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First, I should make it clear that I'm new to opera - very new. I'm not a musician of any real sort and have no knowledge of music theory - I just like to listen to the pretty music.

However, rightly or wrongly, I want to take the leap into Wagner and his Ring Cycle. So what version of the Ring Cycle should I watch first? Also, what material do I need to have read before watching the opera itself?

From what I can tell, the three "best" (a dangerous word to use when talking about Ring Cycles) are the Boulez/Chéreau Centenary Production, the 1990 Levine Met Production, and the 1991-92 Barenboim Bayreuth Production.
 

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I really like the 1990 Levine Met Production better than the Boulez. I have not watched Barenboim yet but it is in my unwatched pile. I really like The Machine though I have not watched Rhinegold from that set.

I just watch with subtitles, but at least a detailed synopsis would be good to have a general idea of the story ahead of watching.
 
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The Boulez-Chereau shouldn't be your first Ring. The 1990 Met production, though its sets are stylized ("the machine," as it's called, configuring itself variously from scene to scene) is faithful to Wagner's own conception of his story. Chereau, though his ideas are (sometimes) reasonable and interesting and his stage action lively, gives you a directors modern interpretation. You should know what Wagner intends before watching 20th-century rewrites.
 

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I would recommend getting a "Ring without words" cd and familiarize
yourself with the music.
In such a large work those discs will be a big help.
You can read about it on Wikipedia free under Der Ring and under each seperate opera.
 
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The Boulez-Chereau shouldn't be your first Ring. The 1990 Met production, though its sets are stylized ("the machine," as it's called, configuring itself variously from scene to scene) is faithful to Wagner's own conception of his story. Chereau, though his ideas are (sometimes) reasonable and interesting and his stage action lively, gives you a directors modern interpretation. You should know what Wagner intends before watching 20th-century rewrites.
The 1990 Levine Met Ring is the traditional staging (by Schenk?) The Machine was in the latest production (which is a good recommendation for a first Ring).

I suggest the 1990 Ring as it is entirely traditional (if a little cringey in places), if that takes you then it's worth watching both Barenboim ones, the Chereau and, of course, the more recent Levine with the Machine.

N.
 

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As to what to read when preparing to watch Der Ring, you can start with the following:


The CDs are still available second-hand on either Amazon.com or eBay.com - they come with an explanatory booklet. Another valuable source is George Bernard Shawn's The Perfect Wagnerite.

Of course, you will probably want the libretti, which have all of the words Wagner set to music, as the subtitles are condensed on whichever video you choose (the Levine/Schenck is more traditional and has the best all-around singers).

Some words about the videos: the 1990 Metropolitan production (Hildegard Behrens as Brunhilde) can only be found on DVD. The more recent one (2010) is on Blu-ray (Deborah Voigt as Brünhilde).
The more modern productions are sometimes challenged by the lack of world-class singers and severely compromised "vision" by their stage directors.

The Barenboim Bayreuth version (1991) is distinguished mainly by John Tomlinson's Wotan; it was transferred to blu-ray in 2012. It is called "the laser Ring," for its use of laser beams as its gimmick.

Don't expect voices like the ones on the main CD sets (Solti, Karajan, Böhm, Levine) or the famous live Bayreuth sets of the 1950s, 1960s, with its legendary conductors (Krauss, Keilberth, Knappertsbusch, Furtwängler, etc.) and singers (Hotter, Mödl, Varnay, Rysanek etc.).
 

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The 1990 Levine Met Ring is the traditional staging (by Schenk?) The Machine was in the latest production (which is a good recommendation for a first Ring).

I suggest the 1990 Ring as it is entirely traditional (if a little cringey in places), if that takes you then it's worth watching both Barenboim ones, the Chereau and, of course, the more recent Levine with the Machine.

