There was a typographical error in Louise Remmey's June 30 op- ed piece on Wagner's "Ring" cycle. The affected sentences should have read as follows: "The 'Ring' expert will explain that King Gibich's children -- Gunther and Gutrune -- are the bona fide Gibichungs. Their half-brother Hagen, who lives with them, is the son of the Nibelung dwarf Alberich, who paid Grimhilde, mother of the Gibichungs, to bear him." (Published 7/3/90)
Public television's four-night broadcast of Richard Wagner's "Ring" cycle last week has generated a new parlor game in Washington -- call it "Holes in the Ring." What makes it fun is that it gives the ordinary opera fan a chance to show up the full-time Wagnerians who usually manage to make them feel so inadequate.
The ''Ring'' -- all 17 hours of it -- is, of course, made for one-upmanship. No matter how many times one has seen the operas, listened to the recordings or read librettos and background, a certain degree of uneasiness remains for anyone trying to keep track of what's going on. Someone is sure to come along and say something like, ''Well, Hagen isn't really a Gibichung even though he lives in the Hall of the Gibichungs.''
Then the ''Ring'' expert will explain that King Gibich's children -- Gunther and Gutrune -- are the bona fide offspring of the Nibelung dwarf Alberich, who paid Grimhilde, mother of the Gibichungs, to bear them. Wow!
Most ''Ring'' enthusiasts cherish these clarifications and tell themselves that with more study they, too, will know all the intricacies of ''Ring'' plot and characters.
But after this latest go-round with "The Ring,'' in which I saw the operas with visual closeups and without the usual distractions, I think I've reached a higher kind of wisdom. Like Brunnhilde at the end of "Gotterdammerung," I now know all and all to me is revealed. ("Alles! Alles! Alles weiss ich: alles ward mir nun frei").
And what do I know? I know that no matter how much I study, there will always be loose ends and contradictions that even the most erudite Wagner experts can't explain. Those Norns weren't the only ones having trouble with the tangled web of history in their Cord of Destiny.
Perhaps what Wagner needed was a computer to keep track of his various characters and plot threads. The story frequently goes along as if he just sat down at his word processor now and then and started writing where he had left off before, without having time to review his earlier text. The periodic reprises he writes into the operas seem as much for his own use as ours. The only trouble is they aren't consistent.
Would an editor have helped? I doubt it. Wagner's ego could not have taken it, and I cringe at the unpleasant possibilities if he'd had to deal with a bad editor.
I wrote a brief survey of the "Ring" characters for another publication this past April, and I was able to do most of it from memory with only an occasional check with my books on Wagner and "The Ring." But suddenly I realized I didn't know what had happened to Alberich, the Nibelung dwarf whose ring got us into the whole thing.
I called an editor and "Ring" specialist at Opera News in New York, and we had an interesting chat that was long enough to account for a substantial entry on my phone bill. But there was no answer regarding Alberich's fate. Amazing, I thought to myself. The villainous dwarf is still loose somewhere, like Darth Vader after the first "Star Wars" movie. Does this mean there's a sequel out there: "Return of the Nibelung Part V"? Composers and librettists, take note; write your grant applications now.
As I mentioned, the plot is full of contradictions. Here is just one example. At the opening of Act III of ''Siegfried,'' a desperate Wotan, disguised as the Wanderer, summons the all-wise Erda from the depths of the Earth for a consultation.
He tells her that he's chosen the youthful Siegfried as his heir; that Siegfried, who knows no fear, will pass through the fire and awaken Brunnhilde, one of Erda's and Wotan's Valkyrie daughters; and that Brunnhilde will perform a world-redeeming act (i.e. sacrificing herself and returning the ring to the Rhine). Wotan says he will gladly yield to Siegfried.
But what happens next, when Siegfried approaches the mountain to brave the flames, reach Brunnhilde and follow Wotan's scenario? Wotan tries his best to bar his way, first with discussion, then with his spear.
Players of the new parlor game have come up with a list of other profound questions. For example, if the ring gives such power to its owner, why can't Alberich get out of the net in which Loge holds him captive? And why does the giant Fafner, in the shape of a dragon, lead such a miserable Scrooge-like existence if he owns the ring? Why does he have to spend all his time in a cave guarding the treasure? And why is Wotan showing his age even though he has Freia and her golden apples (the fruit that keeps the gods young) back again?
I guess we should consider that Wagner wrote ''The Ring'' over a period of almost 25 years and took off 14 years between Act II and Act III of ''Siegfried'' (Actually, ''took off'' doesn't quite describe it: he used those years to write, among other things, ''Tristan and Isolde'' and ''Die Meistersinger.'') No wonder he couldn't keep all the details straight.
Some people object to the dearth of humor in Wagner's opus. As part of the new parlor game, people are not only asking weighty ''Ring'' questions, but inserting ''Ring'' humor. After observing the scene between Fricka and Wotan in Valkyrie Act II, in which Fricka lectures her husband about morality, a joker observed last week, ''The family that brays together, slays together.'' The same person also claimed to see an ''OSFA'' ticket on the ring: One Size Fits All.
Only great works of art thrive on ribbing, and ''The Ring'' has always been fertile ground for parody. Wagner isn't around to defend himself, but he and ''The Ring'' will obviously survive. As for me, I won't have it driving me in circles anymore. From now on I'm just going to relax, go with the music, the myths, the magic -- and enjoy. I no longer have any desire to to work up a ''Ring'' database. Louise Remmey is a Washington writer.