There are more connections than you might expect between Wagner’s Ring and the Ancient Greeks’ favourite pastime.

Whenever an opera company mounts a performance of Wagner’s Ring, their media machinery quickly grinds out that it’s “The Olympics of Opera” or “The Olympics of Classical Music”, or just “Music’s Olympics”. In order to sell an arts event like The Ringon account of its size or uniqueness, every marketing team has to search for a comparison that can be immediately grasped by all. No problem. As this year’s thrilling Rio junket proved once again, the sports world’s global festival beats everything hands down with its once-every-four-years eruption of Olympian prowess. And since there is nothing bigger or more world-grabbing than the Olympics, opera publicists rush to plant Wagner’s Ringin the same ballpark. Immediate attention. Greatness at a stroke.

If you wanted to find more solid links between today’s Olympics and Wagner’s Ring, you wouldn’t have to look far, mind. For a start, this year’s Olympic host city of Rio has a direct but little-known Wagnerian connection through the music-loving Dom Pedro II, the last Emperor of Brazil. Dom Pedro was one of Wagner’s first aristocratic fans, and even tried...