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Opera Today

Richard Wagner’s revolution: “Music drama” against bourgeois “opera"

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 17 May 2015 | 10:34:00 a.m.

Richard Wagner’s revolution: “Music drama” against bourgeois “opera"Dr Mark Berry

Contrary to widespread opinion, Richard Wagner started off his career as the most revolutionary composer of the nineteenth century, not just in a musical sense but also in a more straightforwardly political manner. Contemporary obsession with alleged anti-Semitism in his dramatic works, aided and abetted by the de facto prohibition upon their performance in Israel, has tended to drown out all other controversy, of which there should be more, not less, both in quantity and in quality.

Wagner was not simply a supporter of the 1849 Dresden uprising, one of the more bloody episodes of the 1848–1849 revolutions; he was an active participant. Wagner probably ordered hand grenades; he certainly served on the barricades and acted as lookout, observing street fighting from the tower of the Kreuzkirche, while engaging in animated politico-philosophical discussion. Many revolutionary leaders, participants, and sympathizers were killed or punished, including Wagner’s comrade-in-arms, the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. By chance, and with his friend Franz Liszt’s help, Wagner escaped into Swiss exile (Newman 1933: 104–105). There he would pen both a good deal of theoretical writing—often dealing with the implications of artistry in the modern, capitalist world that so repelled him—and his vast musico-dramatic tetralogy, The ring of the Nibelung, which he wrote to “make clear to the men of the Revolution the meaning of that Revolution, in its noblest sense” (Wagner [1866] 1967: 176, author’s translation).

For Wagner, that revolution remained in the air, even after Louis-Napoléon’s 1851 coup d’état, which had marked its final act to many German erstwhile ’48ers. Revolution still promised to bring not only political and social but also artistic transformation. Indeed, reinstatement of the public, anti-individualistic essence of art was very much of a piece with socialism in “political” life. Wagner’s ideas may not have been so clearly acknowledged by twentieth-century successors as they should, whether through ignorance or through embarrassment at hijacking by the Nazis. However, Anatoly Lunacharsky, the first Soviet Commissar of Enlightenment, was enthusiastic, as were many of his fellow Leninist revolutionaries. Indeed, Lunacharsky’s festive-revolutionary plans for the Bolshoi and Mariinsky (soon to be Kirov) Theatres were explicitly inspired by Wagner’s own Art and revolution(Bartlett 1995: 256). Such ideas have certainly not disappeared today, although in an artistic world cowed by late capitalism, they are heard less often than they should be.
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Wagner as Dramatist and Allegorist - Fredric Jameson


Wagner as Dramatist and Allegorist
Fredric Jameson


Modernist Cultures. Volume 8, Issue 1, Page 9-41, ISSN 2041-1022, May 2013

Wagner’s architectonic and metaphysical excess, particularly in the Ring, does not encourage modesty in the critic, who also ends up wanting to say everything, rather than one specific thing. If I had to do the latter, like a good scholar or philologist, an erudite commentator, I would probably try to say something about the magic potions in Wagner; and may still briefly touch on that. But as a specialised topic that would also require us to deal more centrally with Tristan; and here clearly it is the Ring that demands our full and complete attention, not least on account of the interpretive controversies it continues to cause. So perhaps one guideline should be, not so much what Wagner really ‘meant’, but rather what interpretation and meaning might actually be in the ‘case of Wagner’. This is a dialectical problem that greatly transcends the traditional questions about the Ring: namely, whether it is about Wotan or Siegfried, and also what ‘the gods’ can be said to mean (in order for them to undergo a twilight, indeed a wholesale conflagration and extinction). On a philosophical level, this problem traditionally confronts Feuerbach with Schopenhauer; and meanwhile, in another part of the forest, lurks the question about the meaning of the ring itself and how much it may be said to represent capitalism, as Shaw famously argued.

 What it is now dialectically important to do is to suspend all the alternatives such questions ask us to choose, to step back in order to ask what such questions themselves mean. We need to ask what meaning means in this situation, and therefore what interpreting it might involve. And it is crucial to retain our specification ‘in this instance’, and to remember that the discussion engages Wagner alone, or rather his historical situation, and not music in general, drama in general, interpretation in general, or reading in general (for it is about reading that we must focus on here). Still, it seems fair minimally to generalise Wagner’s aesthetic situation to that of an early moment of artistic modernism as such, so I will venture a few tentative parallels in what follows. 

The first problem interpretation faces in this historical situation of nascent modernism is a gap between what sociological jargon calls the macro and the micro: in other words between overall form, the action or plot as a whole, and individual detail, here not merely language but also musical scoring. It is suggestive, if not altogether correct, to think of this as an opposition between the project as a whole and its pageby-page execution. In fact, though, the gap here constitutes a more dialectical distinction, between totality and the individual or empirical phenomenon. Totality is necessarily always absent, the phenomenon as its name suggests is always perceptually present in one way or another. The two levels are both dialectically inseparable and at the same time incommensurable: no synthesis is possible between them, and interpretation always ends up choosing one or the other for its focus, as much as it would like to posit some ultimate unity, some organic form, in which detail and whole might be at one.

Now this dialectical opposition is no doubt a permanent dilemma for the human mind (otherwise it would not have been necessary to invent the dialectic). But I want to argue that it is exacerbated in the modern period, and very specifically in all the arts we characterise as modernist; and that it is exacerbated in the modernist period for a specific historical reason, namely the process of differentiation characterising modernity in general. ‘Differentiation’ is a useful term and concept invented by Niklas Luhmann, and it designates the tendency of reality in the modern period to differentiate itself into distinct semi-autonomous levels which we come to think of as multiple and coexisting realities with their own specific intelligibilities, each semi-autonomous and relatively distinct from the other.1 Thus, to take an easy example, that of the academic disciplines: their differentiation from that initial, primordial magma which is theology can be documented and dated with some accuracy. The trajectory of this immense historical process – in which Philosophy separates itself out from Theology, and the Law and the Natural Sciences from Philosophy, only then to undergo further differentiation themselves, as when Chemistry and then Biology become separate disciplines in their own right – this process can stand as a kind of model of the kind of dynamic of differentiation that is seemingly reversed in our own postmodern period (where, for example, Biology folds back into Astronomy, and Linguistics and Anthropology back into the thing we now call Theory).

 This last also happens in the arts. It will thus be an interesting question to determine whether the Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk is a premonition of such postmodern de-differentiation or, on the other hand, like Baudelaire’s poem ‘Correspondances’, whether it is simply (as I would be tempted to argue) an apparatus, a formal device, designed to intensify difference – either in the arts or the physical senses themselves – by way of their identification with one another. We can return to that too; and I should stress, in passing, that Luhmannian differentiation is only one philosophical language or code among others in which this historical process could be articulated.

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New Wagner Related Books: May 2015

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 16 May 2015 | 11:56:00 p.m.

Below is a list, and summary, of fours books either about or related to Wagner and his work that have been published this month or are about to be published.



My Life with Wagner
Christian Thielemann

(English translation)
13 Aug. 2015
320 pages
ISBN-10: 1780228376

Over a distinguished career conducting some of the world's finest orchestras, Christian Thielemann has earned a reputation as the leading modern interpreter of Richard Wagner. My Life with Wagner chronicles his ardent personal and professional engagement with the composer whose work has shaped his thinking and feeling from early childhood. Thielemann retraces his journey with Wagner - from Berlin to Bayreuth via Venice, Hamburg and Chicago. The book combines reminiscence and analysis with revealing insights drawn from Thielemann's near-forty years of experience as a Wagner conductor. Taking each opera in turn, his appraisal is illuminated by a deep affinity for the music, an intimate knowledge of the scores and the inside perspective of an outstanding practitioner. And yet for all the adulation Wagner's art inspires in him, Thielemann does not shy away from unpalatable truths about the man himself, explaining why today he is venerated and reviled in equal measure. My Life with Wagner is a richly rewarding read for admirers of a composer who continues to fascinate long after his death.
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One Apple a Day: Age and Ageing in Wagner’s Ring Dr Barbara Eichner

A fascinating paper by Dr Barbara Eichner, Senior Lecturer in Music at Oxford Brooks and among many other things contributor to The Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia. Recommended


One Apple a Day: Age and Ageing in Wagner’s Ring 

Dr Barbara Eichner

When the Nordic god Thor visited the giant Utgard-Loki, he was invited to enter a series of contests. Having failed at emptying a drinking-horn and lifting a cat, his host suggested a wrestling match with his old nurse-maid. To everybody’s amusement the frail old lady wrestled the god to his knees, but of course there was a trick: As Utgard-Loki revealed the other morning, the old woman had really been the personification of age, who forced everybody to the ground eventually. Although Wagner did not use this funny episode for the Ring project, the idea of ageing and dying was thus built into the mythological sources when he turned to the Nordic gods for the prehistory of Siegfried’s death. He was, however, not content with introducing the abstract concept of old age but created an opera where the process of ageing is actually presented on stage – a challenge that other composers and librettists never faced by sticking to the classical unities of time and action.The gods age at a momentous point in Das Rheingold at the end of the second scene, between the abduction of the goddess Freia by the giants Fafner and Fasolt, and Wotan’s descent to the underworld to retrieve the all-powerful ring from the Nibelungs. Immediately the gods start to age, as described by the stage directions: “A pale fog fills the stage with growing density; through it the gods take on an increasingly elderly appearance; all stared anxiously and expectantly at Wotan, who meditatively looks to the ground.”
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How Wagner Informed Russell Crowe's "Acting Technique"

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday, 28 April 2015 | 8:07:00 p.m.

