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Old 28th March 2006   #1
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Default The Ring of the Nibelung

This post is really off-topic, but I hope I'll be permitted to share it, because it touches on several themes (opera, and Old World culture) that have often come up on this forum.

When the Lord of the Rings movies came out, I suspect that everyone who is a Wagner fan hoped that someday, Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen (the original epic chronicle of a ring of power) would get a similar epic film treatment.

Well, this has now actually happened. Almost.

I don't receive the "Sci-Fi Channel" where I live, but a friend of mine does, and she told me that last night, they broadcast the American TV premiere of a movie adaptation of Wagner's Ring cycle.

The Sci-Fi channel gave this film the title Dark Kingdom, for some reason, but the original English title was, in fact, The Ring of the Nibelungs. It has a terrific, LOTR-style web site here:

And to see just how closely it approximates the look of the Lord of the Rings movies, you can see an exciting trailer here:

Sadly, the actresses in the film are (predictably) either severe or waifish-looking (so much for historical authenticity!), so I won't post their images. But I do want to show a picture of the famous clash between Wotan and Siegfried, which is just how I've always pictured it:

It's too bad it wasn't a major international release, the way Peter Jackson's films were. But then again, considering the way Tristan & Isolde was basically buried and given zero publicity, maybe it's just as well.

It's nice to see more works of Old World culture being brought to a modern audience.

Oh, and the Sci-Fi channel's less-impressive site for this series can be found here:
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Old 28th March 2006   #2
Join Date: July 2005
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Default Re: The Ring of the Nibelung

This movie was first screened in Germany, and then in England, where it was released on a PAL DVD under yet another name (The Sword of Xanten). As Wagner aficionados, we eagerly obtained a copy of this DVD, and found it a fairly engaging film, without quite deeming it a masterpiece.

Although the hesitancy to call it The Ring of the Nibelung is undoubtedly due to the anti-German prejudice that has lingered since the war, this is not, strictly speaking, an adaptation of Wagner's Ring cycle. (For example, not a bar of Wagner's music appears in the score.) Rather, it is a fairly successful amalgamation of the two medieval epics that provided Wagner with his source material:

1. the Saga of the Volgungs, perhaps the greatest of the Nordic sagas, which includes the sword-forging and dragon-slaying episodes that are central to Siegfried, the third and greatest episode of the Wagner tetralogy; and

2. the Nibelungenlied, which provided Wagner with most of the precise incidents that he adapted for his music drama.

As seen in the impressive trailer that Emily posted, some of the high points of this Ring of the Nibelungs film include a dynamic combat between Siegfried and Fafnir (the dragon), as well as standout performances from the legendary Max von Sydow as Siefried's mentor, and Julian Sands playing against type as Hagen. The somewhat wooden actor playing Siegfried is neither great nor terrible in the part (a blonde Siegfried was probably deemed politically unwise). The costumes are acceptable, but fail to match the quality of the LOTR films in medieval authenticity. The locations are particularly impressive, since, no matter how scenic New Zealand may be, there is a "look" to the primeval forest that once covered all of central Europe (and still exists in its easternmost fringes in Lithuania, in lands once controlled by the Teutonic Knights) that does not exist anywhere else in the world.

For those of you who are genuinely interested in Wagner's Ring, and particularly in its music, the definitive audio recording is, and always will be, Karajan's masterful rendition with the Berlin Philharmonic:

- Der Ring des Nibelungen

For those of you who find the price of the full version rather steep, and are looking for a good entry-point into Wagner's world, there is also an excellent two-CD highlights compilation, which includes much of the best music from the cycle (e.g., the famous "Ride of the Valkyries").

For anyone wishing to see how these operas look on stage, the only faithful (i.e., non-"modernized") version is the acclaimed Met performance from the 1990s, which lacks Karajan's conducting brilliance, but at least delivers a Ring that Wagner himself would have recognized:

- The Ring on DVD

And finally, the Sci-Fi Channel is apparently releasing their version of this movie on an NTSC DVD--calling it Dark Kingdom, as Emily noted. But this is a severely shortened, two-hour version of what was originally a three-hour epic. Therefore, any readers who find themselves intrigued by this production, and can play European-format DVDs (as most computer DVD players can), are encouraged to obtain the full-length British release, The Sword of Xanten.

Celtic princess Charlotte Coyle, showing us what the legendary beauty of the Valkyrie, Brünnhilde, would actually have looked like:

Last edited by HSG : 28th March 2006 at 17:02.
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