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The Ring of the Nibelung, ranked act by act (Part 3 of 4)

Previously: ranks 9 through 7

6. Siegfried, Act One. Probably the act for which my opinion most greatly exceeds the general consensus. Maybe people aren’t big fans because the hero, Siegfried himself, is kind of a fratboy asshole, and Mime is perceived as a nasty Jewish stereotype. Leaving aside the question of how intentional either of those is on Wagner’s part, the music is excellent, and both characters have lots of great things to sing. Going through these operas again, I find that one of the things that really makes an act for me is the overall structure of it. This feels like a symphony – Scene 1 being the opening allegro, Scene 2 an intermediate slow movement (and I love that Wanderer chord sequence enough that I actually like the trademark Boring Wotan Recap in this opera), and Scene 3 the triumphant finale, which even includes an honest-to-god catchy song (sing along, you know you want to) in Siegfried’s forging scene.

5. Siegfried, Act Three. This act has a reputation for being nothing but Siegfried and Brünnhilde bellowing their love at each other, but there’s really a lot of great stuff in here before we even get to that point. The introductory music is kick-ass; you can practically hear Wagner being psyched to pick up the project again. Even Erda’s scene is pretty interesting, and the tension gets heart-poundingly ratcheted way up as Wotan confronts Siegfried (this of course is another one of the climactic moments of the Ring, as the gods give way to man). Finally Siegfried discovers Brünnhilde, and the heart-stoppingly expansive music as she wakes is one of the most beautiful passages in the whole cycle. Finally, yes, they do bellow their love at each other for a bit too long, but I can cut them some slack, they’re in love.

4. Die Walküre, Act One. A great arc from beginning to end with no real weak spots — the storm and Siegmund’s arrival, the smoldering glances between him and Sieglinde, Hunding’s swagger, Siegmund’s tale (usually when someone sings his backstory in a 10 minute monologue, it’s bad news, but not here), the sword, all culminating in a glorious lyrical love duet. It’s not surprising that this is the one act of the whole Ring most likely to show up being performed by itself, and if you made this list by taking a poll of fans, this would probably end up in the #1 spot.

Next: ranks 3 through 1!

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