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The Ring and I: The Passion, The Myth, The Mania

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It might seem hyperbole to claim, as many Wagnerites do, that The Ring Cycle is "The Greatest Work of Art Ever." But the grandeur and power of this monumental work have permeated our culture from Star Wars to Bugs Bunny to J.R.R. Tolkien.

WNYC staff's favorite Ring recordings

WNYC's "The Ring and I: The Passion, The Myth, The Mania" asks what many of the uninitiated must wonder: "What's the big deal?" This journey, intended for both devoted fans and newcomers alike, visits with a diverse cast of characters who weigh in with their answers to this complex question, including:

  • Howard Shore, Oscar-winning composer of The Lord of the Rings, who discusses Wagner's critical development of leitmotifs, which radically transformed how music could become an integral part of telling a story
  • Playwright Tony Kushner, who reflects upon his memories of listening to The Ring with his father, one of the rare bonding experiences the two shared
  • Joe Clark, technical director for the Metropolitan Opera, who thinks that the ultimate litmus test for any opera house is whether it can stage The Ring
  • "Not even Peter Jackson would be able to keep pace with Wagner's hurtling, hovering, ever-evolving musical images, although someday an opera house is certain to ask him to try."—Alex Ross, The New Yorker
  • Jungian psychologist Laurie Layton Schapira, who sees each of the Ring's characters as different aspects of one's entire personality and the story as our own inner drama
  • Seattle Opera director Speight Jenkins, who claims that Wagner was the first composer who attempted—and succeeded—to not merely entertain his audience, but actually change the way they thought
  • Guitarist Gary Lucas, who hears strains of Wagner in Led Zeppelin
  • "It has great sex, fantastic music, a great storm, a big eruptive fire at the end...Who needs reality TV, when you have this?"—Fred Plotkin, Food & Opera Writer
  • Will Berger, author of Wagner without Fear, forgoes Madonna and Eminem, contending that "Wagner is the most controversial artist who ever lived."
  • John Rockwell, cultural correspondent for The New York Times, suggests that "The Ring holds such sway for the same reason Springsteen and Pink do: They're all examples of no-holds-barred music-making."

"The Ring and I: The Passion, The Myth, The Mania" was produced by Jad Abumrad and Aaron Cohen for WNYC, New York Public Radio. Elena Park was Executive Producer.

Music Credits
"Der Ring Des Nibelungen" The Metropolitan Orchestra conducted by James Levine (Deutsche Grammophon)

"Der Ring des Nibelungen" (Ring Cycle), The Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Georg Solti (Decca/London)

"Wagner without Words" Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Lorin Maazel (Telarc)

"Ride of the Valkyries," played by Gary Lucas on electric guitar from his album "Street of the Lost Brothers" (Tzadik)

Produced: March, 2004