinmaidens are shrill, Alberich’s singing is purposefully grotesque, it takes forever to conclude and the music is just plain bad. The prelude is great but act 1 is really terrible. If you were watching a recording of Rheingold I think Act 1 is the point in the opera where the vast majority of people would turn it off and I wouldn’t blame them. Unfortunately they’d miss all the great music that comes afterwards.

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