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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Almanac: Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle

Air Date: Week of July 20, 2001

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This week, facts about Richard Wagner's monumental opera, the Ring Cycle. Set in the Rhine, it's a tale of love, loss and deception among the dwarves of the forest.

Transcript

CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood at the climate change negotiations in Bonn, Germany.

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CURWOOD: The climate change parley isn't the only event drawing international crowds to Germany. Every July, the town of Bayreuth hosts the Richard Wagner Festspiele. Now, that's a month-long celebration of the composer's enduring operas. Wagner is best-known for his Ring Cycle of operas, based on the Germanic legends of the Nibelungen, a tribe of rather unpleasant cave-dwelling dwarves. Now, some people say the famous Seven Dwarves, who fraternized with Snow White, are modern descendents of the Nibelungen. If so, somewhere along the line, Snow White's buddies became a lot more jolly than their ancestors, with the exception of Grumpy, of course. They did keep up the traditional dwarf occupation of mining and metalsmithingdom. And it is this Nibelungen love of gold that kicks off the first of Wagner's works, Das Rhinegold, in which the dwarf leader steals the gold of the Rhine maidens. The Nibelungen hammer the gold into a ring that bestows Master of the Universe status onto whoever holds it. But no one holds it for long. There's a curse. There's murder. There's infidelity and incest. And along the way, the gods start to wonder just who's in charge anymore. By the time the opera's end, the Rhine burst its banks, the ring winds up lost at the bottom of the river, and the world is on fire. Now, that's a story of global warming. And for this week, that's the Living on Earth almanac.

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