N.
Thanks for the correction. We dotards are constantly losing track of time. Wasn't 1990 just last week?
 

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Of those three, I would agree with those saying the Levine. James Morris is fantastic as Wotan. The rest of the cast is ok. I like Boulez better as a performance than Levine, but it's definitely not a traditional Ring. Barenboim is awful. I never understand people recommending that. Evans is a terrible Brunnhilde.

For CD Solti all the way. I have 25+ Ring recordings and it all started with Solti. There are other great Ring's that I love as much, or perhaps more, than Solti, but in my opinion it's by far the best beginner's Ring cycle and one of the greatest of them all from a performance perspective.
 

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Of those three, I would agree with those saying the Levine. James Morris is fantastic as Wotan. The rest of the cast is ok. I like Boulez better as a performance than Levine, but it's definitely not a traditional Ring. Barenboim is awful. I never understand people recommending that. Evans is a terrible Brunnhilde.

For CD Solti all the way. I have 25+ Ring recordings and it all started with Solti. There are other great Ring's that I love as much, or perhaps more, than Solti, but in my opinion it's by far the best beginner's Ring cycle and one of the greatest of them all from a performance perspective.
I agree. Not sure if we would be in the majority or minority here. I dislike Barenboim with a passion.
 

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Lepage Ring premiered in 2010 and the 1990 is the traditional staging, in fact, the ONLY fully traditional staging available on video in full. Boulez 1980 comes close and I would argue that anyone would want to avoid it as their first Ring, the staging and acting (and singing, apart from some wobble from Jones) all being very good and consistent throughout the cycle.
 

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I call him Barenboring. Such a dull conductor.
I've seen him conduct Der Ring, Tristan and Tosca. Far from dull! Ah well, what a dull world it would be if we all liked the same thing.;)
 

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I caught a chance viewing of THE MACHINE Ring during the first wave of covid when the Met was streaming these for free. I knew quite little about opera back then. I still know little now, but boy, did I know next to nothing then. Just the big composer names; nothing about performers, directors, conductors, orchestras, etc. And I loved it. More than anything, it got me really hooked on Wagner.

A year later, a friend in the comic book world was showing me through her collection and after I mentioned the Ring, produced off her shelf the wonderful retelling of the cycle by French artist Alex Alice in his set of books entitled Siegfried. (It's told out of order, but it's done beautifully; really focused on Siegfried). Captures the essence of the story in a new, fascinating way.

Then, after seeing a wonderful live performance of Tannhäuser which kicked my Wagner obsession into overdrive, I got myself a library copy of Arthur Rackham's illustrations to view while going through my first listen of Solti's Ring (I had seen excerpts of the Golden Ring doc on youtube, though, and was excited)

I soon got myself copies of the 2000 graphic novel of The Ring of the Nibelung by P. Craig Russell, which, as opposed to the Siegfried adaptation by Alice, is almost a word-for-word, panel-for-panel adaptation of the music and the libretto. It's wonderful. I'm seriously enjoying blasting the Solti Ring and reading the Russell comic to the pace of the music. With my extremely basic grasp of German via Duolingo and a recent reading of the libretto with Google Translate at hand, I can somewhat time the speech bubbles and the panels to the recorded Ring. As such, the comic works way better than it has any right to! And it is really really true and clear about the narrative and drama of the opera. Might be a great place to start instead of a libretto as this graphic novel, like Rackham's illustrations which it contains many homages to, captures the visual storytelling that is key to opera as a theatrical work. And it makes for engaging reading.


Really, I think the Ring isn't THAT hard to follow if you go in cold. If you've read any high fantasy and mythology, this is no different; and I think among the best versions of that type of story, actually. The music gets complex, but if you're like me and not schooled on theory, not a musician, etc etc, there's little chance you'll meaningfully grasp the structure on the first go. And it's fine if you don't. The music is very effective and moving and dramatic, and a clear precursor to modern film scores, which I'm sure you're used to ingesting without much thinking when you watch a film. Nothing to fear there.

Have fun!
 

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It would be nice to hear back from Derfflinger1916 on how he has taken the recommendations in this thread.
 
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