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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!