Richard Wagner Ring Cycle, Leipzig
Richard Wagner Ring Cycle Tour to Leipzig, Germany
Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle or Der Ring des Nibelungen ("The Ring of the Nibelung"), is a cycle of four German-language epic music dramas based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the epic poem Nibelungenlied. Odyssey Traveller's Wagner Ring Cycle Tour gives you the opportunity to see the extraordinary grand operas performed in Richard Wagner's city of birth, Leipzig. This 12 day tour includes four concerts at the Oper Leipzig (Leipzig Opera), where the Oper Leipzig opera company, together with the Gewandhouse Orchestra, will perform this famous Wagnerian masterpiece.
Of course, there was more to Wagner than the romantic, thrilling notes of his operas. The man himself lived a passionate life, which was characterised by turbulent love affairs, financial scandal and a period of political exile. In this unique tour, we will not just experience this incredible operatic story, but we will also learn more about Wagner's life and the influences of culture and family on his music, and about other musical greats who worked in the city.
Richard Wagner and the Ring Cycle:
German composer Wilhelm Richard Wagner (1813-1833) is sometimes described as having marked the start of modern music. Technically and artistically innovative, Wagner's work is classical music at its most emotionally intense and deeply introspective, reflecting both the broader political struggles of the Romantic era and the turbulent personal life of the composer.
In the 19th century, most operas were designed by a separate composer, who wrote the music, and librettist, who wrote the accompanying lyrics. Wagner was unique in writing both libretto and music, fusing the two into a singular artistic vision of poetry, music, visuals and drama, which he called Gesamtkuntswerk, or "total work of art". He is also known for the use of leitmotifs (from the German, Leitmotive, literally “leading motives”) or distinct musical phrases that were associated with particular characters, places, or elements of plot.
Wagner's work was inspired by the political ferment that surrounded him. Prior to German unification in 1871, Europe's German-speaking regions were divided into hundreds of kingdoms, duchies, bishoprics, and independent cities and towns. Through the 19th century, poets and thinkers - including Wagner - were inspired by the Romantic idea of a unified Germany. Summing up his passionate commitment to the idea of a united Germany, Wagner would write of his return to Dresden after a period in Paris: 'For the first time I saw the Rhine - with hot tears in my eyes I, poor artist, swore fidelity to my German fatherland.'
Wagner's political and artistic ideas were synthesised in his Ring Cycle masterpiece, the collective name for his cycle of four operas. Wagner began to compose the cycle in exile in Zurich, Switzerland, where had been forced to flee due to his involvement in the May Uprising in Dresden in 1849. Wagner's work on the ring cycle reaffirmed his deep commitment to German nationalism: the operas are based loosely on figures from German mythology, and Wagner wrote the libretto based on his interpretation of Stabreim, alliterative verse pairs used in ancient German poetry. Yet, Wagner had abandoned the idealism of his youth, and was increasingly influenced by the deeply pessimistic philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, who held music to be a direct expression of the world's essence.
Wagner's time in exile was also marked by personal drama. Still married to Minna, he fell in love with Mathilde Wesendonck, whose husband was a major patron of Wagner's work. Wagner's relationship with Mathilde is believed to have inspired the other great opera he wrote in exile, Tristan and Isolde. While it is unknown whether his love was requited or ever consummated, it threw his life into disarray, as Minna found a love letter intended for Mathlide, destroying their marriage.
Wagner's Ring Cycle; The Operas
The Ring Cycle is widely regarded as the pinnacle of Wagner's work and one of the most ambitious works in the classical music tradition. The cycle is of extraordinary scale: over 15 hours long, it is typically performed over four nights. While the cycle might seem like hard work, listeners are rewarded with an epic story of gods and men, dwarfs and magic rings, and music of sublime beauty that has inspired people for over a century.
The Ring Cycle consists of four operas:
Das Rheingold (“The Rhine Gold”)
The Rhinemaidens’ gold is stolen by the Nibelung Alberich. (The Nibelung is a race of dwarves.) Alberich fashions a ring from the gold. The gods Wotan (Odin) and Loge (Loki) trick Alberich to seize the ring, which they will use as payment for the giants building Valhalla.
Die Walküre (“The Valkyrie”)
Wotan fathers twin children, Siegmund and Sieglinde, who are separated at birth but find themselves attracted to each other when they meet as adults.
Set years after the end of Die Walküre, and focused on the titular Siegfried, the son of Sieglinde and Siegmund, who is raised by the Nibelung, Mime.
