Translator of the Rings

The Original Ladies of the Rings and Frenemy

Have you ever known someone in one context, only to discover that they have a secret identity?  That’s what happened to me with Rick Walter.  I met Rick as one of the librarians at my local library.  Quite a few years went by before I learned that he was also a translator, at that time working on new translations of Jules Verne novels.

Only recently did I learn Rick had another secret identity: as an authority on Wagner, classical music, and opera.  As Frederick Paul Walter, Rick is responsible for a new translation of Wagner’s The Rhine Gold (Das Rheingold).  Even better, this translation is lovingly annotated and includes the original German text side by side.  An added bonuses are the lavish illustrations, taken from a wide variety of sources, up to and including new graphic novel style illustrations by Cliff Mott, commissioned for this project.

This week, I’m interviewing Rick both about his new project and about what goes into the art of translation.

JANE: So, Rick, what drew you to translation?  Have you done translations from other than French (for the works of Jules Verne) and German?

RICK: It all started with my first job after grad school. I got hired as a college theater director, then ended up collaborating with the Music Department in their operatic programs—which they felt would benefit from being sung in English. They had me do the Toreador Song, which was great fun, and everywhere I taught, this would happen—I’d stage their operatic evenings for them and supply English lyrics for material originally issued in Italian, French, and German.

I have to admit, translating opera for live performance is the toughest type of translating I’ve ever done: my words would have to rhyme, convey the sense, and fit the composer’s notes. Yikes!  

JANE: As your introduction and annotations make clear, you have a long time and intense interest in The Ring Cycle.

RICK: I grew up in the 1960s, when complete commercial recordings didn’t exist. So the appearances of rival versions conducted by Georg Solti and Herbert von Karajan were big news—and I purchased both.

JANE: From our conversations over the years, I know you’re an avid reader of SF and Fantasy.  Jules Verne has an obvious connection to SF, but what I found fascinating about your annotations is how they showed the many ways that The Ring Cycle might be considered “background music” to a lot of Fantasy fiction.  Could you share some of your thoughts on these influences?

RICK: Don’t forget, the 1960s were the era of those Ace reprints of Tolkien’s trilogy, which I promptly gobbled up. Well, another 1960s development was the publication of a 1-volume edition of Margaret Armour’s translation of Wagner’s Ring Cycle—it was worded in Shakespearean English and was tough sledding, but I could read it like a fantasy novel and was fascinated by it.

However, I felt that a much more readable modern translation was called for, and I actually attempted one back then.  I didn’t complete it, yet always wanted to. Five years ago I returned to this project and finished it at last. 

JANE: Despite your deep love for the material in The Rhine Gold, as your “One Minute Ring” summary of the entire four opera Ring Cycle, you also have a sense of humor about the material.  Do you think that helps you as a translator?

RICK:  My target audience is the general public, fans of Tolkien, Rowling, George Lucas, George R.R. Martin, et al. So I want my work to be enjoyed by that audience. Humor helps and Wagner himself infused the Ring Cycle with plenty.

JANE: Translation is a complex art, very far from the awkward, fill in the blank, process that computer programs can provide.  Is there anywhere my readers can get a peek behind the scenes at your process?

RICK:  Absolutely!  Pages ix-xi of my introduction deal with both the substantive priorities and the verbal issues of my translating, especially developing equivalents for Wagner’s alliteration.

JANE: One of the great things about your annotated Rhine Gold is that the annotations are visual, as well as verbal.  There are the original illustrations by Cliff Mott that were created for this edition, of course.  However, you also provide many from older productions.  Are these from your collection or did the publisher find them?

RICK: :  No, I tracked them all down myself. A huge amount of public domain artwork is available on the Ring.  Thank God I’ve been acquainted with it for several decades.

JANE: Are you going to be continuing translating the rest of the Ring Cycle?  I believe there are three more operas to go.

RICK: That’s right, and they’re all done. After querying many publishers, I sold them as a package to Rowman and Littlefield, and they’re committed to the whole thing. The Valkyrie is due out this coming August, Siegfried and Twilight for the Gods during the summer of 2022.

JANE: I look forward to them!  Thanks for taking the time to chat with me, and sharing some of what went into this landmark edition of Wagner’s most famous work.

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One Response to “Translator of the Rings”

  1. Harried Harry Says:

    Bravo! Bravo! Very well done. Thanks for the intro to a very different SF & F. I don’t follow opera (tone deaf) but I’ve read many of Jules Verne’s works. I suspect Rick’s new stories will introduce many young and old people to a classical story line. Thanks for doing the interview.

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