Gil Kane’s and Roy Thomas’s graphic novel Richard Wagner’s “The ring of the Nibelung” (New York: DC Comics, 1997) transforms Wagner’s dramma in musica into dramma in pittura.
Kane’s artwork visually follows Wagner’s musical fabric while retaining the means of expression characteristic of the comic-book format. His images do not autonomously narrate the tale; rather, they double the musical narrative form established by Wagner.
For example, the drama of Die Walküre begins not with the curtain opening on the first scene, but with its instrumental Vorspeil, which depicts the storm through which Siegmund is running. In his graphic version of the opera, Kane begins with four pages of pictures without text, depicting visually the action painted by Wagner’s orchestral score.
This according to “Od glazbene do slikovne drame: Roy Thomasov i Gil Kaneov strip Wagnerova Prstena Nibelunga by Zdravko Blažeković (Hrvatsko slovo: Tjednik za kulturu I/18 [25 August 1995] pp. 22–23).
Today is Wagner’s 200th birthday! Above, the immolation scene and finale from Götterdämmerung (click to enlarge); below, Anne Evans’s legendary performance at Bayreuth in 1992.
Related article: Operas as graphic novels
With their dramatic action and vivid characters, operas have inspired a number of graphic novels, including books by P. Craig Russell and a series (now out of print) produced in collaboration with England’s Royal Opera House. The most noteworthy examples of this genre are not just illustrations of libretti; they are autonomous works of art in the graphic novel tradition.
Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is particularly suited to the treatment it receives in The ring of the Niebelung by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane; set in a mythological time, with illustrious characters who can alter their physical forms, defy gravity, and survive without oxygen, it fits naturally into the medium’s world of fantasy and superheroes.
In some cases this drammata in pittura brings a powerful new dimension to Wagner’s drammata in musica—for example, the action that the audience must imagine during the Vorspiel of Die Walküre is fully depicted over the course of four textless pages. The cycle was first published in four installments by DC Comics.
Above, the opening of Act II of Die Walküre (click to enlarge); below, part of the 2011 production by the Metropolitan Opera.
Related article: The Ring recast