Richard Wagner assumed that his Ring des Nibelungen would become merely a memory after his death, for he could not conceive of anyone else taming his tetralogy’s sprawl or tending to its complex mythology. But the composer’s wife, Cosima, was not easily discouraged. As her husband’s most ardent champion, she could not allow his grandest creation to deliquesce into legend, as the world of the gods does at the conclusion of Götterdämmerung. Thus in 1896, thirteen years after her husband’s death, and twenty years after the cycle’s premiere, Cosima Wagner began a tradition that would over time become one of music’s most enduring rituals: reviving the Ring at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, the theater Wagner constructed expressly as a showcase for his oeuvre.

Of course, productions of the Ring have proliferated outside of Bayreuth practically from the cycle’s...

 
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