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The Essential Ring: An Overview of a Masterpiece

Posted by ksampson in Announcements on March 18, 2016

Lexington Symphony Music Director Jonathan McPhee talks about the challenging artistic process of condensing Wagner’s masterful “Ring Cycle.”

Jonathan McPhee copy 2Reducing Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” — one of the greatest musical achievements in history — from more than 17 hours of music to two evenings of three hours each was a daunting task. There are multiple ways to approach such a project. One is to do only the important vocal arias as in “Excerpts from the Ring,” omitting all of the orchestral sections. Another is to concentrate only on the sections that are important to the story, as in David Seaman’s “Mini-Ring.” A third is to perform Act 1, Scene 1 of this, and Act 2, Scene 3, etc. without cuts, regardless of key relationships.

With this project, I utilized an entirely different approach. Unlike the others, my guiding principle in creating “The Essential Ring” was to include as many of the great arias as possible, keeping as much of the landmark orchestral selections as I could and making key transitions as smooth and invisible as possible. Within these parameters, the storyline has been retained in vocal terms while always being true to the dramatic flow of the work. This version of “The Ring” has been created to give the audience — the majority of whom may never have attended a full “Ring Cycle” — an overview of a masterpiece. I wanted to give them an appreciation of all the elements that make Wagner’s “Ring” such an amazing theatrical work, with the hopes that it may inspire them to someday attend a full “Ring Cycle” performance.

It is not possible to condense 17 hours of great music into two evenings of three hours each without missing something we all know and love. Wagner’s use of the leitmotif, structure, melodic invention, orchestration, theatricality, and pure drama changed the course of musical history forever. True devotees will know what has been left out but my hope is that my version will send the rest of the audience out of the hall knowing and appreciating that Wagner’s “Ring” was truly the defining composition at that point in musical history. I want them to be carried off by the beauty and power of the voices and the music, and to fully experience Wagner’s masterful theatricality. My hope is that the audience will leave wanting to experience MORE.

I am excited to bring this new performing version to audiences in Massachusetts and New Hampshire with an amazing cast of singers and the combined orchestras of Lexington Symphony and Symphony New Hampshire.

—Jonathan McPhee


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