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It is said that more books have been written about Wagner's life, operas, and theories of drama than about any other artist and his oeuvre. One might ask why a writer would attempt yet another discourse on the Ring and Wagner's mighty labor in producing it. The answer might simply be that the very complexity and variety of existing sources provides an embarrassment of riches to the Wagnerian neophyte, while veteran Wagnerians with a couple of Ring performances under their belts, and a few more in their CD libraries, may want a single volume that contains most of the information one might otherwise have to pursue through half a dozen different references.
Holman's approach to the work is refreshingly straightforward. Neither a professional musician nor a journalist--in real life, he's a banker--he brings insights to this work that have perhaps escaped those who spend their entire lives working with music. While he gives a passing nod to Jungian interpretations of the text, and the many self-indulgent realizations that have been seen on-stage during the post-World War II period, his aim in analysis and explanation is to decipher Wagner's intention. For the neophyte, no method could be better calculated to begin understanding this epic. Both in his discussion of the historical sources that inspired Wagner and in his careful rendering of the motivations of each character appearing in the Ring, Holman is like a restorer of fine antique furniture, stripping off a century's accretion of sometimes ill-chosen varnishes.
The no-nonsense attitude toward interpretation is carried over admirably into the bibliography and discography. Not simply listing books and recordings, Holman makes cogent comments on the strengths and weaknesses of the sources he discusses. Two examples are Holman's apt observation on Robert Gutman's biography of Wagner, in which he points out that, at the end, "Gutman appears to lose his grip"; and in the discography and the excellent discussion of the various Ring recordings, including why the Solti/Decca recording is the benchmark recorded performance. The most novel component of the book is the concordance. More than an index, it painstakingly catalogs each circumstance and context under which over 160 significant characters, objects, or ideas occur in the entire text of the libretto. Most people think of a concordance as a tool for biblical study, but considering the almost religious fervor Wagner inspires in his admirers, perhaps the term is appropriate. [via]