The Krewe of Proteus, founded in 1881, celebrates their one hundred and thirty-sixth anniversary with this year’s parade. This is the oldest night-time parading Krewe in New Orleans, offering you a glimpse into the fabled pageantry of the Golden Age of Carnival.
The Eleventh Captain of the Krewe of Proteus leads the way astride his steed, masquerading in his timeless white plumage. He is followed by his many-hued Lieutenants, as they escort this music-filled Mystic Krewe into another magical Lundi Gras night.
The wooden wheeled wagons that carry this parade date back to the Nineteenth Century: the era of flambeau illuminated spectacles drawn by mules through the cobblestone streets of the New Orleans and the French Quarter. These aged carriages make their mystic journey once more for your pleasure this evening, featuring the finely-crafted ‘tableaux roulants’ created by The Royal Artists.
This year's parade is based on Richard Wagner's fifteen hour, four-part epic opera, “Der Ring des Nibelungen”, often refereed to in English as the "Ring Cycle". It is an opera that many may not know by name, but its influence on our culture persists even today. The opus took Wagner 26 years to complete, spanning 3 generations of gods, dwarves, heroes, and a wide array of magical creatures from medieval Germanic mythology. It is a tale about a world out of balance, skewed by the theft of the Rhine's magic gold. From the gold a ring that can rule to the world is forged, but with it comes a cruel curse, a curse that results in the enormous suffering of those who own it and the all-consuming greed of those who do not. It is also a powerful message about the consequences to choosing power over love, and, ultimately, is it only through love that order is finally restored, albeit at a heavy cost to all.
Proteus has a rich bond with world of opera. Many of the first fabricators of the parade also worked for the Vieux Carré's French Opera House, a venue that hosted the Krewe's annual ball until the fire of 1919. Today, Proteus prides itself in preserving many of the techniques and aesthetic of those late 19th Century tableaus. Tonight, we celebrate this fine age of craftmanship with one the most ambitious piece of theater from that era.
Join us now, as Proteus, the transmutable Old-Man-of-the-Sea, provides his loyal subjects with a rainbow of innovative floats in the oldest traditions of Mardi Gras.
1) PROTEUS CXXXVI (136)
Proteus himself leads his glittering array of ‘tableaux roulants’ from his gold and pink shell, astride a cascading wave. Pulling his shell throne is a trio of Hippocampi, the fanciful combination of horse and fish, which create the most memorable and magnificent monarch’s float in New Orleans Mardi Gras. The design, shell and wave structure of this float originated in the 1930’s.
2) TITLE: “Der Ring des Nibelungen”
As Proteus emerges from the swirling waters, he is escorted by his colorful creatures of the sea. The lovely mermaids are bearing the subject of this year’s pageant: “Der Ring des Nibelungen.” The Old-Man-of-the-Sea will lead us on a mystical journey exploring the Germanic lore of the “Ring Cycle” operas, created by the artistic genius Richard Wagner in the 1800’s.
3) “1881: The Dawn of Proteus”
Springing from a crest of turbulent waters, this glittering fish carries its riders into a Mardi Gras fantasy which began 136 years ago. Based on the design of the King’s Car from the very first Proteus parade; this faithful reproduction of the wing-like fins reflect the colors of the rainbow, the glittering scales shed flashes like a million diamonds in the ever-changing illumination of this magnificent float.
4) The Rhinegold
Shining like a star in the water's deep, the Rhinegold is praised and protected by the most beautiful of water nymphs, the Rhinemaidens. One day, the dwarf Aberich, enters the watery depths to pursue these fair women, only to be teased and mocked for his ugliness. In their careless taunts they let slip the most precious of secrets: that a man foolhardy enough to swear off love shall be given the ability to forge the Rhinegold into a ring of immeasurable might. Alberich curses love and all its delights and takes flight with the magic gold, leaving the Rhinemaidens to lament the loss of their most treasured possession.
5) The Dawn of Valhalla
Wotan, oath-keeper, master of storms, one-eyed king of the gods, awakes along with his wife, Fricka, to the most resplendent of sights - their castle, Valhalla, completed at last, shining strong and fair in the dawn's light! The rainbow bridge, which links the world of man to that of the gods, stands glorious and welcoming to the immortals, who finally have a fortress to call home.