Götterdämmerung (“The Twilight of the Gods”)
The last of the Ring cycle concerns the impending destruction of Valhalla, and centres on Seigfried and Brünnhilde. The title of the opera is a German translation of Ragnarok, a prophesied event in Norse mythology that is said to lead to the death of the gods.
The Ring Cycle would not be performed for more than twenty years after Wagner first developed the idea. The composer had been rescued from exile when Ludwig II ('The Fairytale King') came to the throne of Bavaria in 1864. A passionate fan of Wagner's work, Ludwig invited Wagner to premiere Tristan and Isolde in Munich. Yet, in typical style, Wagner's luck would soon change when he fell in love with his conductor's wife, Cosima von Bulow. Wagner's relationship with Cosima - the illegitimate daughter of composer Franz Liszt, who was twenty-four years younger than Wagner - scandalised Bavaria. Wagner and Cosima sought exile in Switzerland, and then, after marrying in 1870, moved to Bayreuth.
Once in Bayreuth, Wagner set about staging his masterpiece. Believing in the 'total work of art', Wagner built his own opera house, the Festspielhaus (or 'festival theatre'), to be the perfect complement to his masterpiece. The Ring Cycle was debuted in August 1876, at the first Bayreuth Festival, which brought admirers from around Germany and Europe.
Though the festival is now recalled as a pivotal moment, it left Wagner dissatisfied and deeply in debt. He moved to Italy for his health, returning only in the last few months of his life in 1882 to stage another festival.
Wagner has been a controversial figure, both within his lifetime and afterwards. The deep introspection of his work inspired modernist writers and artists, including Charles Baudelaire, Marcel Proust, and James Joyce, and his work on dreams is said to prefigure Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis. At the same time, Wagner has attracted criticism for his antisemitic views, compounded by the fact that Adolf Hitler was a huge fan of his work.
Even today, Wagner inspires a passionate following like no other composer. For Wagnerians, the Bayreuth Festival - which lives on under the direction of his great-granddaughters - is a place of pilgrimage, an opportunity to see his great works as he himself designed them.
The 2020 'Wagner in Leipzig' festival is the first opportunity in forty years to see Wagner's great works performed in the city of his birth.
Our Tour Itinerary:
In addition to the concerts in Leipzig, our tour takes in several places closely associated with Wagner:
Following the untimely death of his father when Wagner was just 6 months old, he would move with his family to Dresden, to the residence of stepfather Ludwig Geyer. It was here that Wagner’s love of theatre and music took flight.
Bayreuth is the location of Festspielhaus (Festival Theatre), constructed especially for the performance of Wagner’s operas – the inaugural Bayreuth Festival devoted to the premier of his Ring Cycle.
As we explore Munich, we will hear stories of Wagner’s friendship with King Ludwig II. Without Ludwig’s consistent financial support, it is unknown whether many of Wagner’s works would ever have been produced. It was here in Munich at the National Theatre that Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde was finally performed, after years of the composer’s toil, and frustrating dismissals. This opera gained a reputation as being “impossible to sing”, but finally overcame this here, thanks to the King’s unending devotion.
As you tour Germany, you will have the chance to stroll through remarkable locations and see them through the eyes of Wagner and other talented composers. We will also visit the Walhalla Memorial, a hall of fame that includes important artists, composers, and other German cultural icons. This travel experience offers beautiful cities, a symphony orchestra, and breathtaking scenery.
2020 Wagner Ring Cycle schedule
- 20 May: Das Rheingold
- 21 May: Die Walküre
- 23 May: Siegfried
- 24 May: The Twilight of the Gods
The schedule for 2021 and 2022 has not yet been released. Tour dates will be adjusted accordingly.
Due to the special nature of this tour, we have limited the group size to 10 participants.
For more details, click the ‘Top 5’ or ‘Itinerary’ buttons above! If you’re keen to experience this tour, please call or send an email. Or, to book, simply fill in the form on the right hand side of this page.
Articles about Germany
These articles are published by Odyssey Traveller or are carefully selected external sources to maximise the knowledge and enjoyment of this tour for senior travellers:
- Questions about Germany
- A History of Berlin for Tourists
- The Oberammergau Passion Play
- The Bauhaus Movement
- Destination: Germany
- Ten books to read about Berlin
- Ten of the best art galleries in Europe
- Must See Sights in Berlin
- 13 Things to know before visiting Germany
- The Telegraph: Thirty reasons why we love Germany
- A Rhine Romance: Following the Mighty River
- Lonely Planet: 48 Hours in Hamburg
- Composer of the Month: Richard Wagner
- Gods And Monsters: 5 Unforgettable Wagner Moments
- The Brilliant, Troubled Legacy of Richard Wagner
- Wagner in Leipzig
- The itinerary for 2021 is subject to amendments.