At least we now know what is running through Crowe's mind
during all of those publicity shots
In an interview with "Yahoo Movies", Russell Crowe gives a film by film "insight" into how he prepares  himself for each role . No method acting here it would seem,. Although, we can suppose one would struggle to apply that school of acting technique to either the roles of a gladiator or a singing police inspector during the Paris uprising of 1832.

Turning to his "breakthrough", 1992 role in "Romper Stomper" he provides some interesting, if bewildering insights. For those that have not seen it, Romper Stomper follows the self destruction of a skinhead, neo-Nazi group in Melbourne. Think of it as a sort of "Before they were UKIP" documentary. drama. In this movie, Crowe plays "Hando" leader of said skinhead group.

And how did Crowe prepare for the role of a skinhead, neo-nazi thug? "...he remembers internalizing three different sounds simultaneously in his head: German composer Richard Wagner, soccer crowds, and plain white noise". He does not elaborate, whether he means the voice of Wagner through his writings,  Richard Burton's movie version or alternatively Wagner's music.

Says Crowe, “I look back at it now and I go, 'What the hell was I trying to achieve with that? But I had to fight through all that noise, so it kind of gave [him] a strange edge.”

So now we find that Wagner can be blamed not only for: the rise of the Nazis, the fall of civilization, the rise of civilisation, atheism, monotheism, mass genocide, communism, capitalism, the decline of classical music, the saving of classical music, social moral degeneracy, sexual freedom - among many other things -  but "ham acting". Will the horror ever end? Well, one assumes they cannot blame Wagner for Crowe's terrible singing in Les Misérables. Can they?

The full interview video can be found below.
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The Ring Cycle Tarot

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 5 April 2015 | 4:35:00 a.m.

There has, of course, been, what seems, an endless number of differingly themed tarot decks. It would be easy to blame the the occult revival of the  Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn
 for this, but only a quick glance at the history of the tarot deck (or should that be decks?) would show that it has always been so. In more recent times, there have been many such decks based on "popular" culture - both officially and unofficially.  For example The Star Wars Tarot and at least two Lord Of The Rings themed tarot decks. It may come as some surprise then, given the esoteric interpretations given to the Ring, at least since the early days of the Theosophical Society, that there has, until now, been no Ring cycle themed tarot deck.  

Well, Allegra Printz, a graduate of The Boston Museum School of Fine Arts,  a professional artist, classical music lover, tarot enthusiast, and student of metaphysics, is about to to correct this oversight. His deck, and explanatory book,  based upon Rackham’s Ring illustrations will be released internationally in May this year. What follows below is the publishers description. 


This beautiful 78-card Tarot deck, adapted from the illustrations of Arthur Rackham, interprets Richard Wagner’s four-part opera, The Ring of the Nibelung, which traces the mythic tale of a golden ring of unlimited power plagued by a deadly curse, loose in the world of the Old Norse and Germanic gods. An End Time prophecy infuses the epic story with thought-provoking, contemporary resonance. The four elemental Tarot suits in this powerful divination tool are realized from four Ring Cycle races: Gods (Fire/Wands), demi-god Walsungs (Water/Cups), human Gibichungs (Air/Swords), and dwarf Nibelungs (Earth/Disks/Pentacles). The accompanying book explores divinatory meanings, lensed partly through the feminine and esoteric, and also delves into The Ring of the Nibelung’s characters, plot, themes, and unique music, which would inspire J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth novels decades later. This deck remains true to the spirit of Wagner, Rackham, and the Tarot, demonstrating useful contemporary insight into all three of these timeless arts.

Size: 11 3/4″ x 6″ x 1 7/8″ | 78 art cards | 256 pp
ISBN13: 9780764348174 | Binding: box set

Allegra Printz, a graduate of The Boston Museum School of Fine Arts, is a professional artist, classical music lover, tarot enthusiast, and student of metaphysics. A fan of both Wagner’s Ring and Rackham’s Ring illustrations for many years, she was creatively inspired to meld them together into a distinctive tarot deck upon discerning how the mythic archetypes of Wagner/Rackham and tarot aligned in a naturally magical way. The Ring Cycle Tarot is the culmination of years of thought, study, and “field testing” the cards in numerous readings.






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New Issue Of The Wagner Journal Published

March 2015 issue (vol.9, no.1) of The Wagner Journal, which contains the following articles:

• 'Where's the Drama?': Personal Reflections on the Intersection of Music and Theatre in Wagner Performance by David Breckbill
• Knappe oder Ritter? A study of Gurnemanz by Peter Quantrill
• Wagner and Science: Twilight of the Gods Across the Multiverse by Mark B. Chadwick
• The Rosebush Pictures of Wagner's Daughter Isolde by Dagny R. Beidler

plus reviews of:
Tristan und Isolde at Covent Garden
Lohengrin in Zurich and Amsterdam
Das Rheingold in British Columbia
Parsifal in Tokyo

CD recordings of a complete Wagner cycle conducted by Marek Janowski and the 1961 Bayreuth Tannhäuser conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch, starring Wolfgang Windgassen, Victoria de los Angeles, Grace Bumbry and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

Hilan Warshaw's film Wagner's Jews on DVD
new books on Wagner and film by David Huckvale and Kevin C. Karnes, Wagner's Visions by Katherine R. Syer, The Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia, ed. Nicholas Vazsonyi, a new translation of Wagner's essay Beethoven by Roger Allen, and Chris Walton's Lies and Epiphanies: Composers and Their Inspiration from Wagner to Berg, reviewed by David Matthews

Individual copies of, and annual subscriptions to, The Wagner Journal are available in both printed and electronic form. Individual articles and reviews are also available in electronic form. Full details on www.thewagnerjournal.co.uk.
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Salome (1923) - from Oscar Wilde's play - silent with English intertitles

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 6 March 2015 | 10:32:00 p.m.

Not Wagner of course, but would there have been this opera without Wagner? Whatever the answer, Salome, is perhaps one of Strauss' greatest works - if not the greatest opera of the 20th century. This is not the opera of course, but the 1923 Silent movie of Wild's play. More interestingly, this uses a single set based on Aubrey Beardsley's illustrations for the published play.

Salomé (1923), a silent film directed by Charles Bryant and starring Alla Nazimova, is a film adaptation of the Oscar Wilde play of the same name.

Salomé is often called one of the first art films to be made in the U.S.[1] The highly stylized costumes, exaggerated acting (even for the period), minimal sets, and absence of all but the most necessary props make for a screen image much more focused on atmosphere and on conveying a sense of the characters' individual heightened desires than on conventional plot development.

Despite the film being only a little over an hour in length and having no real action to speak of, it cost over $350,000 to make. All the sets were constructed indoors to be able to have complete control over the lighting. The film was shot completely in black and white, matching the illustrations done by Aubrey Beardsley in the printed edition of Wilde's play. The costumes, designed by Natacha Rambova, used material only from Maison Lewis of Paris, such as the real silver lamé loincloths worn by the guards.

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ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK AND RICHARD WAGNER

ANTONÍN DVOŘÁK AND RICHARD WAGNER
Jarmila Gabrielová

Abstract: The essay deals with the relation of prominent Czech composer Antonín Dvořák (1841–1904) to the personality and work of Richard Wagner (1813–1883). As opposed to the common opinions linking Dvořák’s name with Wagner‘s ideological opponents and placing his ‘Wagnerian’ period in the early phase of his career only, our examination shows that Dvořák’s interest in Wagner and his music was of deep and lasting nature and was significant for him throughout the whole of his life.

