we all end as mortals, trudging toward the grave


It is ironic, to say the least, that the emblem of opera in the popular imagination is a fat, blonde-haired woman wearing a two-horned helmet. The image comes, by way of cartoons and parodies, from Wagner’s Ring, but Wagner himself would have been the last person to view his great work as the essence of opera. He thought what he was building in this eighteen-hour, four-evening piece was precisely not opera, but a rebellion against opera as he knew it—a fresh form that required a new name (something along the lines of “music drama”) and that could not be performed in a standard opera house, but needed its own special festival setting. That Bayreuth in particular and Wagnerism in general have hardened into the strictest of operatic traditions is an irony which would not have been lost on the composer, for the oppressive and finally triumphant power of rules, even or especially in the face of the deepest individual desire to break them, is one of the Ring cycle’s central themes.

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