Wagner's Das Rheingold

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The Met's season-opening production of Das Rheingold returns. Bryn Terfel is Wotan, ruler of the gods, Wendy Bryn Harmer is Freia, the goddess of beauty and youth, Stephanie Blythe sing Freia's sister Fricka, Wotan's wife, and Eric Owens is Alberich, the king of the Nibelungs.

When Owens made his Met role debut as Alberich in September, New Yorker critic Alex Ross characterized his performance as the "chief glory" of the new production. "Owens portrayal is so richly layered that it may become part of the history of the work," Ross wrote.

The opera is one of the four-part cycle known as Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung) or simply the Ring, that Wagner wrote between 1848 and 1874. The order of their intended performance is Das Rheingold (The Rhine Gold), Die Walküre (The Valkyrie), Siegfried, and Götterdämmerung (The Twilight of the Gods). The complete cycle tells an epic story of war, peace, greed and self-discovery played out across a cast of gods, heroes and mythical creatures in their respective struggles to dominate the world.

Wagner wrote the cycle in reverse order, writing first a single drama he called Siegfrieds Tod, which later became Götterdämmerung. His original story, he found, yielded such rich material that he needed to create additional, preceding pieces to explain the action. Das Rheingold, considered the prelude to the cycle, was the last work of the Ring that Wagner finished.

The complete Ring is rife with leitmotifs -- particular musical phrases that are the calling cards of the characters and a mark of Wagner's artistic achievement in creating the broader landscape of the cycle.

Owens has become a fixture across the classical music scene in recent years, performing both older and more modern works, from Mozart's Requiem to contemporary pieces by John Adams. Of the diversity of music he now performs, Owens recently told NPR: "I'm not necessarily known for one particular thing. But at the end of the day, I need to do what makes me happy."