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Everything That Is, Ends: Apocalypticism in Wagner's Ring

Steinken, Woodrow (2021) Everything That Is, Ends: Apocalypticism in Wagner's Ring. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation traces the history of apocalypticism, broadly conceived, and its realization on the operatic stage by Richard Wagner and those who have adapted his works since the late nineteenth century. I argue that Wagner’s cycle of four operas, Der Ring des Nibelungen (1876), presents colloquial conceptions of time, space, and nature via supernatural, divine characters who often frame the world in terms of non-rational metaphysics. Primary among these minor roles is Erda, the personification of the primordial earth. Erda’s character prophesies the end of the world in Das Rheingold, a prophecy undone later in Siegfried by Erda’s primary interlocutor and chief of the gods, Wotan. I argue that Erda’s role changes in various stage productions of the Ring, and these changes bespeak a shifting attachment between humanity, the earth, and its imagined apocalyptic demise. As a given production asks new apocalyptic questions, we receive new fictive stage worlds with different limits, endings, and prophetic figures, often through different staging practices and forms of technological mediation. Apocalypticism takes many forms here, as the ends to many different kinds of worlds and epochs.
The first chapter introduces what I am calling Wagner’s “voices from elsewhere,” magical or prophetic characters across his music dramas that sing prophecies from beyond the limits of the stage. Chapter 2 applies this framework to one of these “voices,” Erda, and analyzes her two scenes in the Ring (Das Rheingold scene 4 and Siegfried Act III, scene 1). Chapter 3 turns to Erda’s role as staged, where I argue we find many different “Erdas” among the history of staged Ring productions, where her message and the meaning of apocalypse in Wagner’s fictive world changes. Chapter 4 explores the Ring’s central themes of apocalypse and utopia; I aim to show here that contemporary stagings of the Ring display an ability for the work to dramatize new apocalypses and utopias. In chapter 5, I read Erda’s message particularly in terms of the lesson it prescribes—"learning to die”—and I focus on stagings that foreground the Ring’s paradoxical senses of time.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Steinken, Woodrowwjs40@pitt.eduwjs40
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBloechl,
Committee MemberCassaro,
Committee MemberHelbig,
Committee MemberWang,
Committee MemberLevin,
Date: 3 May 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 23 March 2021
Approval Date: 3 May 2021
Submission Date: 9 March 2021
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 194
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: opera, apocalypse, anthropocene, Wagner
Date Deposited: 03 May 2021 15:19
Last Modified: 03 May 2021 15:19


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