Tonight, we reach the last portion of Richard Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen. Götterdämmerung, like last week’s Siegfried, was premiered on August 17, 1876, at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus as part of the first complete performance of the cycle. The title is the German translation of the Old Norse phrase Ragnarök, which in Norse mythology referred to a prophesied war of the gods that would bring about the end of the world. Of course, Wagner took liberties with the myth, as he did with much of the plot for the cycle. This opera features the only time in the entire cycle that Wagner would use a chorus. Wagner was also especially aggressive in his use of tonality – starting with act 3 of Siegfried, he transitioned from traditionally defined keys to something close to “key regions”, with a heightened use of dissonance and chromaticism. His use of such techniques (which we also find in Tristan und Isolde) is considered a direct predecessor to the methods developed by Arnold Schoenberg, only Wagner’s work here preceded Schoenberg’s by a full 25 years.
Tonight’s recording, as with the recordings that we have heard over the last three weeks, is from a legendary 1966 live recording at the Bayreuth Festival. The cast is comprised of top-notch Wagnerians, led by Wolfgang Windgassen, Birgit Nilsson, Josef Greindl, Thomas Stewart, Ludmilla Dvoráková, Gustav Neidlinger, and Anja Silja. Karl Böhm directed the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus.
Our next piece of music is a song cycle by Modest Mussorgsky. He wrote The Nursery (Russian: Детская, Detskaya, literally Children’s [Room]) between 1868 and 1872, using his own lyrics. This was written right around the same time that he wrote his operatic masterpiece, Boris Godunov. It is not sung very often in the West, due to the difficulties that come with singing in Russian, but it is widely considered to be one of the more important song cycles of the late 19th century. We shall hear the Bulgarian mezzo-soprano Alexandrina Milcheva singing, with Svetla Protich accompanying on the pianoforte.
For our final piece of the evening, we will hear a set of 5 songs by Georges Bizet, all written between 1866 and 1872. The set includes two settings of poems by Victor Hugo, Adieux de l’hôtesse arabe and La coccinelle, a poem by Alphonse de Lamartine, Chant d’amour, a poem by Édouard Pailleron, Tarantelle, and a poem by Louis Delâtre, Ouvre ton cœur. Cecilia Bartoli sings to the piano accompaniment of Myung-Whun Chung.