Today, more than a hundred years later, it is hard to imagine what a tremendous influence the life and work of Richard Wagner had on the minds of his contemporaries, or his impact on at least the next two generations of composers and their audiences. Without exaggeration we can say that almost no important musicians of the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century remained indifferent to Wagner’s legacy, without taking note of it–regardless of whether, in the period atmosphere of polarised opinions and values, they considered the period atmosphere of polarised opinions and values, they considered themselves ‘Wagnerians’ and continued consciously along the trail he had blazed, or whether they found themselves in the camp of the opposition as regards both art and views of the world. Everything indicates that
Antonín Dvořák (born 8 September 1841 in Nelahozeves, died 1 May
1904 in Prague), whose name is often linked with Wagner’s ideological
opponents, was no exception in this regard.

Music historians and journalists who have devoted detailed attention to Dvořák’s life have generally been in agreement in their view of his relation to Richard Wagner. They all place Dvořák’s ‘Wagnerian’ (or ‘New German’) period in the early phase of his career, in the 1860s. They refer to a tendency toward expansion and loosening of form manifesting itself in his orchestral works from this period, i.e. in the first two symphonies and the A major cello concerto, and also point out what they take to be allusions to particular passages from Wagner’s music, not only in Dvořák’s operas Alfred (1870) and Král a uhlíř (King and Charcoal Burner, first setting, from 1871) but even in chamber works, namely the three string quartets without opus number in B flat major, D major, and E minor from 1868-70. Agreement prevails also in the notion that this ‘Wagnerian’ and ‘New German’ enchantment represents only a short episode in Dvořák’s stylistic development, which ended definitively in the early 1870s.

Space does not allow a detailed analysis here, aimed at investigating the truth and justification of these interpretations. Instead I shall attempt to map and classify the available evidence as to when and where Dvořák may have encountered Wagner’s works, what music by Wagner he may have known, and what his opinion was on this music and its composer.

If we start by seeking the source of the common opinions regarding Dvořák’s ‘Wagnerianism’, we find with little difficulty that they undoubtedly came from the composer himself. However, he spoke of his relation to Wagner in his youth only many years later, in a biographical interview with the British journalist Paul Pry (about whom we have no information) during his third concert trip to England in the spring of 1885. More than twenty years after the fact, and more than two years after Wagner’s death, Dvořák recalled very vividly the composer’s visit
to Prague (in 1863), saying ‘I was perfectly crazy about him, and recollect
following him as he walked along the streets to get a chance now and again
of seeing the great little man’s face.’ In the same context he mentions Wagner’s significant influence on the harmony and orchestration of his opera Král a uhlíř (first setting, from 1871), which however he says he later destroyed.

 Another source of information about inspiration from Wagner is a letter Dvořák wrote to the Viennese critic and music journalist Eusebius Mandyczewski on January 7, 1898 in which at Mandyczewski’s request he provides information on unpublished and unperformed works from his youth. In this case, however, he is considerably more reserved and only mentions briefly that he had written an overture in D flat - C (the overture to the opera Alfred), ‘wo sich auch schon Wagner meldet’ (where now Wagner, too, makes himself known’); by contrast he says his earlier symphony in B flat major (No. 2) from 1865 was marked by
the influence of Schumann.

 Discussions regarding where the beginning composer might have enountered Wagner’s music and which works he may have come to know before 1870 usually focus on the first public performances of Wagner’s works in Prague, during the 1850s and 1860s. They almost always refer to the Prague premieres of the operas Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, and Der fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman) presented between 1854 and 1856 in what was then called the Landestheater (now the Estates Theatre) by the conductor and composer František Škroup; on the other hand the Prague premiere of Rienzi in October 1859 is not usually mentioned. Also cited are concerts of the Cecilia Society of
Prague given by Anton Apt, likewise in the 1850s, in particular a concert on February 27, 1858 that included a performance of Wagner’s cantata Das Liebesmahl der Apostel (The Love Feast of the Apostles) as well as a concert on March 12, 1859 featuring Hans von Bülow as both conductor and pianist which included the prelude to Tristan und Isolde. And at the centre of attention stand three Prague concerts on Žofín Island conducted by Wagner himself on February 8 and November 5 and 8, 1863, which included excerpts from operas not yet published or performed on stage at that time: Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Die Walküre, and Siegfried.


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MYTH & LEGEND IN WAGNER'S TANNHÄUSER

It is more difficult than one might first suspect to find good, or indeed
interesting, analysis of Tannhäuser. With that in mind, we were more than pleased to find the following three part series of articles dedicated to this very work. Written by the  Karl E. H. Seigfried from a presentation he gave recently on  Tannhäuser at the Lyric Opera of Chicago  and the Wagner Society of America. We present just a brief snippet form part one below. However, the entire three part article can be read in its entirety over at the author website by following thee links below.

"Wagnerians know Frigg as Fricka, the consort of Wotan. However, the attributes of Venus line up more clearly with the goddess Freya than they do with Frigg. Since at least the early 1900s, scholars have argued for an original identity for Frigg and Freya that – at some unknown point – split a complex female goddess into a mother figure and a maiden figure, into a goddess whose domain includes marriage and another associated with sexual love."


"To the medieval mind, Tannhäuser’s mortal sin was not breaking the bonds of chastity, which would have been forgivable through penitence. His true transgression is that of apostasy – of defecting from Christianity back to heathenry"

"When Wagner gives Venus the words “Fly hence to frigid men, before whose timid, cheerless fancy we gods of delight have escaped deep into the warm womb of earth,” he is tapping into the folk traditions mentioned earlier. Venus – like the other holdovers from the heathen age – has fled from the encroachment of Christianity and sought refuge in the hidden places of the world"

The Lyric Opera of Chicago is currently presenting a production of the opera that runs February 9 through March 15. If you can’t make it to Chicago but would like to hear the music, I recommend the 1971 recording by Georg Solti with the Vienna Philharmonic. The final installment of this series at The Norse Mythology Blog will include a bibliography of sources used – a list which can also serve as a guide for further reading.

In order to understand the nature of Wagner’s magic mountain, we must turn to the scholarship of his time. Wagner writes in his autobiography that, in 1843 – the year he finished the poem then titled Der Venusberg – he was inseparable from his copy of Jacob Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology. First published in 1835, Grimm’s attempt to bring the scattered bits of Germanic heathen lore together into a coherent system had an outsized impact on Wagner, who wrote:

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Richard Wagner - Liebestod - Sylvain Blassel

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday, 23 February 2015 | 7:29:00 a.m.

Sylvain Blassel (Harp, Arranger)

Born: 1976 - France

The French harpist, Sylvain Blassel, graduated in 1998 from the Lyon Conservatoire National Supérieur Musique et Danse (Lyon CNSMD) under Fabrice Pierre.

Following his graduation Sylvain Blassel was hired as an assistant conductor by the Ensemble Intercontemporai. He works mostly with David Robertson and Pierre Boulez, but also for Péter Eötvös, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Markus Stenz, Jonathan Nott and Hans Zender. This has given him the chance to meet such composers as György Kurtág, György Ligeti, Pascal Dusapin, Emmanuel Nunes, and Ivan Fedele.

As a harpist, Sylvain Blassel plays with numerous orchestras and conductors such as Michel Plasson, Emmanuel Krivine, Alain Lombard, Iván Fischer and Marek Janowski. His interest in contemporary repertoire has led him to premiere works by Jacques Lenot, Francesco Filidei, Pierre Jodlowsky, Vincent Carinola and Oliver Schneller. In a continual drive to widen his repertoire he has transcribed many works either for solo harp or for chamber ensemble including the harp.

With a passion for old harps, Sylvain Blassel restores and adjusts his own harps under the guidance of Alexandre Budin.

Sylvain Blassel teaches the harp at Lyon CNSMD along with Fabrice Pierre and teaches musical analysis at the Rennes Conservatoire.


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New Wagner Publication: Understanding the Leitmotif: From Wagner to Hollywood Film Music

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 13 February 2015 | 2:06:00 p.m.

 
Understanding the Leitmotif
From Wagner to Hollywood Film Music

Author: Matthew Bribitzer-Stull
Publication planned for: April 2015
availability: Not yet published - available from April 2015
format: Hardback
isbn: 9781107098398
 
The musical leitmotif, having reached a point of particular forcefulness in the music of Richard Wagner, has remained a popular compositional device up to the present day. In this book, Matthew Bribitzer-Stull explores the background and development of the leitmotif, from Wagner to the Hollywood adaptations of The Lord of The Rings and the Harry Potter series. Analyzing both concert music and film music, Bribitzer-Stull explains what the leitmotif is and establishes it as the union of two aspects: the thematic and the associative. He goes on to show that Wagner's Ring cycle provides a leitmotivic paradigm, a model from which we can learn to better understand the leitmotif across style periods. Arguing for a renewed interest in the artistic merit of the leitmotif, Bribitzer-Stull reveals how uniting meaning, memory, and emotion in music can lead to a richer listening experience and a better understanding of dramatic music's enduring appeal.

