Wagner spent more than a third of his life composing The Ring. He was so dedicated to overall production aspects that he even required the construction of a new concert hall built to his detailed specifications. It was premiered there at Bayreuth Festspielhaus over the course of four days in August 1876.
Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Gotterdammerung. The first opera is considered a prologue or introduction. The following three operas tell a story spanning three generations and involve gods, mortal humans, mythical creatures, and magic.
The entire cycle lasts approximately 15 hours and is divided into four operas:
Lorin Maazel devised a purely instrumental rendition of the major themes in his 1988 “Ring Without Words,” reducing the length to a little more than one hour and effectively allowing the listener to completely focus on Wagner’s compositional prowess due to the absence of acting, costuming, sets, and other extra-musical dramatic elements.
What’s Opera, Doc? described it as “our attempt to squish the entire Ring cycle down to six minutes.” Of special note in this version is the lyric assigned to the famous ‘Siegfried horn call’ when Bugs Bunny sings “O mighty warrior of great fighting stock / Might I inquire to ask ‘Ehh, what’s up Doc?” Also noteworthy is Elmer Fudd singing “Kill da wabbit!” to the tune of “Ride of the Valkyrie.”
You may have already experienced an even shorter version: Chuck Jones, the director of the 1957 Looney Tunes animated short film
For a great behind the scenes look into operational aspects for this colossal production, check out the 1999 documentary Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring cycle. Fair warning for those who might take offense: there is some coarse language, and definitely dated hair and clothing styles.
Wagner’s original score requires piccolo, 3 flutes, 3 oboes, English horn, 3 clarinets, bass clarinet, 3 bassoons, 8 horns, 4 Wagner tubas, 3 trumpets, bass trumpet, 3 tenor trombones, bass trombone, contrabass trombone, contrabass tuba, steerhorn, 4 timpani, snare drum, bass drum, triangle, cymbals, glockenspiel, 18 anvils, tam-tam, 6 harps, and a large string section of violins, violas, cellos, and basses.