6) The Abduction of Freia
But, alas, the cost of Valhalla, weighs heavily on the heart's of the gods! This fortification was built by the giants Fafner and Fasolt. They demand payment in the form of the fair and beloved Freia, goddess of love and beauty. Only sweet Freia knows how to tend to the golden apples in her garden, which give eternal youth to the gods of Valhalla. Now with Freia in the hands of giants, the gods feel the thick fog of age upon their bodies and beg Wotan to find a wealth great enough to trade for the safe return of the goddess.
7) The Forge of the Ring
Deep in the bowels of the earth, in the realm of the Nibelung, Alberich, with his renouncement of love, has acquired a spell to forge a ring of supreme power. As master of all, he is able to enslave his own race of dwarves to work day and night to mine the dark caverns for more and more gold. His greed is insatiable, and all live in terror of his power and cruelty, which he inflicts with great pleasure. None are free from his tyranny - not even his own brother, Mime, whom he forces to fabricate a magical helmet, the Tarnhelm, with which its wearer can shapeshift into the form of his liking.
8) The Curse of the Ring
The trickster demigod Loge has traveled far and wide for a fortune so prized as to rival the joy of Freia's presence. He reports to Wotan a tale of the dwarf's great treasure, and the two travel into the subterranean land of the dwarves, and the prideful Alberich is easily tricked. Now the dwarf must live with his own self-inflicted curse of lovelessness without any of the joys of power, and his grief is all consuming. The wretched creature curses the ring, bringing doom and suffering upon all future possessors. Thus the Norns, who spin the fate of the world into the rope of primeval law, sit at the base of the world's ash tree and intertwine this cruel curse into the lives of gods and men.
9) The Passion of the Wälsungs
Wotan has fathered twins with a mortal woman and so the race of the Wälsungs comes into being. These twins, Siegmund and Sieglinde, were separated from their parents and each other at a young age. It is not until Siegmund, exhausted and pursued by enemies, appears at the home of Sieglinde, the unwilling bride of the pitiless Hunding, that they are finally reunited. Springtime enters the room as their true identity is revealed to each other, and as their romantic fervor for each other grows. The twins escape together, but first, Siegmund pulls the mighty sword, Nothung, from the depths of an ash tree, placed there by his father, Wotan.
10) Flight of the Valkyries
"Ho-jo-to-ho!" shout the Valkyries as they streak across the thunderous sky on horseback. Daughters and proud handmaidens of Wotan, these fearless warrior women travel the world, inciting battles amongst men and collecting the souls of the bravest fallen heroes from the battlefields to guard the halls of Valhalla. Wotan's favorite daughter is the wise and powerful Brünnhilde, whose greatest joy is serving her venerable father with utter devotion. It is with Brünnhilde that he entrusts the task of assisting the Wälsungs in their difficult flight.
11) Enchanted Slumber
So short lived is the happiness of the Wälsungs! Fricka, Wotan's wife, demands that they be cut down. Wotan reluctantly commands Brünnhilde to comply, but she is so moved by the twin's love that she defies her father's orders and hides the now pregnant Sieglinde from harm. Wotan, forsaken, reigns down his punishment. She is to be locked in an enchanted sleep, high on a mountaintop, only to be awakened by a mortal man, with whom she will be burdened with having as her husband and master. Brünnhilde begs that he surround her sleeping body with terrors so that no faint of heart may own her. Wotan, moved by the love for his daughter, grants her this small mercy, and thus a fire calls forth so fierce that only the fearless shall pass . He then kisses his daughter's eyes to send her into a deep slumber, and thus he says farewell to his beloved child.
12) Siegfried Slays Fafnir
Siegfried, the orphaned son of Siegmund and Sieglinde, has now become a strong and fearless young man. Mime, the craven dwarf and caretaker of the youth, yearns for the limitless power of the ring and knows that only Siegfried has the power to slay Fafner, who has transformed into a ferocious dragon. Mime leads him to the dragon, which the hero effortlessly stabs in the heart with his father's sword, Nothung, and so falls the last of the mighty giants. Siegfried accidentally tastes the dragon's blood and with it comes a new power: bird song now rings and true and clear as the word of man!
