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The Wagner Music Dramas


Tannhäuser (full title Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg, “Tannhäuser and the Minnesänger’s Contest at Wartburg”) is an 1845 opera in three acts, with music and text by Richard Wagner. It is based on two German legends: Tannhäuser, the mythologized medieval German Minnesinger and poet, and the tale of the Wartburg Song Contest. The story centers on the struggle between sacred and profane love, as well as redemption through love, a theme running through most of Wagner’s work. (Wikipedia)

Tannhäuser Act III, undated set design

Metropolitan Opera (2000)

Act 1 - English Subtitles

Act 1 - German Subtitles

Acts 2&3 - English Subtitles

Acts 2&3 - German Subtitles



     Lohengrin is a Romantic opera in three acts composed and written by Richard Wagner, first performed in 1850. The story of the eponymous character is taken from medieval German romance, notably the Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach, and its sequel Lohengrin, itself inspired by the epic of Garin le Loherain. It is part of the Knight of the Swan legend.
     The opera has inspired other works of art. King Ludwig II of Bavaria named his castle Neuschwanstein Castle after the Swan Knight. It was King Ludwig’s patronage that later gave Wagner the means and opportunity to complete, build a theatre for, and stage his epic cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen. He had discontinued composing it at the end of Act II of Siegfried, the third of the Ring tetralogy, to create his radical chromatic masterpiece of the late 1850s, Tristan und Isolde, and his lyrical comic opera of the mid-1860s, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
      The most popular and recognizable part of the opera is the Bridal Chorus, colloquially known in English-speaking countries as “Here Comes the Bride,” usually played as a processional at weddings. The orchestral preludes to Acts I and III are also frequently performed separately as concert pieces. (Wikipedia)

The Werner Herzog Lohengrin at Bayreuth

English Subtitles

German Subtitles


Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

     Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is a music drama in three acts by Richard Wagner. It is the longest opera commonly performed, taking nearly four and a half hours, not counting two breaks between acts, and is traditionally not cut. With Hans von Bülow conducting, it was first performed on 21 June 1868 at the National Theater in Munich, today home of Bavarian State Opera.
     The story is set in Nuremberg in the mid-16th century. At the time, Nuremberg was a free imperial city and one of the centers of the Renaissance in Northern Europe. The story revolves around the city’s guild of Meistersinger (Master Singers), an association of amateur poets and musicians who were primarily master craftsmen of various trades. The master singers had developed a craftsman-like approach to music-making, with an intricate system of rules for composing and performing songs. The work draws much of its atmosphere from its depiction of the Nuremberg of the era and the traditions of the master-singer guild. One of the main characters, the cobbler-poet Hans Sachs, is based on a historical figure, Hans Sachs (1494–1576), the most famous of the master-singers.
     Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg occupies a unique place in Wagner’s oeuvre. It is the only comedy among his mature operas (he had come to reject his early Das Liebesverbot) and is also unusual among his works in being set in a historically well-defined time and place rather than in a mythical or legendary setting. It is the only mature Wagner opera based on an entirely original story, and in which no supernatural or magical powers or events feature. It incorporates many of the operatic conventions that Wagner had railed against in his essays on the theory of opera: rhymed verse, arias, choruses, a quintet, and even a ballet. (Wikipedia)

Metropolitan Opera with James Levine (2001)

English Subtitles

German Subtitles

Dual Visual Performance Along With the Score

Der Ring des Nibelungen

     Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) is a cycle of four German-language epic music dramas composed by Richard Wagner. The works are based loosely on characters from Germanic heroic legend, namely Norse legendary sagas and the Nibelungenlied. The composer termed the cycle a “Bühnenfestspiel” (stage festival play), structured in three days preceded by a Vorabend (“preliminary evening”). It is often referred to as the Ring cycle, Wagner’s Ring, or simply The Ring.
     Wagner wrote the libretto and music over the course of about twenty-six years, from 1848 to 1874. The four parts that constitute the Ring cycle are, in sequence:

  •      Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold)
  •      Die Walküre (The Valkyrie)
  •      Siegfried
  •      Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods)

     The first performance the cycle opened the first Bayreuth Festival in 1876, beginning with Das Rheingold on 13 August and ending with Götterdämmerung on 17 August. Opera stage director Anthony Freud stated that Der Ring des Nibelungen “marks the high-water mark of our art form, the most massive challenge any opera company can undertake.” (Wikipedia)

Metropolitan Opera with James Levine (1990)

     This is the 1990 Metropolitan Opera production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen with the orchestra conducted by James Levine.
     “Logically, it would seem strange that an opera production based on the composer’s precise and detailed stage directions should be viewed as controversial, but that was the case with this Met Ring, filmed in 1990. As we all learned in music history, Wagner’s artistic ideal, especially in the Ring, was the Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art, with all elements blending into a greater whole. His stage directions were considered as important as the words and music. But since World War II, it has been a rare director who paid any attention to what Wagner wrote [performance directions]… what we mostly got were directors who made the wrong assumption that they were creative, rather than re-creative, artists, and they used Wagner as a vehicle to foist upon us their own psychological, sexual, and political hangups…. This production takes Wagner’s stage directions seriously, and realizes them through beautiful, representational designs in a thoroughly Romantic style.” (Alex Craig – Amazon.com review)

1 - Das Rheingold

   Das Rheingold is the first of the four music dramas that constitute Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. It was performed, as a single opera, at the National Theatre Munich on 22 September 1869, and received its first performance as part of the Ring cycle at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, on 13 August 1876.
    As the preliminary evening within the cycle, Das Rheingold gives the background to the events that drive the main dramas of the cycle. It recounts Alberich’s theft of the Rhine gold after his renunciation of love; his fashioning of the all-powerful ring from the gold and his enslavement of the Nibelungs; Wotan’s seizure of the gold and the ring, to pay his debt to the giants who have built his fortress Valhalla; Alberich’s curse on the ring and its possessors; Erda’s warning to Wotan to forsake the ring; the early manifestation of the curse’s power after Wotan yields the ring to the giants; and the gods’ uneasy entry into Valhalla, under the shadow of their impending doom. (Wikipedia)

English Subtitles

German Subtitles

2 - Die Walküre

     Die Walküre is the second of the four music dramas that constitute Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen. It was performed, as a single opera, at the National Theatre Munich on 26 June 1870, and received its first performance as part of the Ring cycle at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 14 August 1876.
     The story is based on the Norse mythology told in the Völsunga saga and the Poetic Edda. In this version, the Volsung twins Sieglinde and Siegmund, separated in childhood, meet and fall in love. This union angers the gods, who demand that Siegmund must die. Sieglinde and the couple’s unborn child are saved by the defiant actions of Wotan’s daughter, the title character, Valkyrie Brünnhilde, who as a result faces the gods’ retribution. (Wikipedia)

English Subtitles

German Subtitles

3 - Siegfried

     Siegfried is the third of the four music dramas that constitute Der Ring des Nibelungen by Richard Wagner. It premiered at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 16 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of The Ring cycle. (Wikipedia)

English Subtitles

German Subtitles

4 - Götterdämmerung

     Götterdämmerung is the last in Richard Wagner’s cycle of four music dramas titled Der Ring des Nibelungen. It received its premiere at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 17 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of the whole work.
     The title is a translation into German of the Old Norse phrase Ragnarök, which in Norse mythology refers to a prophesied war among various beings and gods that ultimately results in the burning, immersion in water, and renewal of the world. As with the rest of the Ring, however, Wagner’s account diverges significantly from these Old Norse sources. (Wikipedia)

