In historic first, a Lord of the Rings opera has been approved by the Tolkien Estate

10 April 2024, 15:58 | Updated: 10 April 2024, 16:02

Permission granted for a new Lord of the Rings opera
Permission granted for a new Lord of the Rings opera. Picture: Getty

By Ally Dunavant

Move over, Wagner – there’s a new Ring Cycle in town. Here’s all you need to know about plans for a new J.R.R. Tolkien stage epic.

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One opera to rule them all? A new stage setting of an epic series has just been approved, and it should delight all fans of The Lord of the Rings.

For the first time, the Tolkien Estate has approved an operatic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s words.

The Estate’s response to previous attempts was: “You shall not pass.” But now, as reported on, permission for the works has been granted to one lucky composer.

Still from 2002 film, ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’
Still from 2002 film, ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’. Picture: Alamy

British composer Paul Corfield Godfrey will become the first to set Tolkien’s world-famous words to music. But of course, one does not simply hand over the rights to some of the most iconic words in the history of literature...

There’s very good reason for the Tolkien Estate choosing this moment and this composer for the historic task. For nearly 60 years, Godfrey has been working on sketches and fragments of a cycle of musical works based on The Lord of the Rings.

Last year marked a historic achievement for this musical Tolkienite, with the completion of his cycle of epic scenes from The Silmarillion, another collection of works by J.R.R. Tolkien, in the same universe, ‘Eä’. This large-scale project culminated in the issue of a ten-CD series of recordings with Volante Opera, a performing and recording company based in South Wales.

Following the success of his epic scenes of The Silmarillion in 2023, Godfrey was inspired to return to his initial dream of composing music for The Lord of the Rings. This year, the dream finally became a reality, with this call from the Tolkien Estate.

Excerpts and ideas of the opera have already been recorded, in the hope that the greater project might see the light of day. Listen to Godfrey’s ‘Lament for Boromir’ below.

Read more: Footage emerges of boy soprano recording breathtaking vocals for ‘Lord of the Rings’ score

"Lament for Boromir" - From Paul Corfield Godfrey's adaptation of "The Lord of the Rings"

Set to be a fully operatic setting, Godfrey’s adaptation takes place over 30 ‘chapters’. The work is designed to be performed over six evenings. With over 15 hours of music on offer, it’s not dissimilar in scale to Wagner’s four-part operatic epic The Ring Cycle.

The new work inhabits the same musical world as his Silmarillion adaptation, with many ideas and themes expanded into The Lord of the Rings. Although the text is abridged, it remains true to the author’s original words, and the original plot development remains unchanged – including elements like Tom Bombadil, the Barrow-wight and the ‘scouring of the Shire’. Some other passages, such as the coronation and wedding of Aragorn, are given expanded musical treatment.

Watch now: Orchestra’s symphonic ‘Lord of the Rings’ turns Royal Albert Hall into epic Middle Earth

J.R.R. Tolkien, whose literary world will inspire the new opera
J.R.R. Tolkien, whose literary world will inspire the new opera. Picture: Getty

This larger-than-life work is currently in the process of recording by Volante Opera, and Prima Facie Records is projected to release a demo recording of the complete cycle, in the same manner as their Silmarillion recordings, in 2025.

Some 30 in number, the cast of professional singers come mainly from Welsh National Opera.

The Lord of the Rings opera will be coming to the world stage exactly 70 years after the book’s publication.