- Tour dates will be confirmed once 2021 performance schedule is released by Leipzig Opera.
Overview: Upon arrival in Dresden make your own way to the hotel. In the late afternoon, we have a welcome meeting followed by dinner.
For those who arrive early, there will be time to visit some of the city’s fine art galleries as well as to learn about its more recent past.
Accommodation: 2 nights in Maritim Dresden Hotel or similar.
Overview: The tour starts with a half day tour around the city of Dresden. The focus of the guided tour is of Wagner related sites in Dresden. In the afternoon, we’ll visit the Green Vault (Grünes Gewölbe), a unique historic museum containing the one of the largest collection of treasures in Europe.
Accommodation: Maritim Dresden Hotel or similar.
Overview: This morning we transfer to the station and board a train to Leipzig. On arrival we’ll be met and transferred to our hotel with some free time to rest before tonight’s performance.
Tonight we enjoy a 5pm performance of “Das Rheingold,” followed by dinner at a local restaurant.
Accommodation: 5 nights at Victor’s Residenz or similar
Overview: This morning, we take a guided city tour of Leipzig that follows in the steps of Wagner. After the tour, you will have the afternoon to spend as you wish. We will reconvene for a 5pm performance of the second part of the ring cycle, “Die Walküre.”
Accommodation: Victor’s Residenz or similar
Overview: Today we visit Halle, famous as the birthplace of Baroque composer Georg Friedrich Händel. We take a guided walking tour of the city, including visits to Marienkirche and Händel museum.
Accommodation: Victor’s Residenz or similar
Overview: This morning, we visit the Museum of Musical Instruments, part of the University of Leipzig. It first opened in 1929 and today is considered one of the largest music instrument museums in Europe with a collection of approximately 10,000 objects. The collection includes valuable instruments and beyond, as well as music-related items from the Renaissance, Baroque and Bach’s Leipzig periods.
The afternoon is free to enjoy the city at your own pace. Later we enjoy another opera performance, this time of Siegfried, the third of the four music dramas that constitute Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). This opera premiered at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 16 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of The Ring cycle.
Accommodation: Victor’s Residenz or similar
Overview: Leipzig is not only the birthplace of Wagner but also the place where Bach lived later in his career and where he died. Today we’ll visit the Bach Museum, located near St.Thomas Church where Bach worked.
This evening we attend the final installment of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, ‘The Twilight of the Gods’.
Accommodation: Victor’s Residenz or similar
Overview: This morning we travel from Leipzig to Bayreuth where we tour the Margravial Opera House, a Baroque opera house built between 1744 and 1748. It is one of Europe’s few surviving theatres of the period and has been extensively restored and re-opened in mid-2018.
In the evening we’ll enjoy a group dinner at a local restaurant.
Accommodation: 2 nights Bayerischer Hof or similar
Overview: We begin the day with a guided tour of the town, where we will see the main sights that relate to the life of Wagner. In the afternoon we’ll visit the stunning Festspielhaus opera house for a guided tour. The opera house was built by Richard Wagner and dedicated solely to the performance of his stage works.
Accommodation: Bayerischer Hof or similar
Overview: Today we depart Bayreuth and travel to Munich. On our way we’ll stop at the Walhalla memorial, a hall of fame that includes important artists, composers, and other German cultural icons.
After arriving in Munich, we have visit Munich’s Pinakothek der Moderne, one of the world’s largest museums of modern and contemporary art. Nearby are other great art museums that you may wish to visit on your own time tomorrow afternoon.
Accommodation: 2 nights Hotel Excelsior or similar
Overview: Today we a guided tour of city’s highlights and tell stories of Wagner, including how he met King Ludwig II. The afternoon is free to explore the city on your own.
In the evening, the group will enjoy a farewell dinner at a local restaurant.
Accommodation: Hotel Excelsior or similar
Overview: The tour concludes after breakfast.
What’s included in our Tour
- 11 nights accommodation.
- 11 breakfasts and 4 dinners.
- Tickets to 4 Wagner operas.
- All excursions, sightseeing, and entrance fees as per the tour.
- Tips and gratuities.
- Detailed preparatory material.
What’s not included in our Tour
- Return international airfare and departure taxes.
- Comprehensive travel insurance.
- Items of personal nature such as laundry and phone calls.