Forget hackneyed cartoons about horned helmets. Buffalo is about to see Richard Wagner's "Ring" in a new light.
Literally. On May 6 and 7, orchestral excerpts from the four operas that make up the cycle "The Ring of the Nibelungs" will pour out to the accompaniment of light-mapping, a spectacular kind of light show that beams over the entire hall. The lights are the creation of Projex, a Buffalo team known for experimental visuals.
The light mapping will engulf the hall between musical excerpts. As the audience absorbs the images, the story will be told by a narrator, Dough Zschieger. The narration was written by JoAnn Falletta, the BPO's music director.
"Essentially the narrator will tell the story from beginning to end," she said. "Many people are frightened by the 'Ring.' It's a fairy tale. It's one of the greatest fairy tales every told, about ancient German gods. I feel it's like 'Lord of the Rings,' 'Game of Thrones,' even Harry Potter. There's this feeling of a magical realm where things aren't perfect, there are people squabbling and fighting, things happen. It's the ultimate tale of magic and wizardry, with people who are filled with flaws and likable at the same time."
The parallels between J.R.R. Tolkien's and Wagner's "Ring" sagas are especially striking. Tolkien, deeply religious, saw his own "Ring" saga as a Roman Catholic epic and joked: "Both rings are round, and there the resemblance ceases." But as a classical scholar specializing in Germanic legend, he knew the same stories Wagner did, and he adopted Wagner's idea of a ring that was all-empowering.
The characters will come to life in a new way. Wagner, who was always reaching and had to design a special kind of opera house for his dramas, would love the innovation of the Kleinhans production.
"It's a wild departure for us," Falletta said. "Maybe we're going a little bit crazy, but the images, the light mapping, they've created figures that look like something out of video games or even wildly futuristic cartoons. Wotan won't look like the old king we've imagined. The images are very fresh and 21st century."
The narrator speaks between the excerpts, but the lights play through the entire drama.
"For the first time ever, while the orchestra is playing, while the story is being told, we have light mapping in the hall," Falletta said. "Wonderful characterizations of gods will be projected not on a screen but on the entire stage area.
"Keith Harrington and Jeremy Maxwell (of Projex) are putting these images together, doing what's essentially a light show. Designs are created that are visual presentations of what the narrator is saying. The dwarves, the appearance of Wotan, people will see them in size and color, and everything else will be black. Then when the orchestra plays, the stage will be lit again. The orchestra doesn't play in darkness. They come into the light, they present this extraordinary music. I want them to be seen playing 'The Entrance of the Gods Into Valhalla.' "
Falletta pointed out a practical reason for the stunning visuals.
"I didn't want the screen down," she said. "The screen affects the sound. It takes away 10 percent of the sound of the orchestra."
And that just wouldn't do, when the music is Wagner.
"He creates some of the most tremendous moments, as when the world goes up in flames," Falletta said.
Plus Wagner's "Ring," with its vivid music, looms so large that anyone would be affected by it.
"The Ride of the Valkyries" is up there with Beethoven's Fifth as one of the most recognizable themes in all of music. Other excerpts are just as mesmerizing. Wagner portrays the rising of the sun, the creation of thunder, and the coming of spring. The subtly shifting, twinkling tones of the "Magic Fire Music" form a picture of flames leaping and dancing.
Many of the operas' orchestral excerpts pack tremendous power. The stark emotion of "Siegfried's Funeral Music," the climactic "Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla" -- in Kleinhans Music Hall, they should be overwhelming.
Running throughout the music of all four "Ring" operas is all manner of human emotion.
"We have this idea that the 'Ring' is very serious and complex," Falletta said. "It is complex. But it's about people's relationships and the mistakes they make."
She sees the concert as a great introduction to Wagner for people new to him. The music will move them, she believes, and so will the human elements.
"He doesn't present the gods as cardboard cutouts," she pointed out. "They are deeply human, flawed, and full of pain. He makes their lives beautiful. It's very compelling. I'm hoping this will be a discovery for people.
"For me, it's a thrill. I get to do this music with the orchestra. Having this framework, telling the story, I'm hoping it will intrigue people enough to listen to these glorious pieces, that they'll have a new appreciation of the world of Wagner."
What: "Wagner's World of the Ring," Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra multimedia production
When: 8 p.m. May 6, 2:30 p.m. May 7
Where: Kleinhans Music Hall