It's Richard's birthday, and time for all good Gods, heroes and opera lovers to wake up and celebrate! Here are some clips for you to enjoy the day, mostly chosen from slightly outside the "greatest hits" in each opera.

As a card carrying Ring nut, I'm going to make no apology for starting this playlist with a quartet of clips from Der Ring des Nibelungen. Here's the late Maria Radner as Erda in Das Rheingold, showing us how to be an Earth Mother with sweetness of tone and total vocal control:

From Die Walküre, I know we've mentioned this one before, but I can't resist this splendid compilation of "who has the longest sword," as a collection of tenors demand of Wotan (or, in this case, his alias Wälse) where their sword has gone:

When I took my Ring-novice son to his first Ring cycle, the Opéra de Dijon's version condensed into two days, the music we were humming for a worryingly high amount of the journey home was the prelude to Act III of Siegfried. Here it is, performed at Bayreuth in 1966 by Karl Böhm:

And by the way, if just listening to the music isn't enough for you: here's the relevant chunk of Derek Cooke's classic analysis of how the leitmotifs fit together:

From Götterdämmerung, I've chosen Wagner's most extraordinary portrait of evil and mayhem. Here's the incomparable Josef Greindl singing Hagen at Bayreuth in 1957 as he summons the clan of the Gibichungs in Act II. It may not be the highest quality recording, but both Greindl and conductor Hans Knappertsbusch are exceptional.

If all that orchestral mayhem is too much for you, here is Gian Luca Pasolini as the young seaman in Tristan und Isolde, singing unaccompanied of his wild, adorable Irish maid:

Staying with the nautical theme (and indeed, in keeping with birthday celebrations), here's Wagner's idea of a good knees-up: the sailors' chorus in Der fliegende Holländer. The quality of this clip is particularly surprising when you realise that it's recorded outdoors, in the splendid Roman Theatre at the Chorégies d'Orange:

From Tannhäuser, here's a chorus of an altogether different sort. You may have to wind the volume up at the beginning of this clip and down at the end – it's mixed with pretty extreme dynamic range – but the Berlin Deutsche Opera Chorus give an outstanding rendering of the Pilgrim's chorus:

Outside his operas, Wagner's music is largely forgotten, but here's the great man in celebratory mood himself, quite late in life in 1876, with his Großer Festmarch (or, to give its full name in English, the "Grand Festive March for the Opening of the Centennial Celebration of the Signing of the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America". 

I fancy he'd have quite liked this played on his own birthday!