English Subtitles

German Subtitles


Das Rheingold

Die Walküre



Tristan und Isolde

     Tristan und Isolde is an opera in three acts by Richard Wagner to a German libretto by the composer, based largely on the 12th-century romance Tristan and Iseult by Gottfried von Strassburg. It was composed between 1857 and 1859 and premiered at the Königliches Hoftheater und Nationaltheater in Munich on 10 June 1865 with Hans von Bülow conducting. Wagner referred to the work not as an opera, but called it “eine Handlung” (literally a drama, a plot, or an action).
     Wagner’s composition of Tristan und Isolde was inspired by the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer (particularly The World as Will and Representation), as well as by Wagner’s affair with Mathilde Wesendonck. Widely acknowledged as a pinnacle of the operatic repertoire, Tristan was notable for Wagner’s unprecedented use of chromaticism, tonal ambiguity, orchestral colour, and harmonic suspension.
     Many see Tristan und Isolde as a milestone on the move away from common practice harmony and tonality and consider that it lays the groundwork for the direction of classical music in the 20th century. Both Wagner’s libretto style and music were also profoundly influential on the symbolist poets of the late 19th century and early 20th century. (Wikipedia)



     Parsifal is a music drama in three acts by the German composer Richard Wagner and his last composition. Wagner’s own libretto for the work is freely based on the 13th-century Middle High German chivalric romance Parzival of the Minnesänger Wolfram von Eschenbach and the Old French chivalric romance Perceval ou le Conte du Graal by the 12th-century trouvère Chrétien de Troyes, recounting different accounts of the story of the Arthurian knight Parzival (Percival) and his spiritual quest for the Holy Grail.
     Wagner conceived the work in April 1857, but did not finish it until 25 years later. In composing it he took advantage of the particular acoustics of his newly built Bayreuth Festspielhaus. Parsifal was first produced at the second Bayreuth Festival in 1882. The Bayreuth Festival maintained a monopoly on Parsifal productions until 1903, when the opera was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Wagner described Parsifal not as an opera, but as a Bühnenweihfestspiel (a sacred festival stage play). At Bayreuth a tradition has arisen that audiences do not applaud at the end of the first act. (Wikipedia)

Syberberg's Parsifal

     This is a 1982 West German-French opera film of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal by German film director Hans-Jürgen Syberberg. “The New York Times’ John Rockwell wrote: “Hans Jurgen Syberberg’s film version of Richard Wagner’s music drama Parsifal should enthrall both film lovers and Wagner fans. Mr. Syberberg’s work represents not only the summation of his career thus far, but is as gripping, strange and, in the end, devotionally faithful a staging as any Wagner opera has received in our time.” Rockwell continued: “Just why Mr. Syberberg’s scenic innovations don’t seem as disturbing as other modern directorial innovations… is hard to explain. … Instead of their shocking us away from the romantic spell of the music, they reinforce that spell. It’s as if Wagner’s hypnotic allure and Brecht’s intellectualized alienation have been somehow mystically united.’ Graham Bradshaw wrote in London Review of Books: ‘Using clever front projection techniques, [Syberberg] provides a rapid background commentary on the main dramatic action: this is sometimes contrived and disruptive, but more frequently suggests the reflexes and ricochets of a mind that is actively engaging with Parsifal.” (Wikipedia) 

     Syberberg’s Parsifal based on Wagner’s opera. The soundtrack is a complete performance of the opera, but the imagery used is a melange including medieval costume, puppetry, Nazi relics and a giant death mask of Wagner. The Grail itself is represented by Wagner’s Bayreuth theatre, and Parsifal’s key transformation is portrayed with a change of actor to an androgynous but deliberately female-suggesting form in order to achieve a union of male and female at the conclusion of Act II. (Wikipedia)

Parsifal Score

Act 1

Act 2

Act 3

Documentaries and Discussion

Fairytale Castles of King Ludwig II

Great Composers BBC Series

Stephen Fry - Wagner and Me

Tristan und Isolde

A Closer Look at Tristan und Isolde

The Tristan Effect

The Tristan Chord


Jeffrey Swann

Joseph Campbell

Eine Musikalische Einführung

Der Ring des Nibelungen

David Horne

Gods and Monsters

In the Eye of the Ring

The Ring Leitmotives

Robert Greenberg

The Golden Ring