  • Explains the concept of the leitmotif, adopting a new developmental approach to understanding its form and function
  • Explores the themes and associations of modern-day film music and the widely enjoyed musical genres of nineteenth-century dramatic music, such as program symphonies, tone poems, opera, and lieder
  • Provides a cross-disciplinary perspective that will be of interest to scholars of music theory, musicology, film studies, cultural studies, and comparative literature


Table of Contents
1. Introduction: the leitmotif problem
Part I. Musical Themes:
2. Motive, phrase, melody, and theme
3. Thematic development, thematic identity: musical themes and the prototype model
Part II. Musical Association:
4. The phenomenon of musical association
5. Piece specifics, cultural generics, and associative layering
6. From 'Nibelheim' to Hollywood: the associativity of harmonic progression
Part III. Leitmotifs in Context:
7. The paradigm of Wagner's Ring
8. Leitmotif in Western art music outside the Ring
9. The modern-day leitmotif: associative themes in contemporary film music
 

Matthew Bribitzer-Stull is Associate Professor of Music Theory at the University of Minnesota. He has presented and published widely on Wagner, nineteenth-century chromatic tonality, musical association, and music theory pedagogy. His articles have appeared in Music Theory Spectrum, the Journal of Music Theory, Music Analysis, Intégral, the Journal of Schenkerian Studies, the Journal of Musicological Research, the Journal of Music Theory Pedagogy, The Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia, and The Legacy of Richard Wagner, among others. He is author of the Anthology for Performance and Analysis (2013) and co-editor of Richard Wagner for the New Millennium: Essays on Music and Culture (2007, with Alex Lubet and Gottfried Wagner, great-grandson of the composer). Winner of the Society for Music Theory Emerging Scholar Award, he has also received a number of teaching awards.
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Tannhauser: "Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t"

“Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” A counterfactual analysis of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

Chrissochoidis, I.; Harmgart, H.; Huck, S.; Müller, W.; (2010) “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.” A counterfactual analysis of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser. (ELSE Working Papers 377). ESRC Centre for Economic Learning and Social Evolution: London, UK.

Much like Wagner himself, the eponymous hero of Tannhäuser treads a path of stark contrasts and rapid swings. From Wartburg to the Venusberg and to the Vatican, the gifted bard transforms from self-centered artist to seduced disciple, disillusioned devotee, hopeful lover, self-loathing pilgrim and finally redeemed martyr. He tries everything and everything is trying. These contrasts reach a peak in the opera‟s central episode, the song contest at Wartburg. Tannhäuser has just been welcomed at the court, received Elisabeth‟s favor and affection, and is ready to compete for the contest‟s prize, one as lofty as possibly the princess‟ hand. Instead of securing his reintegration to Wartburg with a brilliant performance, however, he spoils the event with insolent remarks and the exhibitionist disclosure of his Venusberg experience. His behavior offends his peers, scandalizes the court, breaks Elisabeth‟s heart, and brings him to the edge of death. Why would Tannhäuser sacrifice everything for nothing?

LANDGRAF
... Have you returned to the circle
you forsook in haughty arrogance?
WOLFRAM
... when, in haughtiness, you left us,

In the Venusberg, we find him incapable of fulfilling his duties (all attempts to praise the goddess end
up in complaints and self-pity) and his betrayal of Venus with the Virgin Mary (“mein Heil ruht in
Maria!” [my salvation rests in Mary!] Act 1, sc. 2, l. 302) is followed by swapping the latter for
Princess Elisabeth and then her, too, for a limelight moment of swaggering self-adulation. This, in
turn, he publicly regrets preferring penance over sin, a penchant he is no longer sure of when he finally returns to Wartburg. Thus, Tannhauser‟s irrational behavior in the song contest is not
surprising; indeed, it prepares us for the opera‟s tragic end. A man of such swings of mood and action will never find peace in this world.

Another explanation points the finger to Wagner himself, who forged a story out of two loosely
connected tales, recorded in the opera‟s title (Tannhäuser und der Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg). The
need for formal discipline (for example, having the big climax just before the end of Act 2) overrode
that for dramatic conviction. Whether for structural or philosophical reasons, Wartburg had to appear
midway between the Venusberg and Rome, the song contest should stand between a life of sin and
one of redemption, and Elisabeth had to become “the woman who, star-like,” leads Tannhäuser “from
the hot passion of the Venusberg to Heaven”.

Both explanations are valid and offer insights into Tannhäuser‟s reckless behaviour. Like most
exegetical efforts on the opera, however, they take for granted the hero‟s hyper-emotional nature,
compulsiveness, and spontaneity.3 Issues of choice, planning and strategy, are left out of the picture, as if his actions are involuntary responses to external stimuli and his decisions lack any kind of mental
processing. Yet his departure from the Venusberg is a conscious choice arrived at through rational
thinking. Memories of his past life interlace and clash with his present Venusian experiences, leading
to comparison and, ultimately, preference for the one over the other. His longing for change and
freedom in Act 1 shows an active mind capable of choosing between alternatives. This is indeed the
subject of his lengthy argument with Venus (reminiscent of the Orpheus-Euridice confrontation in
Gluck‟s Orfeo). Tannhäuser abandons the Venusberg fully aware of the privileges he leaves behind
and the hardships lying ahead:

TANNHÄUSER
for freedom, then, I long,
for freedom, freedom, do I thirst;
for struggle and strife I will stand,
though it be, too, for destruction and death:
from your kingdom, therefore, I must fly,
(Act 1, sc. 2, ll. 209-13)

Similarly, in his encounter with the knights, we find him resisting their offer, which shows at least
knowledge of two alternative paths. He agrees to join them only when Wolfram reveals Elisabeth‟s
favorable response to his songs. In what statisticians call Bayesian updating,4 Tannhäuser revises his
beliefs about Wartburg and his decision not to look back (“denn rückwärts darf ich niemals seh‟n.”
Act 1, sc. 4, l. 424). Learning about Elisabeth‟s feelings makes a return to Wartburg into a compelling choice (“Ha, jetzt erkenne ich sie wieder, / die schöne Welt, der ich entrückt!” [Ha, now I recognize it again, the lovely world that I renounced!] Act 1, sc. 4, ll. 474-75).

Pursuing this line of inquiry, this paper offers a new reading of the Sängerkrieg auf Wartburg. We
propose that Tannhäuser‟s seemingly irrational behaviour is actually consistent with a strategy of
redemption, in ways that recall Polonius‟s famous diagnosis of Hamlet “Though this be madness, yet
there is method in‟t.”5 We also suggest that he consciously disrupts the contest, knowing that only a
public disclosure of his sinful past can propel him on the path of redemption.

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Salzburg Marionettentheater's Der Ring des Nibelungen - An Overview



Highly recommended should you ever get the chance to see this - or their Magic Flute,  Don Giovanni and much else. To track down a performance close to you, we suggest that you visit this page.

The video below, which provides an overview, references a worldwide tour from a few years ago.
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In Performance: Parsifal - 2015




Only productions that have announced their principal casts have been included. As always, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of any listing and recommend that you check with the box office before making any booking
  
Oper Frankfurt

Dates:

15, 21, 29 March, 3, 6 April 2015


Amfortas - Johannes Martin Kränzle
Titurel - Magnus Baldvinsson
Gurnemanz - Franz-Josef Selig
Parsifal - Frank van Aken
Klingsor - Simon Bailey
Kundry - Claudia Mahnke
1. Gralsritter - Hans-Jürgen Lazar
2. Gralsritter - Iurii Samoilov
1. Knappe - Elizabeth Reiter
2. Knappe - Jenny Carlstedt
3. Knappe - Michael Porter
4. Knappe - Michael McCown
1. Flowermaiden - Louise Alder
2. Flowermaiden - Karen Vuong
3. Flowermaiden - Judita Nagyova
4. Flowermaiden - Eizabeth Reiter
5. Flowermaiden - Jenny Carlstedt
6. Flowermaiden - Maria Pantiukhova

Conductor: Bertrand de Billy
Director: Christof Nel
Set Designs: Jens Kilian
Costumes: Ilse Welter
Lighting: Olaf Winter

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Staatsoper Unter den Linden

    
New production

Dates:

28, 31 March, 3, 6, 12, 18 April 2015


Amfortas - Wolfgang Koch
Titurel - Matthias Hölle
Gurnemanz - René Pape
Parsifal - Andreas Schager
Klingsor - Tomas Tomasson
Kundry - Anja Kampe
1. Gralsritter - Grigory Shkarupa
1. Knappe - Sonia Grané
2. Knappe - Annika Schlicht
3. Knappe - Stephen Chambers
4. Knappe - Jonathan Winnell
1. Flowermaiden - Julia Novikova
2. Flowermaiden - Adriane Queiroz
3. Flowermaiden - Sonia Grané
4. Flowermaiden - Narine Yeghiyan
5. Flowermaiden - Annika Schlicht

Conductor: Daniel Barenboim
Director: Dmitri Tcherniakov

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Vienna State Opera

Dates:

2, 5, 8 April 2015


Amfortas - Michael Volle
Gurnemanz - Stephen Milling
Parsifal - Johan Botha
Kundry - Angela Denoke

Conductor: Peter Schneider
Director: Christine Mielitz
Set Designs: Stefan Mayer
Costumes: Stefan Mayer

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Hungarian State Opera


Dates:

3, 6 April 2015


Amfortas - Levente Molnar
Titurel - Istvan Kovacs
Gurnemanz - Eric Halfvarson
Parsifal - Istvan Kovacshazi
Klingsor - Sandor Egri
Kundry - Judit Nemeth
1. Gralsritter - Peter Kiss
2. Gralsritter - Lajos Geiger
1. Knappe - Erika Markovics
2. Knappe - Krisztina Simon
3. Knappe - Istvan Horvath
4. Knappe - Jaos Szerekovan
1. Flowermaiden - Zita Varadi
2. Flowermaiden - Kinga Kriszta
3. Flowermaiden - Krisztina Simon
4. Flowermaiden - Gabi Gal
5. Flowermaiden - Timea Balog
6. Flowermaiden - Eva Varhelyi
Alto solo - Atala Schöck

Conductor: Christian Badea
Director: Andras Miko
Set Designs: Gabor Forray
Costumes: Peter Makai

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Nationaltheater Mannheim


Dates:

3 April, 4 June 2015


Amfortas - Thomas Berau
Titurel - Sebastian Pilgrim
Gurnemanz - John In Eichen
Parsifal - Michael Baba
Klingsor - Thomas Jesatko
Kundry - Edna Prochnik
1. Gralsritter - David Lee
2. Gralsritter - Sebastian Pilgrim
1. Knappe -  Astrid Kessler
2. Knappe - Evelyn Krahe
3. Knappe - Uwe Eikötter
4. Knappe - Ziad Nehme
1. Flowermaiden - Astrid Kessler
2. Flowermaiden - Estelle Kruger
3. Flowermaiden - Dorottya Lang
4. Flowermaiden - Vera-Lotte Böcker
5. Flowermaiden - Ludovica Bello
6. Flowermaiden - Evelyn Krahe
Alto solo - Evelyn Krahe

Conductor: Alois Seidlmeier
Director:Hans Schüler
Set Designs: Paul Walter
Costumes: Gerda Schulte

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Theater Chemnitz

Dates:

3, 12(m), 26(m) April 2015


Amfortas - Roman Trekel
Titurel - Thomas Mäthger
Gurnemanz - James Moellenhoff
Parsifal - Burkhard Fritz / Frank van Aken
Klingsor - Hannu Niemelä
Kundry - Susanne Schimmack
1. Gralsritter - Edward Randall
2. Gralsritter - Kouta Räsänen
1. Knappe - Franziska Krötenheerdt
2. Knappe - Tiina Penttinen
3. Knappe - André Riemer
4. Knappe - Levy Sekgapane
1. Flowermaiden - Guibee Yang
2. Flowermaiden - Maraike Schröter
3. Flowermaiden - Tiina Penttinen
4. Flowermaiden - Sarah Yorke
5. Flowermaiden - Franziska Krötenheerdt
6. Flowermaiden - Cordelia Katharina Weil
Alto solo - Tiina Penttinen

Conductor: Frank Beermann
Director: John Dew
Set Designs: Heinz Balthes
Costumes: José-Manuel Vázquez

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Oper Leipzig

Dates:

3 April, 22 May 2015

Amfortas - Tuomas Pursio / Mathias Hausmann
Titurel - Milcho Borovinov
Gurnemanz - Runi Brattaberg
Parsifal - Daniel Kirch
Klingsor - Jürgen Kurth
Kundry - Kathrin Göring
1. Gralsritter - Keith Boldt
2. Gralsritter - Milcho Borovinov
1. Knappe - Olena Tokar
2. Knappe - Jean Broekhuizen
3. Knappe - Sebastian Fuchsberger
4. Knappe - Tommaso Randazzo
2. Flowermaiden - Jennifer Porto
3. Flowermaiden - Jean Broekhuizen
4. Flowermaiden - Olena Tokar
6. Flowermaiden - Sandra Janke
Alto solo - Sandra Janke

Conductor: Ulf Schirmer
Director: Roland Aeschlimann
Set Designs: Roland Aeschlimann
Costumes: Susanne Raschig
Lighting: Lukas Kaltenbäck

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Teatro Colón
    
New production

Dates:

4, 6, 9, 11 December 2015


Amfortas - Ryan McKinny
Gurnemanz - Stephen Milling
Parsifal - Christopher Ventris
Klingsor - Kay Stiefemann
Kundry - Iréne Theorin

Conductor: Roberto Paternostro
Director: Marcelo Lombardero
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In Performance: Tristan Und Isolde - 2015


Only productions that have announced their principal casts have been included. As always, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of any listing and recommend that you check with the box office before making any booking

Only productions that have at least announced their principle casts have been included. As always, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of any listing and recommend that you check with the box office before booking. We will attempt to add video and photos as time allows.  If you believe we have missed a production - and we have no doubt that that is the case -  please get in touch and let us know: where, when and who. - See more at: http://www.the-wagnerian.com/2012/12/complete-ring-cycles-productions-2013.html#sthash.UTjpJxrV.dpuf
Staatstheater Nürnberg

Dates:
1, 8, 22 February, 8, 22 March 2015

Tristan - Vincent Wolfsteiner / Tilmann Unger
Isolde - Claudia Iten
König Marke - Pavel Shmulevich / Woong-Jo Choi
Kurwenal - Jochen Kupfer
Melot - Hans Kittelmann
Brangäne - Roswitha Christina Müller
Ein Hirt - Kwonsoo Jeon
Ein Steuermann - Sébastien Parotte / Daniel Dropulja
Ein Junger Seemann - Kwonsoo Jeon

Conductor: Markus Bosch
Director: Monique Wagemakers
Set Designs: Dirk Becker
Costumes: Gabriele Heimann

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Teatro di San Carlo

Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

Dates:

22, 25, 28 February, 3, 5 March 2015

Tristan - Torsten Kerl
Isolde - Violeta Urmana
König Marke - Stephen Milling
Kurwenal - Jukka Rasilainen
Melot - Alfredo Nigro
Brangäne - Lioba Braun

Conductor: Zubin Mehta
Director: Lluis Pasqual
Set Designs: Ezio Frigerio
Costumes: Franca Squarcipiano

---------------------------------------------

Opéra national du Rhin
New production

Dates:
18, 21, 24, 30 March, 2, 17, 19(m) April 2015 (Strasbourg & Mulhouse)

Tristan - Ian Storey
Isolde - Melanie Diener
König Marke - Attila Jun
Kurwenal - Raimund Nolte
Melot - Gijs Van der Linden
Brangäne - Michelle Breedt
Ein Hirt - Sunggoo Lee
Ein Junger Seemann - Sunggoo Lee

Conductor: Axel Kober
Director: Antony McDonald
Set Designs: Antony McDonald
Costumes: Antony McDonald

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The Royal Swedish Opera

Dates:

24, 27, 30 March, 2 April 2015

Tristan - Michael Weinius / Niklas Björling Rygert
Isolde - Emma Vetter
König Marke - Lennart Forsen
Kurwenal - Johan Edholm
Melot - Magnus Kyhle
Brangäne - Katarina Dalayman
Ein Hirt - Niklas Björling Rygert
Ein Steuermann - John Erik Eleby

Conductor: Lawrence Rennes
Director:Hans-Peter Lehmann
Set Designs: Olaf Zombeck
Costumes: Olaf Zombeck
Lighting: Linus Fellbom


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Opéra national de Bordeaux
    
New production

Dates:
26, 29(m) March, 1, 4, 7 April 2015

Tristan - Christian Voigt
Isolde - Alwyn Mellor
König Marke - Nicolas Courjal
Kurwenal - Brett Polegato
Melot - Guillaume Antoine
Brangäne - Janina Baechle
Ein Hirt - Simon Bode
Ein Steuermann - Jean-Marc Bonicel
Ein Junger Seemann - Simon Bode

