7 Wagner Operas (Solti, Kempe, Wiener Philharmoniker)

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"Das Rheingold" (The Rhine Gold), first of the four operas of "Der Ring des Nibelungen" (The Ring of the Nibelung).
Music and text by Richard Wagner
Conductor: Georg Solti & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

"Die Walküre" (The Valkyrie), second of the four operas of "Der Ring des Nibelungen" (The Ring of the Nibelung).

Music and text by Richard Wagner
Conductor: Georg Solti & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

"Siegfried", third of the four operas of "Der Ring des Nibelungen" (The Ring of the Nibelung).

Music and text by Richard Wagner
Conductor: Georg Solti & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

"Götterdämmerung" (The Twilight of the Gods), fourth and last of the four operas of "Der Ring des Nibelungen" (The Ring of the Nibelung).

Music and text by Richard Wagner
Conductor: Georg Solti & Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra

Wagner's essential peculiarity is the representation of the drama as an element of introspection; his operas can't be considered operas in the traditional meaning of the word, but great compositions where music, singing, poetry and psychology merge to interpret the life. In Wagner's conception the drama expect an almost religious attention, which the public has to attend to as the story takes place in his mind; so the drama rises magically from the imagination of the public before being in music.
The music of the Cycle is composed by a mosaic of leading motifs, the leitmotiv, which embode characters or feelings, so their continuos reappearing produces a sort of psychological premonition.
No closed-form pieces or arias interfer with the free flow of the narration which goes on without solution of continuity from the beginning to the end of every act, subjecting the singing to the comment of an orchestra enormous for the number of instruments and resonant wideness. It is also important in Wagner the use of chromatism, that incessant wave of chromatic spirals which is took to extremes till it leave the tonal structure.
The characters of these operas are taken from the old Norse mythology; the principle idea, tipically romantic, is based on the homesickness of an ancient world where you can find happiness, which expresses itself through the myth of redemption and the eterno femminino. In this way wagnerian characters don't restrict themselves to interpret something theatrically, they are really that thing and not a stage illusion. Wagner himself called his opera "the acts of music made visible".
A dark idealogical system turns around the characters, that during the years has been subjected to various interpretations, which sometimes gave it even conflicting meanings and which went beyond the intentions of the composer: it's not absurd that the third act of "Siegfried" might have affected the development of psychoanalisis, when Siegfried believes he is looking at his mother in Brunnhilde. But Wagner develops his thoughts expecially in politics, changing continually the meaning according to those theories that influence him more; in fact when he started composing The Ring of Nibelungs, had had initially thought to base the Cycle on Feuerbach and Bakunin's ideas, as you can see in his essay "Das Kunstwerk des Zukunft", written during the revolution in Dresden:

"The people are all those who feel a common necessity. Where there isn't necessity, there isn't real need. Where there isn't real need, aal the vices, all the crimes against nature swarm, that is the imaginary need. Now, the satisfaction of this imaginary need is luxury.
Luxury can never be satisfied because, being something false, there isn't a true and real opposite to it which can satisfy and take up it. It wears out, it tortures and prostrates the lives of millions of poor men, it compells a world to be in the iron chains of despotism, without being able to break the golden chains of the tyrant".

These words find their artistic correspondence in "Das Rheingold", when the evil Alberich enslaves the Nibelungs after he had forge the ring which makes him the lord of the world. Even Siegfried is an emblematic figure, as the victory of Positivism and the salvation of theworld have been seen in this drama; but it's only appearence. In fact in the Tetralogy, because of the wish of power longed by most of the characters, even a noble mind as Wotan is has to die in the fire of Walhalla, while Siegfried gets involved in the decline because he is victim of his own innocence. So the Tetralogy, which finishes with the destruction of the world and the cosmic return to nature, expresses the failure of that positivist theory Wagner exalted in 1849 and he wanted to dedicate his work to, leaving the place to a different schopenauerian interpretation. This pessimism embraced since 1854 is clear in the character of Wotan, when in the second act of "Die Walkure" he expresses the cessation of the will of leaving:

"I renounce my work; I still long for only one thing : the end! The end!".

