How Did Wagner Want His ‘Ring’ Cycle to Sound?

What began as a flippantly offered pipe dream, on second thought sounded too good to resist.

Kent Nagano was leading the period-instrument ensemble Concerto Köln in concert performances of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” in 2016 when one musician suggested he come back for more, and with new repertoire. Because Nagano was conducting the “Ring” at the time, he lightheartedly said, “How about Wagner?”

They laughed at the idea of taking on Wagner’s four-opera, 15-hour epic, Nagano recalled in a recent interview. Not just playing it, but devoting years of research and practice to a historically informed performance of it. Then they realized that this was rich terrain; installments of the “Ring” had been given this treatment before, but they didn’t know of any complete cycle. Now, after years of study and partnerships across universities, orchestras and cities in Germany, Nagano and his collaborators are in the middle of presenting their findings.

Nagano’s work on this “Ring” has included creating Wagner-Lesarten, or Wagner Readings, a research organization devoted to the project.Credit…Simon van Boxtel Photography

And just in time: In 2026, it will be 150 years since Wagner premiered the full “Ring” at his festival in Bayreuth, Germany. Each year until then, Nagano and the Concerto Köln — with the addition of Dresdner Festspielorchester for “Die Walküre” — are touring installments of their historically informed “Ring” operas: last year, “Das Rheingold,” and now “Die Walküre.”

Heard in the acoustically generous Concertgebouw in Amsterdam on March 16 as part of the NTR ZaterdagMatinee series, “Die Walküre” took on such clarity that no supertitles were necessary to understand the singers. And, yes, the score sounded different from a typical modern performance.

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