Roger Scruton’s The Ring of Truth is now the best introductory and in-depth exploration of the great genius of Richard Wagner’s grandest (and most famous) opera. Scruton’s book provides context to Wagner’s work, summarizes the story of the opera for those unfamiliar with it, then proceeds into a third section of critical engagement with the work itself. Thus, the book breaks down into an introduction to the culture and times of Wagner, the story of the opera, and criticism.
The criticism (i.e., appraisal) is the best part of the book. Scruton doesn’t whitewash the “problems” of Wagner but doesn’t concentrate on them either. For concentration on the personal shortcomings of Wagner distract us from the magnificence of the work he composed. Scruton highlights how love is the central theme of the Ring cycle and how it moves to culminating conclusion in Gotterdammerung with the reality of love as sacrifice. In doing so, Scruton not only summarizes the story, explores important moments, and comments on the music, he helps us unlock the mysteries, imagery, and music that constitute the heart of the Ring cycle and why it is so beloved.
Throughout the work we also witness the extent that Wagner synthesized politics, mythology, philosophy, and theology into his opera—notwithstanding this musical compositions to help tell the story and convey the meaning and emotion to the audience. Here, Scruton shines (as a trained philosopher this shouldn’t be surprising that Scruton is able to help bring together the minefield of 18th and 19th century German philosophy that accompanies Wagner’s work). This helps the reader or Wagner aficionado gain a deeper appreciation of the work than “just the music.” (After all, Wagner composed the work for more than mere musical aesthetics.) For anyone looking for an introduction and good in-depth examination of Wagner’s “The Ring” cycle, this is now the definitive work which is also readable unlike heavy academic treatises.
This review is from my Amazon review of my former professor’s monumental work on Wagner’s greatest masterpiece.
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