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The Ring and I

Tuesday, January 01, 2008 - 10:49 AM

On this Radiolab/WNYC Special, we explore the impact and influence of Wagner's Ring Cycle on the Metropolitan Opera's 2004 Presentation.

It might seem hyperbole to claim, as many Wagnerites do, that The Ring Cycle is 'The Greatest Work of Art Ever.' But the grandeur and power of this monumental work have permeated our culture from Star Wars to Bugs Bunny to J.R.R. Tolkien.

This piece includes the voices of Howard Shore, Oscar-winning composer of The Lord of the Rings, Playwrite Tony Kushner, Joe Clark, technical director for the Metropolitan Opera, Alex Ross, music critic of The New Yorker magazine, Jungian Psychologist Laurie Layton Shapira, Seattle Opera director Speight Jenkins, Guitarist Gary Lucas, Fred Plotkin, Food & Opera Writer; Will Berger, author of Wagner without Fear, and John Rockwell, cultural correspondent for The New York Times.

For more information about this episode go here.


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Comments [31]

Adi Hamou from Santa Monica

I decided to major in music the moment I left the theater after watching LOTR. This podcast is everything. I didn't want it to end.

Jul. 26 2017 02:18 PM
Steve from Detroit, MI

I stumbled upon this special by accident and it has stayed with me since that day. The passion that people have for this work of art is contagious and the way that this program presented it is unique and entertaining - even for someone who is a casual lover of the arts like I am.

Can anyone point me to more pieces similar to this? Any tips would be very much appreciated. And to the producers of this show - thank you!

Apr. 30 2014 11:36 PM
Marty from Sydney, Australia

I'm surprised there is no credit here or on the show as to what recording or recordings were using in the program. Sounded phenomenal and I'd love to know what this recording was.

This cycle was aeons ahead of its time. Compare the opening E flat chord with the start of Koyaanisqatsi by Philip Glass.

Sep. 09 2013 07:20 AM
Judy Hines from Bloomington, IL

I know I am a Wagnarian! We are traveling to Seattle to see Gotterdammerung this August. The Ring and I shall remain on my Ipod forever. So appreciate you, Jad!!!!! Brilliant, simply brilliant. Judy Hines in Bloomington,Il who proudly wears a RadioLab zipper tag on my favorite jacket.

Jul. 19 2013 06:53 PM
David Kline from Colorado

Not since I watched Amadeus have I been compelled to dive more into a composer's work. I've listened to this podcast 3 times and will probably do it again. This is the best of the best in podcasts and deserves some kind of award! I've been a Wagner fan for decades but you opened my eyes to a rediscovery and understanding. I delved more into his life and antisemitism to find reasons to keep loving his work and found, apparently, he had Jewish friends but despised a few Jewish composers. like Mendelssohn. He did write some anti-Jewish things. I'm not sure how he would have felt about Hitler glomming onto his stuff. From what I've read he was a Lefty and Black Snot was a Righter. Here's hoping he would have been pissed at the plagiarism. But anyway Jad, well done!

Jun. 15 2013 06:38 PM

Thanks very much Richard!

Apr. 30 2013 11:48 AM
Richard from NJ, USA

Ben - that is from the final scene (scene 3) Act III of Die Walkure. The incredible final scene between Wotan and Brunnhilde.

Apr. 16 2013 10:15 PM

Can anyone tell me where in The Ring Cycle is the passage that Jad is talking about at min 30:05-32:00 of the podcast? It's beautiful.

Thanks for the great work!

Apr. 16 2013 04:04 PM
Wotan from Valhalla

Bought a cd of just the music. Then got to watch the whole opera on PBS with my 9 year old son. It inspired me!! Thank you!

Mar. 30 2013 01:09 AM

Having known nothing whatsoever about opera, or music (E flat chords), or wagner, or the ring cycle, this was the most demanding episode i've heard. But also the most rewarding.

Dec. 28 2012 12:17 AM
Biff the Understudy

"Playwrite Tony Kushner"? Let's use "Playwright". I just pointed a friend at this brilliant podcast and stumbled on the typo.

I *hate* opera, and after hearing this podcast I bought the entire Ring Cycle on CD.

Magnificent stuff guys.

Oct. 04 2012 09:54 PM

After listening to this I have a strange feeling that I need to invade Poland. Lebensraum!

Jul. 29 2012 11:47 AM
Michael Hilbert from Dresden Germany

awesome piece, but omiting "The Songs of the Nibelungs" is quiet impossible if your talking about Wagners Ring. (

Why was there no reference to that? Or did I missed that?

