Saturday night I saw Rhinegold, the first opera in Wagner’s Ring at San Francisco Opera. This is a sort of sneak preview a new production of the Ring, co-commissioned by Washington Opera and San Francisco Opera, an “American Ring” with imagery taken from America’s history and culture. Rhinegold used imagery from the Gold Rush and the twenties. As I understand it, the rest of the operas will go forward in time. We’ll get the full Ring cycle in the summer of 2011.

At the first notes of music Saturday night, I remembered Angel’s comment when he came back in a late episode of Buffy and watched Buffy fight: “oh, I’ve missed this.” :-). I’ve loved the Ring operas ever since I first saw Die Walküre at fifteen. The emotion, the complexity, the intrigues, the passion, the power games. Before the opera, my friend jim and I were talking about Battlestar Galactica, which he loves, and I’ve recently started watching. It turned out four different people around us also are big fans of the show, and we ended up in an enthusiastic discussion until the lights dimmed. It was actually quite apropos to the opera–“emotion, the complexity, the intrigues, the passion, the power games” could describe Battlestar Galactica as much as the Ring.

Imagery from the Ring (sometimes based on the Ring itself, sometimes based on common cultural sources) is all over literature and popular culture. As we we’re leaving, jim said when we saw the operas before, he’d never thought about the parallels to the Fellowship of the Ring. The Star Wars movies abound in parallels, with the twins separated at birth, the naive young man who learns to become a hero, the mysterious, unknown father who sells his soul for power. Watching Rhinegold on Saturday, I kept thinking of Cigarette Smoking man as Wotan, with Mulder and Scully as Siegmunde and Sieglinde. Of course, The X-Files abound in mythic references, Orpheus and Eurydice and the Oresteia among others.

I first saw the complete Ring cycle on stage at San Francisco Opera with my mom when we were writing A Touch of Scandal, one of our Anthea Malcolm Regencies. Over dinner before one of the operas, I said, “actually this has a lot in common with our book. The Melchett family are like the gods, their estate Sundon is Valhalla, and Fiona is like Siegfried, a child raised in secrecy who comes back to reclaim her birthright and bring down the family. The Marchioness of Parminter is Wotan. Gideon is like Brunhilde, once connected to the Melchetts (the way Brunhilde was to the gods), but now Fiona’s lover and ally.” I was being half tongue in cheek, but as I talked I realized how very many parallels there were.

And there are the Charles & Mélanie books. It’s not entirely coincidence that Secrets of a Lady also involves the search for with supposedly mythical powers. Charles and Mélanie aren’t brother and sister, but their past history is more tangled than either of them realizes. I can definitely see Raoul O’Roarke as a Wotan type–a puppet master who makes morally ambiguous choices and plays dice with those close to him, though he genuinely does care about them. I could also see Mélanie as a Brunhilde–a warrior who struggles over losing her powers when she falls in love and marries and yet who maintains her ability to think and act for herself.

Have you ever seen the Ring? Do you like looking for mythological parallels in literature and popular culture? Writers, do you consciously use mythological reference in your books or sometimes realize they’re there later on?

With this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition, I’ve continued with letters written from Dunmykel during the events of Beneath a Silent Moon, this time David writing to his sister Isobel, trying to puzzle out the relationship between Honoria and Kenneth Fraser.