Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Arthur Rackham: The Rhinemaidens Warn Siegfried

Back in my college days, I first encountered Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung, the fourth and final opera of the Ring cycle. At the beginning of Act III, the Rhinemaidens lament the lost Rhinegold, then urge Siegfried to return the ring to avoid its curse. The music struck me then as singular, unlike anything I'd ever heard. It still does. The Rhinemaidens' dirge takes on rapturous and even seductive tones as well as they try but, of course, fail to persuade Siegfried.

Arthur Rackham produced extraordinary illustrations for Margaret Armour's translation of the Ring story. As an illustrator, he had obvious advantages over the stage designers and directors of his day. He could choose models who looked their parts regardless of whether they could sing. He didn't have to concern himself with how to bring the Rhine onto an opera house stage, nor did he have to put costumes of any sort on the Rhinemaidens.

The simple title of this original illustration for a color plate, The Rhinemaidens Warn Siegfried, doesn't really explain the fact that the Rhinemaidens are not only warning Siegfried, but coaxing and enticing him as well. It seems to me that Rackham has captured some of the complex spirit of the music here, going far beyond the mere translated words in the title. I wonder how much he relied on the translation and how familiar he was with Wagner's music.

The 200th anniversary of Wagner's birth will be celebrated tomorrow, May 22.

Arthur Rackham, The Rhinemaidens Warn Siegfried
Richard Wagner, Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods, 1911


Rackham's illustration corresponds to the action beginning at about 6:50 in this 2008 video from Valencia.
Richard Wagner - Götterdämmerung
Der Ring des Nibelungen
Act 3, Vorspiel (Prelude), Scene 1 
"Frau Sonne sendet lichte Strahlen"
Zubin Mehta, Conductor
Lance Ryan, Siegfried
Valencia 2008

The Rhinemaidens, Valencia, 2008
June 23, 2013 Update:  Sold.

Note:  My very early post on Rackham's Rhinemaidens can be found here.


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