Jul. 11 2012 11:08 AM

I find it interesting that Lori Shapiro and Alex Ross say that the idea of a ring of power is a novel idea. Clearly they were overlooking Plato and his mention of a ring of invisibility. Clearly that ring is a form of ring of power and it is used to question power, ethics, and morality. I think I am right in saying that Plato is notable enough that Wagner would know of it. Why wouldn't Wagner reference Plato in his work? For brief info on the ring of power mentioned in Plato's Republic:

Jul. 10 2012 01:31 PM
claire from manhattan

loved it when I heard it the first time; loved it even more tonight. thanks for playing it again!!

Apr. 06 2012 09:55 PM
Siobhan from Maine, USA

Thanks for a great show. You've done the almost impossible - creating a program that is as good for devoted Wagnerians and complete novices. I appreciate the thoughtful treatment of the subject and the thorough, well-paced overview.

Mar. 13 2012 11:59 PM
Phyllis from Pescadero

I've been listening to this audio for years when it was broadcast on WNYC. I just love it and learn something new every time I hear it. It's very powerfully done and the music is wonderfully synced with the program so you can hear the excerpts from the Ring as they discuss it. I use it myself when I give lectures on the Ring.

There's one small error made by Will Berger (who should know better) that needs to be corrected. He says that Siegmund and Sieglinde were separated at birth. The opera tells it differently in Act II of Die Walkure, when Sieglinde remembers her brother and father being off in the woods together and strange men entering her home, killing her mother, abducting her and setting their home on fire. There's no mention of her age, but it certainly wasn't at birth.

Feb. 12 2012 11:41 PM

Don't buy a CD album - it's opera (actually four operas) and uses staging to great effect. Start with DVD. I specifically recommend the 1990 Metropolitan Opera set for your first time, as it's very traditional as well as top-notch.

Feb. 08 2012 12:05 PM
James from Canada

I am going to buy this whole Opera on CD or SACD....

Which one did they use in this segment? which one should I buy ?

Feb. 01 2012 07:21 AM
mike toscano from Bristol, UK

I'm an American researcher (Animal welfare, stress physiology if you ever need a comment :>) living in the UK and thought it would be great if you could do a show here, but I imagine that's a longshot. Nonetheless, a general comment: you do a great job of opening up doors to new ideas, concepts, and means of thinking which is wha NPR should be doing. My desire to read more on Wagner and 'The Ring' is a testament to your success. Keep up the great work.

Jan. 31 2012 12:11 PM
Allison B. from Stillwater, OK

I listen to this one over and over as well. Just love it and I don't even normally like opera.

Jan. 09 2012 05:14 PM
edstirling from Virginia

May be the best episode I've listened to. One of the few that i listen to over and over. You jam so many perspectives into this one, I hear something different each time.

Oct. 01 2011 10:35 PM
Matthew Oliver

While I've always loved the way you put your episodes together, I can't help but feel that in some way you have maligned Tolkien when you when you said he stole it from Wagner. The ring, was only Bilbo's magic ring long before The Lord of The Rings was written. It only became sinister once Tolkien rewrote parts of The Hobbit to fit with his continuously evolving and expanding work.

Sep. 02 2011 02:00 PM
Andrew from NY, NY

What are the details on this cafe where they sing opera. Would really like to visit =)

Aug. 20 2011 05:01 PM

I never cared for opera but being a music lover I always felt left out of an amazing experience that I could never attach myself to. After this one podcast I feel embeded to Wagner and feel as if a huge heavy curtain has been lifted off my eyes for the first time. Thank you thank you thank you!

Mar. 06 2011 01:28 AM
ArtIsAir from Louisville, KY

Really the best show ever. I have listened to it a dozen times and I can't get enough. I love opera, but haven't gotten into Wagner until now. Thank you so much!

Nov. 04 2010 01:38 PM
Wouter from Netherlands

What a great show!!! What kind of Ring record did you use in the program? Do you have a playlist?

Oct. 31 2010 10:30 AM

Good show, but I wish you had mentioned Anna Russell's comedic interpretation of The Ring, because comments by Jad and by Fred Plotkin echoed her without referencing her.

Sep. 22 2010 12:27 PM

I enjoyed this story very much. I consider myself an opera fan; but I've never taken the leap to Wagner's Ring Cycle. This story is a great introduction! Other than purchasing tickets for the 2009 Ring Cycle at the Met, what else can I do to learn more?

Aug. 03 2008 10:24 AM
Darren Daz Cox

very entertaining podcast, I'll have to catch the shows one day!

May. 21 2008 12:55 AM

In one word

Mar. 21 2008 11:20 PM

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