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Illustration > 15.1 Book & Editorial Illustration

Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen“

by Martin Stark

In Spring 2020 I created and illustrated all fronts and a slipcase cover of five pictorial broadsheets for Richard Wagner`s „Der Ring des Nibelungen“. It was published by German publisher „Büchergilde Gutenberg“ and was the first special edition in their series of pictorial broadsheets.
A Büchergilde pictorial broadsheet normally consists of a folded print sheet in a slipcase. In this case there were five, one for every part of the cycle and one for the family trees of the characters.
The idea was to present the whole plot of every evening of that famous opera on front of a single pictorial broadsheet. On the fronts are only illustrations (only the names of the characters are printed on the margins of every sheet on their first appearance, and the title of the part on the bottom to not disturb the illustrations), and in contrast all the typography is on the backs in form of the title of that part, a short summary of the plot and the whole libretto , to show how much text was sung in one evening. The backs were designed by Cosima Schneider, production manager of Büchergilde.
„The Rheingold“ and “The Valkyrie“, the first and second act, as well as the family tree are printed on 1/2 print sheets, the third part „Siegfried“ sits on a 3/4 print sheet and the „Twilight of the Gods“ is on a whole print sheet, so there is a climax in format from sheet to sheet.
The front of every sheet shows all the key scenes of one evening, placing the characters in different situations in front of one single stage-like background. All scenes are bound together with the rope of Destiny from the three Norns, which the viewer can follow through from the beginning to the nearly end, through all ups and downs, from left to right and back, a wild hunt, until it rips in the beginning of „The twilight of the Gods“. From there on the viewer has to find his way to the end on his own. Unfolding a new part of every sheet will expose more of the plot, until finally all of it is revealed before the viewer, like on a big poster. To match the different backgrounds and to use the originalities of the pictorial broadsheets, and also to get the viewers more involved and to add more fun for them, every pictorial broadsheet is folded in a different manner, and sometimes you have to spin it to follow the plot, which is appropriate for a ring themed narration. Every sheet has to be viewed in a different direction.
The characters and backgrounds are designed in black lines on white ground like in woodcuts or comics, placing them in the staged landscapes like toy figures, to keep it simple and light in contrast of Wagners overwhelming pompous music. The only exception is the sparse adding of the color gold, only used to highlight the ring, the golden treasure of the Nibelungs and the magical fires. All characters were drawn with black markers, then scanned and the backgrounds were drawn in digitally with a graphics tablet. I had to work quickly, because everything had to be done in three month time.
In contrast to the many detailed illustrations on the print sheets the slipcase was designed very simple and only depicts the ring and rays of light on a golden background.
This pictorial broadsheets were illustrated to allow a simple and easy access to Wagners epic music drama for newcomers, to know the twisted and rich plot before finally listening to nearly fifteen hours of classical music. And also for adepts of his works to reminisce about the cycle in a new fresh way. The viewer can interact with it in a way he can`t with a conventional book. Also you can pin it to your walls as a series of posters.
For me it was interesting to see how Wagner connected parts of the Nibelungenlied and Norse sagas in his very own way, and how to illustrate this massive work in a new format like the pictorial broadsheet, and explore its peculiarities. To me recalls the posters of music groups I liked hanging on my walls, also the texts on the backs remind me of lyrics printed on the inner sleeves of LPs and in CD booklets.

  • Creative Directors Cosima Schneider, Silvio Mohr-Schaaff
  • Art Directors Cosima Schneider
  • Designers Cosima Schneider, Martin Stark
  • Illustrators Martin Stark
  • Photographers
  • Editors Cosima Schneider
  • Copywriters Büchergilde Gutenberg
  • Authors Richard Wagner, Lucas Gedziorowski
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