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At around five hours in duration, Richard Wagner’s opera Die Walküre is an epic work in its own right – but it’s only one of four instalments of the composer’s mighty Ring Cycle.
While the entire opera is packed full of thrilling music, one particular five-minute orchestral firework is the reason for its truly widespread popularity. 'The Ride of the Valkyries', which acts as the curtain-raiser to Act III, has been included in countless television programmes, commercials and movies – most notably Apocalypse Now, in which the music is put to gripping effect during the opening of helicopter fire on a village in Vietnam.
Die Walküre has far more to offer than just 'The Ride of the Valkyries', though. Telling the story of the curse-inflicting Wotan, king of the gods, the opera is a stunningly powerful setting of the Norse mythology with which Wagner was fascinated. If you can’t spare the full five hours to listen to the opera in its entirety, you might want to try a few of the most famous musical sections: in particular, the thrilling 'Wotan’s Farewell' and the aptly named 'Magic Fire Music', which displays the composer’s absolutely assured grasp of orchestration and musical colour better than many of his non-operatic works.
Die Walküre was premiered in Munich in March 1870, and remains one of the most popular operas in the world today.
Illustration: Mark Millington