Wagner's Ring - A Tale Told in Music

Wagner’s Ring -  A Tale Told in Music,  a 4 DVD box set, is essential viewing for everyone with the slightest interest in The Ring. It opens up new horizons for all: young and old, nervous first-timers and seasoned Ring-goers. Each of the four episodes of A Tale Told in Music focuses on one of the operas, and Emeritus Professor Heath Lees explores the music at the piano, explaining simply the techniques used.  The films also include interviews with Wagner experts, and performances by professional opera singers.

In Wagner’s Ring – A Tale Told in Music Emeritus Professor Heath Lees vividly reveals the complex workings at the heart of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen - its leitmotifs, relationships and transformations.

Wagner's Ring - A Tale Told in Music four DVD Box Set

Wagner's Ring - A Tale Told in Music four DVD Box Set

Heath follows Wagner’s lead and concentrates first and foremost on the music of Wagner’s Ring, guiding the viewer through each of the four operas and throwing the spotlight on the composer’s techniques and effects.  In an informative and engaging manner, he shows how the many themes come to embody a person or an event, or an emotion . . . and how they are subtly changed as the story unfolds.

To purchase Wagner's Ring - A Tale Told in Music click here.




Heath Lees

Heath Lees at the doorway of No.3 Rue d’Aumale — one of Wagner’s addresses in Paris

Heath Lees at the doorway of No.3 Rue d’Aumale — one of Wagner’s addresses in Paris

Heath Lees is Emeritus Professor of Music at Auckland University, and divides his year equally between New Zealand and France. Heath has presented many arts programs on television, including the music series Opus, and the weekly arts show Kaleidoscope. For Radio New Zealand’s Concert network, he has chalked up literally hundreds of individual programs. In 1994 Heath founded the Wagner Society of New Zealand.


He has lectured on musical subjects in general, and Wagner in particular, in the UK, France, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand and North America. As a writer, he has published many articles on different musical influences in literary works by Samuel Beckett and James Joyce. As a composer, he has a number of choral and instrumental pieces published by Roberton (UK) and Allan’s Music (Australia). His most recent book, Mallarmé and Wagner: Music and Poetic Language, deals with Wagner’s influence on the French poet Mallarmé (Ashgate UK).


As well as Wagner's Ring - A Tale Told in Music, in 2016 Heath wrote and presented Music to Your Ears, an in-depth look at how the human brain processes music by breaking it down into its various components, Tune, Rhythm, Harmony and Shape.

For more information on Music to Your Ears, scroll down, or visit heathlees.com.

The Operas

“The finest and most perfect work that has ever flowed from my pen.”

In 1852, when he wrote that, Wagner had not yet written a note of music for The Ring, but he believed already, just from the text, that it would be something unique and unsurpassable.

And he was right, beyond his wildest dreams. Wagner’s Ring has become one of the lasting pillars of Western civilisation. Wagner devoted nearly thirty years of his life to creating it and bringing it to the stage. He wrote the text, composed the music, and badgered the King of Bavaria into sponsoring it. Eventually, at the age of sixty-three, he even had a theatre built just for the performance of this work.

Heath Lees has spent his life playing and studying Wagner, and now for the first time he puts his vast knowledge of The Ring into four DVDs where he draws all the gestures and connections out of the music, so that the viewer can see and hear how Wagner created this extraordinary work.


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This is quite simply the best account of the motivic architecture of The Ring since that of Deryck Cooke. He had the benefit of the Solti/Vienna Philharmonic recordings whereas Lees’ viewers have the advantage of his playing the illustrations live in a medium which provides images as well as sound.

To read the full review, click WagnerNewsReview.


The Rhinegold

The Rhinegold is where everything in The Ring starts. Wagner creates three different worlds — Gods, Dwarves and Giants — all of them locked together in a struggle to gain ownership of the Ring, which will give its owner the power to rule the world. Many of the musical themes come to the fore in this opera, ready to be transformed and developed in the following three operas.

To watch an excerpt from A Tale Told in Music - The Rhinegold click on the video to the right.



"The sheer size, power, range, depth and intensity of Wagner’s Ring cycle can be deeply intimidating. Resulting anxiety can deny access to one of life’s most profound experiences. In Wagner’s Ring - A Tale Told in Music, Heath Lees, a Scottish born New Zealander, provides, in four DVDs,  a learned, satisfying, but accessible introduction, as he talks, plays, explains and illustrates.  He takes us to scenes in Wagner’s life, and uses fine singers and instrumentalists to illustrate how a transcendent masterpiece is created and performed. This production may open the door to a life changing experience, so take with care!"

