Post by C.Z.
The main article on Wagner on Wikipedia is in my opinion quite adequate in describing Wagner's goals and achievements and his wide influence on disparate fields such as modern music, psychology, psychoanalysis, literature and visual art. One statement brought me up short. This was that his goals of a total art work, through-music, and music in the service of the text were most fully achieved in the first two operas of The Ring. I would think that Tristan and Parsifal also qualify. Also, while Gotterdammerung has always seemed to me a hodge-podge of a plot, I would think Siegfried would also make the grade. What are your thoughts on this assertion?
It's just a case of people holding Wagner to his own standards. Tristan, Gotterdammerung, and Parsifal include operatic conventions like choruses, duets, and pants roles, which Wagner (at one time) wanted to dispense with.
Wagner did his best to avoid these conventions in Das Rheingold and Die Walkure. In the first act of Die Walkure, for example, Siegmund and Sieglinde never sing over each other as they would in a traditional duet. The Valkyries, which might have been treated as a choir by less adventurous composers (Verdi, for instance, turned Shakespeare's three witches into a whole choir in Macbeth), are written for eight individual sopranos. And, though I'm not sure Wagner actually had anything to say on the subject, I think it's relevant that all the Ring operas employ short, mood-setting preludes instead of the potpourri-style introductions of Die Meistersinger and Der Fliegende Hollander.
Of course, none of this has anything to do with an opera's quality. It's just a matter of measuring the operas against Wagner's own stated aims.