Richard Wagner's

Der Ring des Nibelungen

with translation by Frederick Jameson

In the years I've spent as a regular participant in the newsgroup, I've seen numerous requests for opera librettos in English translation. Most (but not all) librettos are available on the Web in the original language, but for a variety of reasons English translations are rarely offered. The request I see most often is for Wagner's Ring operas. This seems a bit odd to me, since these are surely the operas for which a translation is most readily available in the non-cyber world. On the other hand, perhaps there is something to be said for the convenience of downloading a libretto in one's own home rather than looking for it in a library or book store.

With that in mind, I've prepared the four librettos which I offer here. Of the dozens of translations available, most of the better ones are protected by copyright. Since I have neither the budget to buy rights to a copyrighted translation nor the skill to write my own, I have chosen what I believe to be the best of the translations in the public domain (about the translation).

The librettos are offered as shareware (about shareware). Viewing the librettos on the screen is freely permitted. Printing copies of the librettos is permitted only following payment of the shareware fee. The shareware fee is $5 for the set of four librettos, or $2 for each individual libretto. Please mail to:

Mark D Lew
19701 Locust Way
Lynnwood, WA 98036

That address has a secure mailbox, so cash payment is now acceptable, but I still prefer the security of a check.

NOTE: All files are password-protected. The passwords are available on this site. See details below.

DAS RHEINGOLD (22 pages, 279K) download
DIE WALKÜRE (27 pages, 310K) download
SIEGFRIED (29 pages, 196K) download
GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG (26 pages, 312K) download

All librettos are offered as PDF files, a format which can be read with Adobe's Acrobat software. Many systems are sold with the Acrobat software pre-loaded, and most browsers are configured to load it, so it's likely that your computer already knows how to display the document. If not, you will need to obtain Acrobat Reader software, freely distributed by Adobe. (About downloading.)

When you attempt to open the PDF file, you will be asked for a password. I apologize for the inconvenience, but I felt it was necessary as a reminder for those who didn't read the shareware notice. All passwords are listed on the password page on this site.

About the translation:

Frederick Jameson's translation of the Ring is sometimes criticized as an inferior product. Nevertheless, I have chosen to use it here, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, of the four Ring translations which can reasonably be considered to be standard, Jameson's is the only one not protected by copyright, and thus the only one readily available for this project. Of other, non-standard translations which are in the public domain, I have found none that are an improvement over Jameson.

I would not go so far as to say that Jameson's is the best Ring translation there is. (The three other standard translations — Salter/Mann, which accompanies most CDs; Andrew Porter's singing translation for ENO; and Stuart Spencer's new translation with its detailed annotations — are all excellent.) I would say, however, that Jameson's work is underrated, and much of the criticism is undeserved.

The common complaint is that it is outdated and incomprehensible; yet the old-fashioned style which Jameson adopts is in conscious imitation of Wagner's equally old-fashioned German. Most of the criticism against Jameson's text — that it sounds artificial and is hard to understand — could just as easily be (and indeed is) leveled against Wagner's original text in German. In fact, of all the translations, Jameson's comes closest to preserving Wagner's tone. The more recent translators may have improved the libretto by making it more readable, but in the process they have, as Spencer acknowledges, to a certain extent misrepresented the authentic obscurity of Wagner's original.

Jameson's English no more incomprehensible than Shakespeare's, and few readers of Shakespeare insist that his writing be modernized. The old-fashioned grammar, with its unusual word order and littered with "hath"s and "dost"s, is awkward at first, but there is a logic to it, and after a few pages one grows accustomed to it (or, as one of Jameson's characters might say, it becomed "wonted"). For the handful of archaic words which Jameson uses (uses repeatedly, in many cases), a short glossary has been provided on the final page of each libretto.

Released: June 16, 1999
Latest update: July 19, 1999
Update history:
- July 19, 1999. All four librettos reprinted with a different typeface (which I feel is more readable) for stage directions. A few minor changes to character lists and glossaries. No changes in text of librettos.
- July 5, 2000. New address; minor corrections to all four librettos. (Missing character names added, redundant character names removed, typographical errors corrected. Pages affected (libretto/PDF): Rheingold 12/7; Walküre all; Siegfried 4/3, 5/3, 14/8, 25/13, 30/16; Götterdämmerung 4/3, 15/8, 25/13.
- January 29, 2005. New address.
- March 8, 2009. New address.

Editorial notes: Primary source for both German and English texts is the vocal scores published by Schott in 1899 and republished in the United States by Schirmer in 1904. Obvious typographical errors are corrected. German text is edited slightly for typography (in particular, use of the "ß" ligature). English text is edited for spelling and punctuation. Other sources have been consulted on several unclear passages. A few stage directions which are missing in Schott/Schirmer but included in other sources are added here. Adaptation of text from score to libretto, including overlapping lines in ensemble passages, is determined by the editor. Glossary is provided by the editor.

Source material: Primary source for all four librettos is Schott's 1899 vocal scores (republished in the United States by Schirmer in 1904). Other sources consulted: librettos published separately by Oliver Ditson at various dates from 1904 to 1926, and reprinted by Crown in 1939, translator unidentified [all four operas]; Dirk Meyer's online Ring librettos (which seem to be derived from the Peters vocal scores), available both on his site and Lyle Neff's [all four operas]; Peters full score, 1910 (reprinted by Dover, 1978) [Walküre]; vocal score edited by Henry T. Finck, published by John Church Co., 1903 [Siegfried]; and J.K. Holman's Wagner's Ring: A Listener's Companion & Concordance.

Acknowledgments: The editor thanks the following individuals for various help and suggestions, major and minor, along the way: Kent Lew, Karen L. Lew, Rick Bogart (OperaGlass), Jim DeLaHunt, Michelle Hill.

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May 16, 2011