13) Mime's Deception
After Siegfried collects his new treasures, the wood bird warns him not to trust the treacherous Mime. The dragon blood has given him another power - he can now hear all of the gnome's wicked internal thoughts. Mime approaches him to congratulate his brave deed and to offer him a cold drink to relieve his weary body, but the boy can only hear Mime's intentions to poison him and take the ring for himself. Siegfried stabs him with his trusted sword and leaves the slain creature to eternally lay watch over Fafner's lustrous, golden hoard.
14) Awakening of Brünnhilde
The forest bird speaks to him once again: there is a beautiful wife waiting for Siegfried on a rocky mount! With their sweet song, he is guided to Brünnhilde's rock. Siegfried traverses through a sea of flames, his head and heart free of fear. But his courage is challenged, for the sight of Brünnhilde pierces his heart with a strange spell that sends his senses swimming and swooning. For the first time, the young hero feels true fear. Tentatively, and then more boldly, he kisses her, rousing her at last from her long sleep. Newly mortal and stripped of her armor, she renounces the realm of the gods and embraces her new husband.
15) The Journey of Siegfried
Brünnhilde is euphoric with new love, but she knows that her brave Siegfried has many more deeds of valor to complete. To love him is to let him go, so she urges him to set forth on his hero's quest. She gives him her shield and her mighty steed, Grane, so that wherever he may roam they may both be found. Siegfried gives his beloved the magic ring as a symbol of his fidelity and sets off down the mighty Rhine to seek new adventure. He blows on his hunting horn as Gibichung Hall appears upon the horizon.
16) The Elixir of Love
At Gibichung Hall, Gunther, lord of the Gibichungs, is in need of a wife for himself and a husband for his sister, Gutrune. Hagen, half-brother and chief minister, hatches a knavish plan to marry the two to Brünnhilde and Siegfried and take the ring for himself. Siegfried enters the hall and is welcomed as an honored guest, and Gutrune offers him a drinking horn, laced with a powerful love potion. With one sip, all memory of the Brünnhilde is erased and he falls deeply for the deceptive Gutrune. In his drugged state, he is convinced to go fetch Brünnhilde as Gunther's bride. With the Tarnhelm disguising him as Gunther, Siegfried once more passes through the fiery terrain and steals the ring and poor, protesting Brünnhilde.
17) The Death of Siegfried
Preparations for a great wedding greet Brünnhilde as she enters the city, but the broken and distraught captive is hardly the happy bride that had Hagen had promised Gunther. Realizing her love has forsaken her, her sorrow turns to seething rage. She vengefully divulges to Hagen and Gunther the secret to killing her betrayer: in their marital bliss, Brünnhilde enveloped her love in a magical shield so that no man could harm him in battle, but she never protected his back, because she knew her fearless husband would never run from a conflict. And so Hagen, anxious to possess the ring himself, plans a hunting trip for the very next day and violently thrusts his spear in the back of the unsuspecting hero.
18) The Immolation of Brünnhilde
On Hagen's return to the hall, he announces his spoils of the hunt: Siegfried's lifeless body. Brünnhilde is faced with the thankless, shameful reward of her revenge and collapses in grief for her husband and hero. Slowly, she collects herself as she is filled with a new found wisdom, and her path forward becomes clear. She takes her rightful inheritance from Siegfried's finger - that terrible, accursed ring - and demands that a funeral pyre be built along the Rhine for her fallen lord. She then rides, aloft her loyal steed, Grane, straight into the flames to join her beloved.
19) The Destruction of Valhalla
Before her departure, Brünnhilde calls upon Wotan's ravens to fetch Loge, who still resides at her rock, kindling the enchanted flames, so that he might be sent to Valhalla, Ragnarök is upon them. Loge is to set fire to the dazzling kingdom, for the pillars and archways so expertly constructed by the great giants, to crumble to the ground, for the proud race of immortals to be lost forever in the abyss. And thus the world be renewed.
20) The Return of the Ring
The ring has been cleansed of its villainous curse by the funerary fires, and the Rhine floods the banks so that the river nymphs may reclaim their rightful gold. Hagen, still desperate to possess the ring, dives in after it, only to be dragged into the deep by the Rhine's daughters. At last! Order has been restored! And so the star of the deep, the precious Rhinegold, once more makes it home amongst its watery brethren.
We now conclude our journey to India and the beautifully exotic “Hindu Heavens.” Proteus invites you to join him next year for another Mystic Lundi Gras pageant presented in the unique, traditional style of The Royal Artists.