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Naxos’ Ring Cycle App

Wagner’s Ring Cycle App for iPad
Requirements: Compatible with iPad. Requires iOS 5.0 or later.
Updated: June 01, 2013 – 146 MB – English – Naxos Digital Services

When it comes to introductions to Richard Wagner’s massive Ring Cycle, Deryck Cooke’s masterful audio guide, “Introduction to Der Ring des Nibelungen” has been the gold standard for 45 years. Cooke’s exceptional musicianship and refined, if dry, narrative skills guided many through Wagner’s Leitmotifs and transformations throughout the Ring saga. In an era when it was just becoming possible to listen to the entire Ring from your couch, Cooke’s guide helped many along the way towards a more satisfying and meaningful understanding of the tetralogy.

Obviously, a lot has changed in 45 years. Now, instead of requiring a massive stack of wax, 19 LPs deep, Wagner’s masterpiece can easily fit on one Blu-ray Audio disc in 24-bit quality, not to mention on a credit card sized iPod many times over! As such, the resources for understanding the Ring have never been more numerous or thorough. Enter in Naxos’ new “Ring Cycle App.” The application is designed for Apple Inc.’s ubiquitous iPad. The iPad, which is transforming education and personal computing, is the Cupertino, California based company’s touch-screen tablet which allows for interacting with and creating content with unprecedented ease.

Upon first opening the App, the user is presented with some generic, but lovely, artwork, with a menu bar at the bottom of the landscape screen. This menu bar allows the user to navigate the different features of the App. There are many enticing and clear options. For example, “Operas” takes the user to a submenu of the four operas. Most will find this the most useful area of the App. Other options include brief essays about the Ring, Wagner, and Arthur Rackham, whose illustrations are featured in the App. Other options include essays on performance, including an audio interview with tenor Simon O’Neill, and an image gallery. The audio menu leads to all of the audio clips the App contains. The 130 clips are taken from the Naxos recording of the Staatsoper Stuttgart Ring Cycle conducted by Lothar Zagrosek. The user will find these more practically grouped under the “Operas” menu.

Here is where the meat of the App is located. Each of the four operas has its own menus at the bottom of the screen, including links to a synopsis and a picture or two. The Leitmotifs submenu is where the user will most likely spend most of their time. Each opera’s page of Leitmotifs contains two columns, with the name of each theme on the left and a brief description, printed music excerpt, and audio samples on the right. There will often be two or three examples for each Leitmotif, the second or third of which references another opera. For example, looking at Donner’s Leitmotif under Das Rheingold will provide the excerpt from the end of Rheingold, but also an instance of the motif in the “Prelude” to Die Walküre.

After five minutes or so, it will be apparent to the user what the limitations of the App are. The themes are all categorized alphabetically per opera which, while convenient if you know which Leitmotif you’re searching for, can be a bit awkward for newcomers. The printed music excerpt is static and the audio excerpt is a clip of the Leitmotif as it appears in the opera, so the user must have a decent ability at reading the music and listening carefully. It would be nice if this were more interactive so one could follow the music notes on the printed page transformed in the different examples. The audio clips vary in length, often much longer than the printed excerpt so it can be confusing for a novice to find exactly where the Leitmotif is. It may seem like there are a lot of examples in the Leitmotifs, but the longer the user pokes around, he/she will find that since they are cross-referenced in each opera’s menu that there really are not a lot of iterations and they can get a bit redundant.

This encyclopedic layout is one of the App’s strengths but probably one if its main weaknesses. While it is convenient for looking up a quick example of a Leitmotif (a search option would have been a nice addition), it is not a good method for introducing a beginner to the operas. The App functions best as a reference tool. The essays are certainly nice primers for a beginner, but after that, one may become lost. The problem for an advanced Ring veteran will be that the Leitmotif examples are too basic and too few. One iteration of the “Nature” motive is not terribly satisfying. The beauty of Deryck Cooke’s work is how it is organized as a journey through the Ring’s motifs that started from the largest and most basic themes and worked into the tiniest details.

While Naxos it be commended for a beautiful App and a good attempt, it is somewhat lacking in content after the first survey and the interactivity is basic. At $8.99 USD it is not a bad purchase as a reference tool, but both beginners and veterans will be left wanting more.

Matthew Richard Martinez



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