With our production of Tristan und Isolde just a few weeks away, the name "Richard Wagner" is on the tips of everybody's tongues – even opera neophytes know his name! His music is still used extensively in film and television and his operas inspired the outdated operatic cliche "It ain't over til the fat lady sings." Read on to discover just how much you already know about the music of Richard Wagner.
What's Opera, Doc?
Chuck Jones created this Warner Brothers classic in 1957, a charming spoof featuring Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny playing many of the roles in Wagner's Ring Cycle. The cartoon is infamous for the "Kill da wabbit, kill da wabbit!" scene at approximately 1:10. Even our COC Ensemble Studio member Neil Craighead credits it as his first exposure to Wagner and he's not alone.
The Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walküre
If you've seen one movie with Wagner's music, you've seen a dozen. The most famous use of Wagner's music in film would have to be Apocalypse Now's helicopter scene. The Ride of the Valkyries is blasted by a helicopter regiment as they attack a Vietnamese village. The interesting part about the music selection is that it's not used as simply part of the score; the characters deliberately play the music as they lead the charge as a scare tactic, a chilling but effective use of the piece.
The Prelude & Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde.
The Prelude and Liebestod are two pieces from Tristan und Isolde that are used frequently in film. In the '90s, millions of teenagers were exposed to the Liebestod when it was used in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet. The piece is found during the climax of the film when Juliet awakens to find Romeo dead and kills herself to join him, which is very similar to Isolde's fate.
More recently, Lars von Trier's apocalyptic film Melancholia used the Prelude frequently throughout the film, most notably in the 11-minute opening sequence which can be viewed below. The film plays with concepts of love, death and depression and shares those themes with Wagner's epic love story.
Whether it's Die Walküre, Tannhäuser or Götterdämmerung, Wagner's music plays very well on the silver screen and has been used in other films such as: Birth, Murder!, The Great Dictator, Excalibur, Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Corpse Bride, Father of the Bride, 8 1/2, The Blues Brothers, The New World and more.
The Lord of the Rings and The Ring Cycle
Peter Jackson's epic film series based on the books of J.R.R. Tolkien set a new standard for film trilogies. His adaptations of the popular book series are now some of the most profitable films of all time and there have been arguments made for years pointing to the obvious connection between J.R.R. Tolkien's epic and Wagner's Ring Cycle. While both are inspired by Norse mythology, there are specific elements that were clearly inspired by The Ring Cycle.
How were you first exposed to Wagner? Share your stories and experiences in the comments below.
For more information about Wagner, read our composer biography.
Photo credits: (top) A scene from the COC production of Die Walküre, 1971. Photo: Robert C. Ragsdale; (bottom) Christian Franz as Siegfried in the COC production of Siegfried, 2006. Photo: Michael Cooper
Posted by Danielle D'Ornellas / in Tristan und Isolde / comments (0) / permalink
Sara Fulgoni in the COC production of Bluebeard's Castle. Photo: Michael Cooper © 2001