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Don't call it opera

Letter to the Escape Editor

Posted: March 14, 2008 7:47 p.m.
Updated: May 15, 2008 5:02 a.m.

In regard to Rory Leighton Aronsky's article in the March 7 Escape, "From My Netflix Queue: A Wagner Opera in a Different Key;" while I found the review of the documentary to be interesting, I was somewhat bugged by Aronsky's references to Wagner's Ring as "opera."

Wagner himself never called the four parts of his Der Ring des Nibelungen operas; when writing the Ring, he believed that he was creating a new form, the "music drama." Before writing a single musical note, Wagner himself wrote the libretto (the text) and wrote several essays on the relation of music and the written word (for example opera and drama).

His goal was to create a "gesamtkunstwerke" (total work of art) and the Ring was to be the creation of his new musical theories. The Ring is very different from his earlier works which are generally classified as operas while some of his works from 1842 onwards beginning with Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) show elements of what became music drama.

Since Wagner put 25 years of his life into the creation of Der Ring, why not use the term that he used and call the four parts of the Ring, music dramas?

For further information, Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) consists of four music dramas:

Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold)
Die Walküre (The Valkyrie)
Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods)


Aronsky responds:
I understand and appreciate your concern about me calling Wagner's Ring Cycle operas instead of "music dramas," a term which I did not know of before I read your letter. Thank you for the information, but it would behoove you to also correct, Wikipedia,, the Seattle Opera, Los Angeles Opera, a few articles in the New York Times, and various other sources. I'm not the only one. It's a matter of time and specificity.

To call it a "music drama" would require background into Wagner's intentions, requiring space that isn't widely available in a review, and this is only a documentary about the stagehands who worked on the San Francisco Opera's production of the Ring Cycle, not of the operas themselves.


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