"Lohengrin", german opera in three acts. Music and text by Richard Wagner (1813-1883).
Conductor: Rudolf Kempe & Wiener Philharmoniker

"Tristan und Isolde", german opera in three acts. Music and text by Richard Wagner (1813-1883).

In 1854 Wagner finds out Schopenhauer's philosophy, which shows music as the only way of expressing the deep sense of existence: it is so that the composer grants priority to music. In some of his essaies, Wagner defines "Musikdrama" as "the acts music made visible", in opposition to the merely theatrical drama, based on the simple representation of the actions.
Moreover the concept of "Gesamtkunstwerk", whose subject must be inspired by the myth, comes out and it needs a poetical language of its own, that Wagner finds in the "Stabreim", a type of versification marked by allitterations, which reminds the verses of the Nordic sagas; so the libretto acquires great importance and word merges with music.
In fact Wagner gives up the succession of arias, which harms the narrative fluency: he wants a drama and a music united in an unstoppable and continuos movement; to structure this, Wagner makes large use of the leitmotiv, a sort of recurrent motif formed by short musical cells which represents a character, an object, a feeling; during the opera, every leitmotiv is subjected to a steady metamorphosis, to an almost symphonic development and it becomes one of the yarns of an exceptionally rich warp. It follows that the orchestra acquires an essential role because it must unfold most of the action, the evolution of the characters, their feelings and their impulse.
The action of "Tristan" develops on a metaphysical level which is far from the social universe of "Der Ring", so its leitmotives are not associated with objects or psychic states; as a matter of fact while in "Der Ring" you clearly hear motives associated to the Rhinegold, to Nothung (Siegfried's sword), to the anger or the anguish, in "Tristan" these associations fastly dilute themselves according to the metamorphic process of the leitmotiv.
The descending motif listened at the beginning of the prelude already evades every attempt to identify in something or someone, because it represents qualities and moods that result always different during the opera.
On the other hand many key themes already appear in the prelude Wagner composed first, when both music and text hadn't been merged yet.
The musical language of "Tristan" is characterized by the tonal instability and ambiguity, by the extreme chromatism of the melodic line and by the harmony: everything is at the service of the drama, the expressive intensification and the emotional tension.
Thos chromatism took to extremes can express bette than every other process the inaccessible wish, the impossible passion both Tristan and Isolde are forced to suffer till they are on the verge of madness; this is strenghtened by the sense of decay felt in all the opera. Instead the immutable social values emboded by Marke and Melot are almost dealt with a diatonic way: honour, loyalty and feudal rights are represented by a stream of perfect tunes, totally ordinary.

"Tannhäuser", german opera in three acts. Music and text by Richard Wagner

Tannhäuser ("Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg") is an opera in three acts based on the two germanic legends of Tannhäuser and the song contest at Wartburg; the story centres on the struggle between sacred and profane love, and redemption through love. The libretto of "Tannhäuser" combines the mythological elements of german opera and the medieval history of French Grand Opera; Wagner brings these two together by constructing a plot involving the 14th century Minnesingers and the myth of Venus and her realm of Venusberg. Both the historical and mythological are united in Tannhäuser's character, as he was a historical poet composer, but little is known about his life other than myths that surround him. Furthermore, half of the opera takes place in a historical setting (Wartburg, in Eisenach), and the other half takes place in the mythological Venusberg.
With "Tannhäuser", as with the previous "Der Fliegende hollander", Wagner brings german romantic opera to its extreme limits: in these works he breaks the traditional plan of the scenes with arias, duets, chor and he grants the text all its centrality, but without arriving yet to that fusion between words and music which he realizes in "Der Ring des Nibelungen". However there are innovations that strengthen the expressive power of music: reflecting the polarity of the social reality ( the conservative Wartburg is characterized by an archaic music, while the musical universe of Venusberg is more evolved), the associative use of tonality and leitmotifs.