The Ring of the Nibelungen — P. Craig Russell; Rudolf Sabor

I’ve heard of comic operas, but here is a comic based on an opera. My children have some books illustrated by P. Craig Russell, so I was excited to find that he has produced a comic book adaptation of Richard Wagner’s Ring operas. It’s pretty impressive: the opera cycle runs to about 15 hours long, and this comic book adaptation (or graphic novel, if you like) is over 400 full-colour pages.

The illustrations suit the epic nature of the work, as you would imagine. The text is handled cleverly too, using a lot of the original text (although apparently not the best translation: see below) and also using repetition to echo the choruses in the opera. These are very neat translations of operatic effects to a completely different medium, in a way that couldn’t be done in, say, a novelisation. The overall effect gives the comic a slightly dreamlike quality that I think works really well.

The production notes at the end talk about the leitmotivs that pervade the opera. The book includes some very nice recurring visual motifs, but it’s hard to replicate the effect of the dozens of musical motifs in the opera. Their lack doesn’t affect the book in itself, but it is a major part of the opera and it would have enriched the book if it had been included more fully. Perhaps they could have used colours instead of musical themes. I’m sure it would have been difficult to do well so I don’t blame them for scaling them back.

My library search also turned up Der Ring des Nibelungen, A Companion, by Rudolf Sabor. This is a companion volume to Sabor’s English translation of The Ring. It’s always really interesting reading translators’ notes, especially since I don’t understand the source language. He points out a lot of tricky issues, and of course shows how he solves them better than other translators. I think translator’s notes are the next best thing to actually learning the source language when reading foreign language material.

The book also has lots of other interesting bits: a biography of Richard Wagner, a history of The Ring, character summaries, and more. Best of all is a section describing all of the dozens of leitmotivs from the four operas. If only there were a website with sound clips — that would be fantastic.

I am hoping that The Ring will be staged in NZ one day. These books (and hours of listening on Spotify) have just whetted my appetite.

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