The Magic of Opera

Naturally, the impulse for a puzzle about an opera would be expected to be a performance or a recording, though I’m hard pressed to recall a specific example of Rheingold.  One day we will get round to that boxed set from the Met…

As it happened, the puzzle appeared around the time Covent Garden broadcast Die Walkure in its new cycle, and very close to the release of Gotterdammerung in the new cycle on Naxos.  (The Royal Opera House doesn’t get there till nearly Christmas.)

Alberich is one of the key characters in the Ring – some would say the prime mover.  He’s there at the start, and is still popping up, more or less unaffected by anything in the previous few hours, in Gotterdammerung.  His use of the Tarnhelm to disappear shows his sneaky side, and his use of it to turn himself into a toad, allowing himself to be captured, shows his dim side.

My interest, of course, is that his name has the same number of letters as Tarnhelm, allowing the conjunction of the two to have a thematic impact.  He also splits into two words, which gave me a chance to display his shapeshifting.  If anyone was prepared to object to his being in two places at once, I was prepared to observed that later in the cycle, Siegfried uses the Tarnhelm effectively to teleport (not that Wagner uses quite that term).

After that, it was a matter of system – put one component in the across clashing letters, and one in the down; make sure they read right to left.  Only after starting on the clues did I spot the double-unch in the middle.  I would have preferred not to have it, but in the end I let it lie.

What one solver pointed out was that Rheingold comes in a single massive sweep, with scenes not Acts.  That’s true, of course, even if by the end you feel there must have been an interval somewhere…  It brought to mind an ENO production of La Boheme (4 acts, just over half the length of Rheingold) which played straight through.  This enabled a splendid transition that would otherwise have occurred in the interval between Act II and Act III – with a change of lighting from bright yellow to cold blue, and a shift in the postures of the chorus members, a line of dancing revellers from Cafe Momus transformed into the queue of the poor waiting to enter Rome.  Even Wagner might have approved.