Conductor:Paul Daniel
Director: Giuseppe Frigeni
Set Designs: Giuseppe Frigeni
Costumes: Lili Kendaka
Lighting: Giuseppe Frigeni

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Longborough Festival Opera
  
New production

Dates:
12, 16, 18, 20 June 2015

Tristan - Peter Wedd / Neal Cooper
Isolde - Rachel Nicholls / Lee Bisset
König Marke - Frode Olsen
Kurwenal - Andrew Slater / Stuart Pendred
Melot - Ben Thapa / Stephen Rooke
Brangäne - Catherine Carby / Harriet Williams
Ein Hirt - Stephen Rooke / Edward Hughes
Ein Steuermann - Thomas Colwell
Ein Junger Seemann - Edward Hughes

Conductor: Anthony Negus
Director: Carmen Jakobi
Set Designs: Kimie Nakano
Costumes: Kimie Nakano
Lighting: Ben Ormerod

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Munich Opera Festival

Dates:
8, 12 July 2015

Tristan - Peter Seiffert
Isolde - Waltruad Meier
König Marke - René Pape
Kurwenal - Alan Held
Melot - Francesco Petrozzi
Brangäne - Elisabeth Kulman
Ein Hirt - Kevin Conners
Ein Steuermann - Christian Rieger
Ein Junger Seemann - Dean Power

Conductor: Philippe Jordan
Director: Peter Konwitschny
Set Designs: Johannes Leiacker
Costumes: Johannes Leiacker
Lighting: Michael Bauer

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Tiroler Festspiele Erl

Dates:
10, 18 July 2015

Tristan - Michael Baba / Gianluca Zampieri
Isolde - Bettine Kampp / Mona Somm / Nancy Weissbach
König Marke - Franz Hawlata / Jens Waldig
Kurwenal - Frederik Baldus / Michael Mrosek
Melot - George Humphrey / Wolfram Wittekind
Brangäne - Hemine Haselböck / Rita Lucia Schneider
Ein Hirt - Ulfried Haselsteiner / Markus Herzog
Ein Steuermann - Frederik Baldus / James Roser
Ein Junger Seemann - Giorgio Valenta / Wolfram Wittekind

Conductor: Gustav Kuhn
Director: Gustav Kuhn
Set Designs: Ina Reuter
Costumes: Lenka Radecky
Lighting: Gustav Kuhn

-------------------------------------------------------------

Bayreuth Festival
New production

Dates:

25 July, 2, 7, 13, 18, 23 August 2015

Tristan - Stephen Gould
Isolde - Anja Kampe

Conductor: Christian Thielemann
Director: Katharina Wagner
Set Designs: Frank Philipp Schlößmann / Matthias Lippert
Costumes: Thomas Kaiser
Lighting: Reinhard Traub
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Wagner, The Ring and Call Of Duty?

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday, 9 February 2015 | 10:19:00 a.m.

OK. We  are going to try and explain this, briefly, for most of our readers (the rest of you can go straight to the end): "Call Of Duty" is a "video game". Yes, one of those things your young nephew nodoubt tries to go back after feigning interest in your latest visit (Don't blame them. You play GTA 5 in first-person mode on a next gen console and imagine how interested you would be in them visiting you). Not just any video game, but part of that most insidious, insipid sub-genre; the FPS (First Person Shooter). For reasons only understood by COD and Battlefield players, this sub-genre is incredible popular and successful.

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Opera North Announce 2016 Ring Cycle Dates & Locations

Written By The Wagnerian on Thursday, 22 January 2015 | 6:20:00 p.m.


After four years of individual performances of each part of Der Ring des Nibelungen in concert - although semi-staged - ON have now announced the dates and locations of the full cycle, to be performed in 2016.


Leeds Town Hall:
Cycle 1: Sat 23 April 2016 - Sat 21 May 2016
Cycle 2: Tue 24 May 2016 - 29 May 2016

Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham:
Mon 6 June 2016 - Sat 11 June 2016

The Lowry, Salford Quays:
13 June 2016 - Sat 18 June 2016

Southbank Centre, London:
Tue 28 June 2016 - Sun 3 July 2016

Sage Gateshead:
Tue 5 July 2016 - Sun 10 July 2016

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Win Two VIP Tickets To Meistersinger in London

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday, 20 January 2015 | 2:55:00 p.m.

This year,  during February and March, will see the London premiere of Richard Jones’s acclaimed staging of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.  Conducted by Edward Gardner, with a fine cast that includes Iain Paterson performing his first Sachs, Andrew Shore making his stage role debut as Beckmesser and the wonderful Rachel Nicholls performing Eva (you can read an interview with Rachel we conducted earlier in her Wagnerian career, here). Full details can be found below.

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Watch Now: Siegfried Act 1.

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 20 December 2014 | 12:32:00 a.m.


Queen City Chamber Opera, in collaboration with the Wagner Society of Cincinnati, continue to produce their Ring cycle - albeit one act at a time it would seem - as they turn their attention to act 1 of Siegfried. Well worth your time.

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Who Is Richard Wagner? Paul Dawson-Bowling

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 19 December 2014 | 10:24:00 a.m.


The following is the introduction - especially adapted by the author -  to Paul Dawson-Bowling's two volume introduction and analysis of Wagner and his work: The Wagner Experience

The Wagner Experience

This is a book of enthusiasm. It is addressed to everyone with an interest or a potential interest in Richard Wagner. People who take to the Wagner Experience encounter something wonderful, like gazing into a silver mirror which dissolves into a miraculous, self-contained world, glinting with life-changing possibilities. There are others who sense its appeal but find it difficult, and the first aim of this study to provide an Open Sesame for anyone wanting it. The aim is to make things easier for new-comers by presenting Wagner’s works as they stand before us.[1] The book also offers good things to old-timers, scholars and longstanding enthusiasts in virtue of the distinctive disciplines and viewpoints which it applies; but for all those drawn to the Wagner Experience, the key factor is the direct encounter with his ten great stageworks as they are. This accounts for the first main purpose of this study, to describe them in all their immediacy.

This is not to belittle the background, or deny its importance. The man Wagner, his background and his output are so interwoven that an awareness of his circumstances, his influences, his sources, his explanatory prose works, the psychological considerations, the performance history and the reception history – all these things can deepen the Wagner Experience. Adding the right background can be like adding the right lenses during an eye test. As lenses are added, what was blurred takes on new focus and depth, and we see more clearly and better. Even so, trouble arises when anyone turns the background into the foreground in a way that inflates features from the margins and distorts Wagner’s explicit intentions. He created mysterious worlds of knights in shining armour, grottos of enticing eroticism, magic fire and quests for the Holy Grail. Does it add meaning if people are led to think of Das Rheingold as not really about beautiful Rhinemaidens swimming in luminous depths and not about the Rhinegold shining through the waters? How does it help if even in telling the story it is reconsituted in line with some unusual element from the background, if the gold is recast as faeces and Alberich the dwarf is made into a Freudian symbol of a deprived infant, wanting to play with his own excrement?[2] What if the Ring which Alberich forges from the gold becomes a bizarre combination of an anal and vaginal sphincter? This kind of thing may produce interesting glosses, according to taste, but it is not Wagner, and when someone promotes it as the real Wagner, I believe that error is at work, and a reworking of his intentions which is unwarranted. This is a particularly glaring example to make the point, but it is a real one; and a particular drawback is that these reworkings is that they can put off newcomers who are trying out the Wagner Experience. The same happens if Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is set up as a Luddite manifesto attacking industrialisation, on the grounds that Wagner later had a violent argument with a factory owner about factory conditions and because Die Meistersinger’s main characters are manual craftsmen.

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Parsifal: Jonathan Meese Is Out And Uwe Eric Laufenberg Is In

Uwe Eric Laufenberg -sans mother or swastikas

After  Jonathan Meese's less than graceful exit from Bayreuth's 2016 Parsifal, a replacement has been, very, quickly found. However, one suspects those looking for a straightforward reading and presentation of the text maybe somewhat disappointed given Uwe Eric Laufenberg's revisionist tendencies with Wagner's work. However, we might expect something  both closer to that text and perhaps much more coherent a production then we have seen at Bayreuth for sometime - we hope
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Nina Stemme: Tristan's Death Wish & Why Kundry Must Wait


While a typically pedestrian interview in someways - but one has to consider its audience and the journalists need to write for that audience - Rupert Christiansen's recent discussion with Nina Stemme, never-the-less produced some interesting moments.

