Because Richard Wagner meticulously documented most every incident in his life, we know that he began writing the music for the Ring cycle in La Spezia on the Italian Riviera in the summer of 1853. After a rough night at sea, he landed in the port of La Spezia near where fishermen brought their daily catch, and was transported to a locanda on Via del Prione 45. With his lingering seasickness and the noisy animation of the busy town, Wagner fell into a deep sleep, and he tells us, “I thought I was falling down in a whirlpool—this abyss into which I was falling—and I awakened having heard the opening chords of Das Rheingold.” These powerful E-flat chords that suggest the churning of the Rhine River were the launching point for the compositional labors that would occupy Wagner for more than 25 years as he wrote the extraordinary music for his epic tetralogy.
Wagner was vegetarian for some of his life but was also known to not turn the offer of a good meal, especially in Italy. He surely was nourished in La Spezia by the town’s most famous dish, local mussels stuffed with mortadella, cheese, and herbs, finished in tomato sauce. This food of genius is the perfect pairing for a night of watching or listening to The Ring of the Nibelung (Der Ring des Nibelungen).