Greatest Work of Art Ever?

Getting the lowdown

Following this evening’s cultural adventure into the city for the Vancouver Opera‘s presentation of Gilbert and Sullivan‘s Pirates of PenzanceI wanted to share a favourite Radiolab episode of mine that introduces Wagner‘s epic  Ring Cycle (the title was actually the subject of a bet on the bus ride home, I was told).

It might seem hyperbole to claim, as many Wagnerites do, that The Ring Cycle is “The Greatest Work of Art Ever.” But the grandeur and power of this monumental work have permeated our culture from Star Wars to Bugs Bunny to J.R.R. Tolkien.

WNYC’s “The Ring and I: The Passion, The Myth, The Mania” asks what many of the uninitiated must wonder: “What’s the big deal?” This journey, intended for both devoted fans and newcomers alike, visits with a diverse cast of characters who weigh in with their answers to this complex question…

Having been able to meet a few of the people, and see the inner workings of tonight’s performance – even getting a chance to stand on the Queen Elizabeth Theater stage – and just what it takes to put together a single performance of an Opera, we glimpsed the inner working of the staggering achievement of a veritable town of committed individuals working at the top of their games.

Wagner’s Ring Cycle, or at least the picture of it painted here, is a sprawling attempt to document the heights of the period’s musical themes along with the richness of Germanic mythology that pervades the English language, as well as forms the foundation and archetypes for almost all of western civilization’s history  and storytelling. In strives to attain epic in its every breath.

I’ll admit, when I came across the episode billing something I had scarcely heard of as The Greatest Work of Art EverI was skeptical. But Jad & Robert help introduce one of the most daring composers who ever worked in one of the world’s most grandiose art forms, and it’s difficult to argue with the scope of the Ring’s influence.

Think about it: Star Wars, Bugs Bunny, JRR Tolkien.

If “Everything is a Remix,” we’re all stealing from Wagner. Led Zeppelin perhaps most of all.