Discussing the relationship between Tristan and  Isolde for example, she told him, “I used to be preoccupied with conveying Isolde’s status as a Princess and the reasons that she hated the love that she felt for Tristan – issues that dominate the first act. Now I’ve become more fascinated with what she feels about death. Tristan has always been suicidal, because he can’t believe he will ever be loved, but for her the idea of death as an escape is a new one.”

And as to the  work itself, "“What some people don’t realise is that Tristan is a chamber opera, delicately analysing the most intimate feelings. So I find more abstract productions difficult: it reads so much better if it seems human and specific."

And what of Brünnhilde? “For a long time, I thought Brünnhilde wasn’t really for me, and I still think very carefully before I commit,” she says. “I want to know who is conducting, who my colleagues will be, and what the production is like. But she’s inside me now. I need to sing her more, and I shall.” While Kundry must wait it would seem, “It will come, it’s in the diary. But first I have to get Elektra under my belt. ”

To read the full interview click here
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When Opera Directors Need To Step Back And Reevaluate Their Work

Düsseldorf Deutsche Oper am Rhein's Tannhauser.
An interesting discussion from Jessica Duchen which asks "Should an opera production be changed if audiences dislike it?" Sparked by the clear revision of Christof Loy’s production of Tristan und Isolde at the ROH this season and going on to discuss the Glyndebourne/Richard Jones’s new production of Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, Mariinsky’s staging of the Ring and Düsseldorf Deutsche Oper am Rhein's Tannhauser.
 
When the director Christof Loy’s production of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde first opened at the Royal Opera House in 2009, some of the audience were in for a shock.

The set was dominated by a long, high, diagonal wall; and people seated on the left-hand edge of the auditorium found their sight lines virtually non-existent. Loud booing resulted on opening night; anybody would be angry after paying Wagnerian prices – in every sense – for an opera they could scarcely see.

Beyond the wall, though, the production was psychologically fascinating; and now it is back to Covent Garden starring, as Isolde, Nina Stemme, widely regarded as today’s greatest Wagnerian soprano. And the angle of that wall has been shunted by a few degrees; the theatre is offering a reduced price on seats where the view is still restricted.

Unlike mainstream theatre, opera is not blessed with a run of previews in which the creative team can fine-tune the staging and catch any likely bloopers. If something goes wrong, it tends to do so under the spotlight of acerbic critics and full-price audiences. Mistakes happen – this was a biggie – but how much can and should a production be changed if it goes over badly with its audience?

Most directors would naturally regard the idea as anathema. A good director has, in certain ways, to function as a benign dictator to realise a consistent concept; and anybody would need the hide of a large reptile to shrug off negative reactions. Mucking around with a show to try to please everyone risks pleasing nobody; besides, controversy is often a driving force in opera. If something strong is being said, somebody, somewhere, is bound to dislike it.

And in the best cases that is exactly why the director should stick to his or her guns. The 1976 production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle at Bayreuth by Patrice Chéreau, set during the Industrial Revolution, was greeted with considerable revulsion at first, yet in due course it became a true classic.





Continue Reading
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Lyric Opera's Ring - Reinterpreting Wagner?

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 7 December 2014 | 8:14:00 p.m.

 Kearley, Sayers, Pountney,  Lecca, and Matthew Rees
With the sad and untimely death of Johan Engels, the remaining  team behind  Lyric Opera's Ring Cycle discuss the productions future, a discussion  that may provide hints on its visual, narrative focus.

Talking to Deanna Isaacs, in a room that tantalizingly contained models of Engels' set design behind blackout curtains, and with a clearly subdued team,  model maker Matthew Rees, who was sitting in for Engels, said "We're all devastated". As David Pountney had said early last month, "Johan’s death leaves an enormous void in my personal and artistic life. We were very close collaborators, having worked on over 20 operas together over the last 20 years, and not only did we have two important projects for WNO this year, but had just completed designs for the Ring in Chicago due to be premiered over the next 5 years. Everyone who has seen one of Johan’s productions will mourn the loss of this artist with a superb aesthetic grasp and stunning visual flair. I have lost an inspiration and a friend.The theatre has lost one of its most brilliant and dedicated practitioners.'

So, where does this leave the production? David Pountney explained, as one might expect given his track record with Wagner, that this production will not be one that revises the narrative - whatever it  maybe about.  Pountney was keen to point out that any re-write of the work that places it, as has become popular, within a narrative that seems to support Fascism and the Third Reich in particular (a re-write that  was first done by the Nazis themselves, as they did with the work of Shakespeare, Beethoven, Bach and much else) is not what he wants.  Indeed, he was adamant that,"To narrow the vision that yielded (the Ring and the 20 years that Wagner spent on it) is incredibly stupid." Poutney says they simply want to "tell the story,". As Wagner seemed to want, and as might, at last in someways, be fitting with the intellectual zeitgeist of his time, any interpretation will be made by the audience. If Wagner intended that his audience should interpret its meaning only by what he wrote (and clearly the Ring is much more than an operatic "Epic Fantasy" - at least if you want it to be) this is now an oddly  fresh  approach to Wagner productions.

But does this mean a use of "high tech" theatrical effects like those of the METS recent Ring cycle? Not according to Pountney, "This Ring will be characterized by its avoidance of high tech,”  It'll be "pure theater," with the "virtuosity" coming out in the storytelling. While each opera will have its own environment and the cycle will move through time, the works will be mounted on a "common theatrical skeleton," with the artifice exposed.


The full interview can be read here
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Dame Gwyneth Jones Discusses "The Wagner Experince"

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 28 November 2014 | 11:25:00 p.m.


We have had many guest authors here over the years but surely none can be as special  as that of Dame Gwyneth Jones. In this review, Dame Gwyneth takes time from what remains an incredibly  busy schedule to review Paul Dawson-Bowling's book "The Wagner Experience"  Not only does it provide an unique review of Paul's two volume Wagner book but also an intriguing look at Dame Gwyneth Jones relationship to Wagner, his work  and productions of his work. A must read.

Edit: It has been pointed out the book is now available on Kindle for only £10.99. See below

THE WAGNER EXPERIENCE BY PAUL DAWSON-BOWLING:

THE PERFECT GIFT, THE PERFECT POSSESSION

Dame Gwyneth Jones

Christmas is just around the corner, someone very special is having an occasion to celebrate, or you just feel like spoiling yourself! This set of two wonderful books, beautifully presented, truly makes the ideal gift. But not only that! They are a “must” to have, as a reference to Wagner’s life and his incredible compositions and are ideal for placing in the lounge or bedroom for visiting guests to browse through, or for refreshing one’s memory of the stories, the sources and the lessons of Wagner’s great dramas, before attending the performance.

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Latvian Wagner Coin Wins International Award

Just goes to prove there is no award Wagner cannot win.

At the World Coin News’ Coin of the Year Award an international panel of judges bestowed Best Silver Coin honors to Latvia’s 1 lats coin marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of composer Richard Wagner, KM-140.

The coin dedicated to Wagner was issued in June 2013 to mark the 200th anniversary . It commemorates the active Riga period of the composer when he took to writing his first important opera "Rienzi".

The authors of the coin are Aigars Ozolins (graphic design of he front), Ivo Grundulis (graphic design of reverse) and Ligita Franckevica (plaster model). The coin was struck by Koninklijke Nederlandse Munt (Netherlands)



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The Wagnerian's Reader Choice Awards - 2014

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 16 November 2014 | 9:17:00 p.m.


Update: Due to a technical error (well, to be honest we thought we had closed the voting but we had not) we are keeping the polls open till the last day in November. The virtual award ceremony will run week beginning the 21 December 2014.  Who is the greatest living conductor of Wagner?  Plus who has our editor selected for special editors awards? Find out soon.

Time flies so  quickly it seems, for it is now 10 months since we first asked you to nominate entries, in  a number of categories, in the first "Wagnerian's Readers Choice Awards (henceforth "The Wagnerians"), Indeed, so enthusiastic was the response that we needed to run a semi-final a few months later to reduce the number of  entries in the male and female performer categories - from over 18 in each down now to more manageable 8.

So why has it taken so long to get the final voting? A number of reasons, that included not only technical ones but the way in  which we could include certain categories. Indeed, so complex did this become, that we have felt the need, at least this year, to leave certain  categories out - such as best CD. We won't bore you at this stage why this is the case apart from saying we are looking at how to address this next year.

But never-mind that for the present, for you finally have the opportunity to make your voice known below. This year there are five categories: Conductor, female and male performer, book and app of the year. All require a vote, apart from phone app of the year. This last omission is due to the simple fact that that not everyone that votes may have a "smart phone".