Honourable Dr Barry Jones, AC, FAA, FAHA, FTSE, FASSA, FRSA, FRSV, FACE, FAIM, former Minister of Science - Parliament of Australia, author, broadcaster.


The Valkyrie

In The Valkyrie, human beings first appear in the story, along with other new characters, especially the godly warrior-women called the Valkyrie. All these characters, humans and goddesses, are part of All-Father Wotan’s plan to win back the Ring and so redeem the world. The plan goes hugely wrong, and the world’s redemption is consigned to an unborn-baby to be called Siegfried. Some of Wagner’s best-ever music can be heard in this opera.

To watch an excerpt from A Tale Told in Music - The Valkyrie click on the video to the right.


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"Heath Lees is such a great teacher – not patronising, very clear, pitching it just right. The explanations of the characters’ themes on the piano have made me realise A) the beauty and expression of each character or object, created through music by the composer and B) the circular nature of the ‘weaving’ of these themes, with slight changes of inflection, throughout the whole work, giving it a unified entity.

"An excellent package all round – only far too short! I’m going to start playing them through again from the beginning to get the themes into my head."

Pedro Prà-Lopez, London, England



The third opera in The Ring centres around its title-character Siegfried, who we first see as an unruly, uneducated and unlikeable boy. By the end of the opera, Siegfried has become heroic, killing a dragon, walking through a blazing fire, and winning the hand of the fair Brünnhilde. Wagner’s music is almost childlike to begin with, but gradually it grows more passionate and symphonic as the hero meets Brünnhilde and falls in love.

To watch an excerpt from A Tale Told in Music - Siegfried click on the video to the right.



"Brilliant!  Heath Lees gives verbal meaning to feelings and thoughts that one may have previously intuited and sensed . . . there are so many new insights that time and again I found myself thinking “of course!”  I feel Heath has joined a lot of dots for me, a little like joining lots of places on a Wagner map, previously unconnected, with a whole tapestry of interconnected lines.  So at once the music becomes both much simpler and infinitely more complex.

"The style is chatty, relaxed, informal – perfect for the communication of information . . .I particularly liked the beginning of the Siegfried DVD where Heath made all the connections with what has preceded that opera . . . a triumph."

Leigh Rundle, Melbourne, Australia



Twilight of the Gods

Twilight by name, twilight by nature. Wagner’s fourth and last opera of The Ring is full of a gloomy sense of closure. This is the end of the cycle and the world goes up in flames, the gods perish, and Brünnhilde sacrifices herself to restore the ring to the Rhine. In this opera, some of Wagner’s longest, most stunning musical effects take place, particularly in the last few minutes, when the world disappears in smoke and flame and a new order is born.

To watch an excerpt from A Tale Told in Music - Twilight of the Gods click on the video to the right.



“What an all encompassing revelation these films are. Heath Lees is such an engaging and knowledgeable tutor, so seamlessly releasing his depth of understanding of The Ring.  It’s altogether a tour de force - a tour d’horizon. Bravissimo! Thank you for the most sane interpretation of Wagner ever.”

Murray Grigor, Film maker and former Director Edinburgh International Film Festival


Music to Your Ears

What we hear when we listen to music is, strictly speaking, sound, not music. We, the listeners, are the ones who make the sound into music. We sort out the tune, grasp the effect, order the rhythm, sense the harmonic depth, and recognise the patterns and shapes. The whole process of listening to music is a miraculous one, and human beings are very good at it, even with no formal training.

In Music to Your Ears, Heath gets behind the music and finds out what codes, clues and conventions various song-writers and composers have built into their works to help us in our imaginative task of turning sound into music.

With the aid of many piano illustrations and sound clips, Heath serves up a buoyant brew of musical revelations. He breaks down music into Tune, Rhythm, Harmony and Shape, and demonstrates each of these in action. Finally, as a brilliantly self-contained case-study, he introduces the Seraphim Piano Trio for a dazzling performance of the first movement of Schubert’s Trio No. 1 in B-Flat.

For a taste of Music to Your Ears watch the video to the right.


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"We think the DVDs are fantastic, even for old Wagner hands like us! To think when we started 43 years ago all we had was Kobbe and the scores! Congratulations. What an ambitious piece of work."


Sue Ebury