Image for post
Image for post
How do I visualize an Opera?

How the hell do I visualize an Opera?

Palina Pol
Jan 27, 2018 · 6 min read

Wagner’s cycle case study

Any Wagner’s fans in the house?
Two months ago, in one of our courses our tutor asked us to choose a place / location, which we’ll have to analyze and then to create a project about it or something connected to it.
After trying to find something that would really interest me to work on, while listening to Classic music, I had a flashback about that time when I stumbled on Wikipedia upon a place called Festispielhaus, which is held in Bayreuth, Germany. An Opera house built by and for Richard Wagner, so he can play his own Operas, and mostly, to present the new Opera he was working on a several years— ‘The Ring of the Nibelungen’ — at this preciously moment I knew that this is the place I should explore (well, not physically unfortunately), because I love Germany, History, and of course, Wagner.

‘The Ring of the Nibelungen’ is a cycle of 4 epic music dramas which are based loosely on characters from the Norse sagas and the Nibelungenlied.
The cycle structured in three days preceded by a preliminary evening.
(Full cycle — four days in general)
The four music dramas are:

Das Rheingold (The Rhinegold)
Die Walküre (The Valkyrie)
Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods)

Since I also a fan of Data visualizations, Info-graphics, and everything that had to do with numbers and information , I knew it had to be a Dataviz Project.

I started to explore the web, books and every other media I could gather (including buying the vinyls), collecting the information in google sheets, defining and analyzing it.

The poster of ‘The Valkyries’ play

1. How does it feels?

One of the many things I’ve found was a written play (well… it’s not just music, but an Opera) of the cycle ‘The Ring of the Nibelungen’. I started to read it (In an English translation, the play itself in German) and I felt like this is more of a tragedy than a Drama play. All of the characters are killing each other for a gold ring (that’s where Tolkien got the Idea ha ;)), gaining anger, having a sad love stories…and I decided that I order to understand it, I need to see if it is really the way it feels — a Tragedy, or is there any ‘good vibes’ there?
I started to define the meetings between the characters in three different atmosphere feelings:
Positive, Neutral and Negative.

I decided to do a circle which will present the play, and to connect between the characters with a simple line —using the color of the feeling, which will present the meeting.
Finally I could see that the first ‘The Rhinegold’ and the last one ‘Twilight of the Gods’ both are really Negative, while ‘Siegfried’ was the most Positive, and ‘The Valkyrie’ is the most Neutral.

Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post
Image for post

2. Geneology

It is really hard to understand the connection between the characters, since there are so many different ‘kinds’ of them (Nymphs, Gods, Humans, Dwarfs, etc) all of them have different connection (siblings, love affair, and so..) and sometimes you cannot really understand from their names whether it’s a female or a male (‘Gunther’ for example).
Since I’m a Genealogy fan (spending all of my day in My Heritage website :)),I found a couple of sources about their complicated family tree, and I wanted to create the most simple diagram that I can, in order to understand it.

Image for post
Image for post

3. The Location, of course!

Wagner had so many Operas, but at first he opened the Festispielhouse (the Opera House) in Bayreuth just for the premier of ‘The Ring of the Nibelungen’, and I really wanted to see how many times it was played there.
As I gathered the information from their Official website and other different Fan websites and news articles, I understood how important the play is, it became a part of the German people.
During the years the ‘The Ring of the Nibelungen’ , solely at the Festispielhaus Bayreuth, played more then 85 cycles ( A reminding: 1 cycle = 4 days), while the longest period of the years played was 21 years. Also I wanted to see which Directors was in charge of the plays, how many years they were on stage, how many cycles they did.
As you can see, many of the Wagner’s family members were also the Directors of the Opera.

Image for post
Image for post

4. A printed vinyl

As the cycle includes 4 music dramas, and several Acts, I really wanted to use this information to relate to something physical, and what is better than to present this information on a Vinyl?
I had this Idea that I must repeat the symbolism of the cycle and to use a circle to visualize it. After trying the simple boring pie charts and some other things, I understood that I need to relate to the Vinyl concept, a round record that starting to play from the outside to the inside (those who have phonograph would know what I’m talking about). So I decided to visualize it as it is — from the outside to the inside, imagining as it’s playing and going round and round, going by it’s genuine music timeline (‘The Rhinegold’ first, ‘The Valkyries’ second.. etc)
I defined the Acts by colors, and decided that every small string will present 2 minutes of playing.

Image for post
Image for post


I really love when Data meets Design, and I really enjoyed this small school project. Of course there is always so much more to do, a different ways to access the data or presenting solutions.
I wanted to make a simple visualizations of a very long and complicated thing (my first thought was “How the hell am I going to visualize an Opera?!”) while I’m embracing the History (therefore the colors) yet not making it an old boring complicated version of too much and too long.

Thanks for the clap 👏🏻 if you enjoyed this article. I would ❤ to hear what you think about it, your ideas, opinions, or just confessions of Classic Music and Wagner’s lovers!

I’m Palina Pol a student at the Visual Communications department in Shenkar, Tel Aviv.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store