If the embedded form doesn't work for you below, click here. No login needed and no personal data kept.

A special thank you gift once you have voted
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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - 10 Day Study Course




Opera in Depth with David Nice: Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Frontline Club
12 January – 16 March 2015 14.30-16.30

In the second term of his new Opera in Depth course at the Frontline Club, a year of epics, David Nice devotes 10 two-hour classes to Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - a masterpiece that will never outstay its welcome. David, who has now explored all the major Wagner operas over 25 years of opera classes, last took students through Meistersinger five years at the time of Richard Jones’s revelatory new production for Welsh National Opera with Bryn Terfel making his role debut as Sachs.
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Bayreuth Kick Jonathan Meese Out Of The Festival - Making Sense?

Johnathan Meese clearing out his desk at Bayreuth?
Jonathan Meese has been a controversial figure from the moment he signed a contract with the Wagner sisters to direct 2016's Parsifal. Even we had our reservations, given his unconventional thoughts on Wagner and his lack of experience with directing opera (or given that this is Parsifal, more correctly drama). Other commentators have cited what some have called his obsession with Nazi symbolism or indeed what we described as his pythonesque response during and following his selection as 2016's director.  

However, it is none of these factors that seem to have lead to him being unceremoniously "booted" from Bayreuth.  Instead the festival's commercial director Heinz-Dieter Sense  has said the reason is one of affordability.

As Sense said today, "Substantial financing problems emerged from the very beginning with regard to the planned stage sets and costumes.The available budget would have been substantially overrun. And this is not acceptable."

A surprising statement given the costs of 2013's Ring cycle.

A rather "irritated" Meese has responded to his ousting by saying  "Bayreuth has long ceased to be about  Art. It's now all about self-preservation, power and the struggle against declining relevance.. "

And of the Bayreuth management team? He talks of   "intimidation" and a "culture of domination and obedience". He also says: ".. Artists fail at Bayreuth, because art has no home there"

"Meese has not failed  Wagner" he says, but "Bayreuth has failed Meese" Indeed, it would seem the "2016 Meese Festival at Bayreuth" will not now take place.  Perhaps we might have some Wagner instead?

As of writing, a new director has not been announced,  
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Does Listening To Wagner Mess With Your Mind?

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 15 November 2014 | 7:53:00 p.m.

 
The following, free, event at the Birmingham Hippodrome looks very interesting, We will be there. Details from the organizers below:

Hearing Wagner in the Being Human Festival: Does Wagner mess with our minds?

Saturday 22 November 10:30 - 17:00
Birmingham Hippodrome Patrick Centre Theatre

The emotional impact of music is undeniable, and this is nowhere more obvious than in Romantic music such as the operas of Richard Wagner. But can the effects of music be measured? Is this even desirable? The Hearing Wagner event taking place at the Birmingham Hippodrome on Saturday 22 November aims to air these and other questions and show how psychologists and musicologists are working together to understand better what is going on in these extraordinary works.
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Wagner Related Thought Of The Day

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 1 November 2014 | 8:24:00 a.m.





One sometimes feels that no one has the measure of Nietzsche like Will Durant:
 
"Nietzsche was the child of Darwin and the brother of Bismarck. 

It does not matter that he ridiculed the English evolutionists and the German nationalists: he was accustomed to denounce those who had most influenced him; it was his unconscious way of covering up his debts." William James Durant . The Story of Philosophy.
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A Visit To Richard Wagner - And A Special Gift. 1852

Written By The Wagnerian on Friday, 31 October 2014 | 7:11:00 p.m.


"Mendelssohn, was a gentleman of refinement and high degree; a man of culture and polished manner; a courtier who was always at home in evening dress. As was the man, so is his music, full of elegance, grace, finish, and refinement, but carried without variance to such a degree that at times one longs for brawn and muscle. Yet it is music that is always exquisite, fairy-like, and fine in character. Richard Wagner, 1852

"Wagner stopped walking a moment, and looked about the room as if searching for something. Then he rushed to a corner, and seizing a walking-stick, raised it as if it were a baton.
"Here is Beethoven," he exclaimed, "the working-man in his shirt-sleeves, with his great herculean breast bared to the elements." Richard Wagner 1852



William Mason (Boston, January 24, 1829 – New York City, July 14, 1908) was an American composer and pianist.  Son of Lowell Mason, a leading figure in American church music. His younger brother, Henry Mason, was a co-founder of the piano manufacturers Mason and Hamlin.

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Now Available: Wagner Journal November 2014

Written By The Wagnerian on Thursday, 30 October 2014 | 9:51:00 p.m.


Contents:

• 'Kundry’s Baptism, Kundry’s Death' by Christopher Wintle


• 'Timely Timelessness: Regietheater at Bayreuth in the 1970s' by Simon Williams


• 'Wagner Manuscripts at the British Library' by Nicolas Bell


plus reviews of:


the Hans Castorf Ring in Bayreuth


Der fliegende Holländer in Copenhagen


Tristan und Isolde in Lübeck and Florence


a concert performance of Götterdämmerung in Leeds


CDs of a solo disc by James Rutherford and of Wagner's edition of Gluck's Iphigenia in Aulis


Stefan Herheim's Die Meistersinger, Parsifal directed by Romeo Castellucci and Wolfgang Wagner on DVD, together with Joachim Herz's pioneering Der fliegende Holländer


New books on Wagner and Freud by Tom Artin, Wagner and Manet by Therese Dolan, Schultze und Müller's satirical take on the Ring and The Cambridge History of Music Performance, ed. Colin Lawson and Robin Stowell

More At: The Wagner Journal

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How Much Would You Pay To Watch Gergiev Conduct The Ring?

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 26 October 2014 | 4:57:00 p.m.

Valery Gergiev - Going cheap?
About a year ago, the Birmingham Hippodrome (UK) and the Mariinsky Opera announced that the Mariinsky Opera/Gergiev  Ring would be performed, complete and fully staged, this November. Now, as I am sure most of you are aware Ring cycle tickets have a tendency to sell out - and quickly. However, that has not been the case in Birmingham. Indeed, as I type there are over 500 seats still unsold across the entire cycle.

Why? No one seems to be saying.  Is it a rather tepid Walkure on CD from Gergiev last year? Or is it that this particular cycle did not receive anywhere near universal approval from audiences and critics last time it was in London? We don't know,  but tickets prices starting at £240 ($386) and going upto £720 ($1160) for an entire Cycle cannot be helping (If you are not a frequent opera goer in Europe. it might help that you can see an entire Ring Cycle at Bayreuth for £98  - $148!).

Whether this has anything to do with today's announcement from Birmingham I shall leave upto you. Should you have not bought tickets yet, Birmingham Hippodrome has announced 100 tickets per opera will be made available on a ballot basis at just £30 each (plus 5% transaction charge), representing a discount of up to 85% on some tickets.

According to Birmingham Hippodrome Chief Executive, Stuart Griffiths "After years of planning we are delighted to be presenting The Ring Cycle in its entirety right here in Birmingham. And, thanks to the generous support of BP we are thrilled to be able to offer more people the experience of live opera at an extremely discounted rate via this special ballot."

To take part, if seeing the entire Ring at still more than you would pay at Bayreuth interests you,  you can do so by emailing ringcycleballot@birminghamhippodrome.com with your full name, contact phone number, address and the best time to be contacted by Wednesday 29 October. Successful ticket applicants will be drawn at random and contacted by phone by Birmingham Hippodrome for payment in advance following the deadline. (Terms and conditions apply - apparently),

If you would like more information you might trying contacting the Birmingham Hippodrome by clicking here,

Details below:

Mariinsky Theatre's presentation of Richard Wagner's The Ring Cycle runs at Birmingham Hippodrome Wed 5 - Sun 9 November 2014 with the following four opera performance schedule:

Wednesday 5 November 2014 - Das Rheingold - 7.30pm

Thursday 6 November 2014 - Die Walküre - 5pm

Saturday 8 November 2014 - Siegfried - 5pm

Sunday 9 November 2014 - Götterdämmerung - 5pm

Standard tickets can be booked online at birminghamhippodrome.com or by telephone on 0844 338 5000.Calls from 5p per min, 5% fee applies, postage from £1. Prices and discounting subject to change.

* Terms & Conditions:

No refunds, transfers or exchanges;

Tickets can only be used by named applicant;

Tickets void if resold for profit.

Successful applicants only collect tickets with ID on the night.

This offer cannot be combined with any other offer or applied retrospectively.

Unsuccessful applicants will not be contacted.

Photo: Conductor VALERY GERGIEV
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