Der Ring des Nibelungen 

Victo Ngai

I had the great pleasure to work with the Washington Post on a cover illustration for Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle. It came out this past Sunday. This latest Ring, directed by Francesca Zambello, was originally developed over a decade ago but was halted due to the economic crisis. Now it is revived and playing at the Kennedy Center from April 30th to May 22,3016. Visit the official site to find out more. 

To be honest, opera hadn’t been my thing, probably due to my lack of knowledge of it. However, the more I researched about the Ring Cycle, the more fascinated I became. Once I was through listening to the opera commentary, I was a huge fan. It would be an understatement to describe the Ring Cycle as incredible. Not only does the imaginative and layered story inspired Toikien’ s Lord of the Rings (one of my favorites things ever), the innovative use of leitmotifs and expressive orchestration are simply genius.

I very much want to use my own tools, however inadequate when compared to Wagner, to visually translate the opera into an illustration. A strong circular composition seems fitting as the circle motif dominates the Ring cycle, whether it’s the magical ring or the structure of the opera: with events happening in the latter parts mirroring those in the earlier parts to bring home the message of action and consequence. 

The saga starts with the Rhine maidens teasing and ridiculing the dwarf Alberich, therefore they form the outer most ring. The middle ring is Wotan’s punishing fire to his daughter Brunnhilde, as well as Siegfried’s funeral pyre. The last ring is the ring on Brunnhilde’s finger, a symbol of the love between her and Siegfried. This love, through a series of unfortunate events, leads to the downfall of the Gods as well as the death of Siefried. 

The ides of choice is also being discussed throughout the opera. For example, Rhinegold is an impartial object which can easily be of beauty and virtual as well as power and destruction. It all depends on the possessor’s decision. I keep thinking how ironic it is, that Alberich’s decision to denounce love brings forth the magic ring and his doom , while Brunhilde’s refusal to denounce love paves her way to an early grave.  

Big thanks to AD Michael Johnson for this cool gig!

Arthur Rackham, “The Rhine’s fair children, / Bewailing their lost gold, weep,” illustration for Richard Wagner, The Rhinegold & the Valkyrie, trans. Margaret Armour (London: William Heinemann, 1910), p. 72. Via Internet Archive.