On March 17, 2016, I presented the guest lecture “Myth, Revolution, and Nationalism in Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle” at Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, MN. The abstract of the guest lecture is as follows:
In addition to discussing current Wagner singers and conductors, this lecture examines three themes that are central for understanding Wagner’s Ring cycle: myth, revolution, and nationalism. Along with considering Wagner’s different source materials (Norse and German mythology and ancient Greek tragedy), I look at how Wagner uses these materials to comment on nineteenth-century sociopolitical realities. After drawing attention to the contradictory aspects of Wagner’s revolutionary thinking, I elaborate on how this thinking shaped his conception of the Ring cycle and opera in general. Finally, I discuss how Wagner’s expression of nationalistic ideas was initially bound up with his revolutionary hopes but that these ideas later led him to support Kaiser Wilhelm I and the new German Reich. I will focus on the Prelude of Rheingold and excerpts from Die Walküre. All are welcome, and no prior music experience is required.