Written sporadically over a span of twenty-some years, with a definite break for Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and Tristan und Isolde, the Ring is one of man's monumental dramatic achievements, the operatic equivalent of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and Beethoven's nine symphonies. (Only Wagner could have interrupted work on four masterpieces to write two others.) The librettos were written in reverse order, when Wagner realized that Siegfried's Death, which would morph into Götterdämmerung, was insufficient to tell the colossal story he envisioned. He kept going backward in time, filling in details and adding characters to deepen the story, until he wound up at its very beginning (Das Rheingold). In the depths of the Rhine, three mermaids guard the golden hoard that is subsequently stolen by dwarf Alberich, who curses love to unleash its totemic power. Throughout the epic, the Rhine Maidens pine for its return, as the magic ring passes from hand to hand, leaving a trail of death, betrayal and destruction.

The Ring cycle is opera's lodestar, its sine qua non. No opera company, no matter its reputation, joins the big leagues without having the work in its repertoire. It's a gargantuan undertaking: huge orchestra, specialized Wagnerian singers who don't always appear each generation, and massive stage effects. When asked by a nervous tenor what he thought of Siegfried, the incomparable maestro Toscanini shot back, "Too many beasts. There's a dragon, a bear, a bird and then there's you!" Each opera stands alone, but the true magnificence appears only when the cycle is seen in its entirety — a special week, just as Wagner intended, with days off in between so the singers can rest. "Ring-heads" follow each cycle with ardent devotion, traveling around the world to get their fix.

As a devout Ring-head myself (my most recent excursion was to see the Seattle production last year), the news that Houston Grand Opera would finally mount the mammoth Ring made me giddy, even though we must wait four years for the final installment. It's one opera in the cycle per season, starting April 11. Whether HGO will stage the work in its entirety after the 2017/18 season is up for grabs, but we can only hope. It's a scheduling nightmare and a drain on the treasury, but other Big Boy companies do it — at least once in a decade. The venerable Metropolitan Opera, the world's foremost opera company, spent $50 million and had to reinforce the stage floor to accommodate Robert Lepage's Busby Berkeley-piano keyboard rendition in 2012. Several times each decade in August, Seattle Opera has solidified its global reputation with its celebrated and exquisite "green Ring," inspired by a Pacific Northwest look of conifers and terrain.

Das Rheingold is a monumental undertaking.
Courtesy of Houston Grand Opera
Das Rheingold is a monumental undertaking.

Location Info


Wortham Theater Center

500 Texas Ave.
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: Downtown/ Midtown


Das Rheingold

April 11, 13 (matinee), 17, 23, 26. 501 Texas. Purchase tickets online at or call 713-228-6737. $28-$386.25.

In a coproduction with Valencia's Palau de les Arts and Florence's Maggio Musicale, HGO uses the controversial La Fura Dels Baus production, directed by Carlus Padrissa. Catching snippets on YouTube, it's certainly different, a symbolic and grandly evocative retelling with Rhine Maidens frolicking in individual plexiglass tubs of water and gymnasts suspended in space, like rock climbers, to depict the wonders of Valhalla, the abode of the gods. It'll keep the audience on their toes and hotly debating its merits and relevance to Wagner's intentions. Wagner would relish the controversy.

Let the games begin!

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This article is an excellent example of the limitations of the author. Maybe te author should stick to reports about bull riding and cow dung. The latter is certainly higher quality than D.L. Groover's opinions about Wagner.


Oy!This staging looks like it might be every bit as bad as HGO’s ill-conceived 1999 staging of The Flying Dutchman.