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THE RHINE RIVER is the aquatic north/south interstate of western Europe, just as the Danube/Donau is the east/west interstate through Europe’s eastern portion. Keeping my geography honest, I note that indeed the Danube does flow generally from east to west. However, the Rhine’s trip is actually south to north, from its Swiss origins ultimately to the North Sea.
Though they come close in central Germany, the Rhine and Danube don’t meet. However, connecting canals of one sort or another have been around for a long time. Emperor Charlemagne ordered one up in 793. What with a few squabbles in between, today’s Rhine-Main-Danube Canal wasn’t completed until 1992.
My Baedeker’s Rhine, 1900 edition, offers lots of other tidbits, including this warning: “A slight acquaintance with German is indispensable for those who desire to explore the more remote parts of the Rhinish Provinces.… but if they are entirely ignorant of the language they must be prepared occasionally to submit to the extortions practiced by porters, cab-drivers and others of a like class, which even the data furnished by the Handbook will not always enable them to avoid.”
Or, of course, you could just speak your English more insistently louder.
The Baedeker Introduction, Section X, is titled “Climate. Grape Cure,” which suggests two benefits of a tour. Also celebrated are Rhinish Art, Steamboats, Railways and Walking Excursions. One of these last I can recommend firsthand is visiting the Rhine Falls.
My Baedeker calls the Rhine Falls (German: Rheinfall) “one of the finest cascades in Europe.” As I learned in my visit to this convoluted border of Switzerland and Germany, the Rhine Falls are the widest (450 ft.) thereabouts and certainly the noisiest.
Not to sound jingoistic, but the combined width of North America’s Niagara Falls is more than 3600 ft. And, with a drop of 167 ft., they’re a lot taller. Der Rheinfall is only 75 ft. high.
On the other hand, the Niagara River doesn’t have Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, with much of its action occurring along the Rhine.
The Kirov Ring Cycle gave Wife Dottie and me a memorable Rhine experience at Orange County Performing Arts Center in 2006. This production conducted by Valery Gergiev was midway in its world tour, having already performed in its Russian home of St. Petersburg, then Korea, Germany, Japan, and destined to visit New York City and Beijing.
Scenery for a tour can be a challenge. However, the Kirov Ring’s centerpieces were huge monoliths devised by George Tsypin, who later designed sets for Disney Theatrical’s The Little Mermaid and Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.
Erect, the monoliths enhanced the presence of Fafner and Fasolt, the giants stiffed by Wotan after they built Valhalla on spec. Reclined, one of the monoliths became the rock on which Wotan sets the sleeping spell on his daughter Brüunhilde. She is later to be awakened by Siegfried, son of sibling pair Siegmund and Sieglinde, and also their and Brünnhilde’s nephew/soon to be lover. (Wherever do we know these people from?)
Wife Dottie and I had wonderful seats for the Kirov Ring, stage-right aisle on the Orchestra seventh row. Our regular Opera Pacific seats were First Tier, so this close-up was a rare experience. It was chilling when Alberich the Nibelung dwarf emerged from behind a rock only a few feet away. He’s the one who kicks off the Ring tetralogy by forsaking love in exchange for powers of the Rhinemaidens’ gold ring.
The monoliths didn’t show up until later in Das Rheingold; they were being stored horizontally in the flies, the stage’s upper regions. These would have been unseen from our regular First Tier seats. However, from the Orchestra seventh row, they produced magic.
The opening chords of Das Rheingold launch us on a 15-hour journey. We’re in the depths of the Rhine itself and, high above us, we see the hulls of boats bobbing gently on its waters. Not until later in Das Rheingold do we see these monoliths perform other Ring Cycle magic. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2016