No link? Wagner’s ‘Ring’ around longer than Tolkien’s

J.R.R. Tolkien always denied any connection with Richard Wagner.

The Hobbit was his creation and his alone. Wagner’s character was the Nibelung dwarf Alberich, who created a magic ring from gold stolen from the Rhine maidens in the River Rhine.

And this ring grants the power to rule the world. But this is where comparisons ended for Tolkien.

“Both rings were round, and there the resemblance ceases,” he once said.

Tolkien introduced the world to his epic three-book series surrounding a powerful, golden ring in 1956. Wagner’s series of four operas called “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” or “The Ring of Nibelung,” premiered in the 1876 Bayreuth Festival, in Bayreuth, Germany. These days, it’s known simply as “The Ring Cycle.”

Now this series will make its Baton Rouge premiere when Opéra Louisiane performs “The Ring” on Sept. 27 and 29. This is a condensed version of Wagner’s series arranged by the company’s music director Michael Borowitz. He’s whittled eight hours into two.

But all of the familiar music is still included, as are all the major scenes. And the story is intact.

“It took me about five months to do this arrangement,” Borowitz says. “When I think about this project, I am humbled by it.”

Borowitz began by looking at the stories of the four operas, beginning with “Das Rheingold” or “The Rhine Gold.” The story continues with “Die Walküre” or “The Valkyrie,” then “Siegfried” and finally, “Götterdämmerung” or “Twilight of the Gods.”

“I made sure that I didn’t cut anything that would interfere with the flow of the story,” Borowitz says. “And then I made sure I kept what was the most recognizable and most beautiful parts of the music. After that, I just whittled it down, and in the end, entire acts and characters were gone, but the core of the story is there.”

Borowitz also cut Wagner’s call for 140 orchestra members to 29.

‘When we had our first orchestra rehearsal, it still played beautifully,” he says. “I am humbled by it all.”

Performers will be playing out Borowitz’s arrangement on a backdrop of local photographer Jason Griffith’s work on the Manship Theatre stage.

Griffith began photographing Opéra Louisiane productions pro bono two years ago. He’s since developed a true love for opera.

“Jason is very passionate about opera and talks about how he can’t believe he went so long without knowing about it,” says Leanne Clement, the company’s director. “Besides being an incredible photographer, Jason is an artist when it comes to editing his photos to grab just the right emotion.”

GRIFFITH EVEN WRITES ABOUT IT ON HIS FLICKR PAGE: “In this, my second season working with Opéra Louisiane, I have become smitten with opera … I am more and more excited about the program growing under the direction of Leanne Clement and Michael Borowitz. There are also many fantastic local artists and volunteers involved in building Opéra Louisiane.”

“Jason is working very closely with Mickey Hebert and C.R. Caillouet of A-Bear Productions,” Clement continues. “Mickey and C.R. have written a computer program to take Jason’s images, split them in two, and send them through the two high lumen projectors to create one image on screen. It’s pretty cool stuff.”

But it all begins with the story, which Wagner based on German and Scandinavian folk tales. It is epic, spanning three generations of protagonists, along with gods, heroes and mythical creatures in their struggle to possess this powerful ring.

And while Borowitz whittled away, he realized there were some things that needed to be brought back to the story.

“They were the emotional bits, like when Votan bids farewell to Brünnhilde,” he says. “Some things I could carve to the bare minimum, but the emotional parts are important and need to be included.”

And in the end, no matter what Tolkien said, it’s a sure bet that his fans also will become Wagner’s.

CAST: Elizabeth Beers, Kataria, Brünnhilde; Tyler Smith, Siegmund/Siegfried; Dennis Jesse, Wotan/The Wanderer; Joseph Ryan, Alberich; Paula Roediger, Fricka; Rachel Cobb, Sieglinde/Gutrune; Leanne Clement, Erda/Waltraute; Travis Richter, Loge; Betsy Uschkrat, Freia/Helmwige/Waldvogel; Jess Koehn, Fasolt/Gunther; Molly Dahlberg, Flosshilde/Siegrune/1st Norn; Zuly Inirio, Wellgunde/Ortlinde/2nd Norn; Christina Boosahda, Woglinde/Gerhilde/3rd Norn; Dana Todd Lux, Schwertleite; Amber Klein, Grimgerde; Helen Hoffpauir, Rossweisse.