In Thursday’s (4/4) Wall Street Journal, Barbara Jepson writes, “When Richard Wagner began composing ‘The Ring of the Nibelung,’ his visionary opera cycle, he became dissatisfied with a particular musical theme. The solution, he decided, was not to rewrite the passage but to foster the creation of a new instrument to perform it—the Wagner tuba. Because of its range and mouthpiece, this tuba-shaped hybrid is actually played by members of the French horn section, but never mind. Developed at Wagner’s request at a time when the technical capabilities of modern brass instruments were being expanded, it enabled him to fill a gap in tone color between the mellow lyricism of the horns and the penetrating brilliance of the trombones. … These instruments play an important role in the ‘Ring,’ an epic tale of greed, revenge, love and redemption that will be presented around the globe this year during the bicentenary of Wagner’s birth. In the U.S., the first complete, four-opera cycle will begin on April 6 at the Metropolitan Opera with a reprise of the Robert Lepage production. … The Wagner tubas are most closely identified with the regal music for Valhalla, dwelling place of the gods. … Playing them is by all accounts a daunting task, though not because their musical parts are virtuosic. Rather, it’s because, until recently, instrument makers haven’t invested much time perfecting the design of this orchestral interloper.”

Posted April 8, 2013