Wagner Journal

ShareThis

Featured Book

Twitter

Follow TheWagnerian on Twitter
Powered by Blogger.

T

 Twylah Fan Page

Opera Today

Wagner On The True Meaning Of: Reality, Love, The Ring, Wotan, Brunhilde and More

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 15 July 2017 | 2:55:00 pm

Wagner And Rockel - 1865
"But it is not the repulse of Alberich by the Rhine-daughters - the repulse was inevitable owing to their nature - that was the cause of all the mischief. Alberich and his ring would have been powerless to harm the gods had they not themselves been susceptible to evil."

Everything totters round Brunhilde, everything is out of joint; in a terrible conflict she is overcome, she is "forsaken of God."

"I cannot believe that you have misapprehended my meaning and intention: only it seems to me that you have attached more importance to the connecting links and parts of the great chain than they, as such, deserve; and as if you had been bound to do this, in order to read into my poem your own preconceived ideas"

"I was prepared to give up Art and everything if I could once more become a child of Nature. But, my good friend, I was obliged to laugh at my own naivete when I found myself almost going mad.".

Of course I do not mean my hero to make the impression of a wholly unconscious creature: on the contrary, I have sought in Siegfried to represent my ideal of the perfect human being, whose highest consciousness manifests itself in the acknowledgement that all consciousness must find expression in present life and action.

At the end of " Rhine Gold " when Loge watches the gods enter Walhalla and speaks these fateful words: " They hasten towards their end who, imagine themselves so strong in their might," he, in that moment, only gives utterance to our· own conviction; for any one who has followed the prelude sympathetically, and not in a hypercritical, cavilling spirit, but abandoning himself to his impressions and feelings, will entirely agree with Loge.

And now let me say something to you about Brunhilde. You misunderstand her, too, when you attribute her refusal to give the ring up to Wotan to hardness and obstinacy. Can you not see that it was for love's sake that Brunhilde sundered herself from Wotan and from all the gods because where Wotan clung to schemes, she could only-love?
2:55:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

The Wagnerian On Facebook

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday, 12 July 2017 | 11:44:00 am

I'm Waiting

You might not be aware, but The Wagnerian has its own Facebook page, been one for years, to be honest. Where have you been? We mention it now because there are a number of Wagner-related items that we share there - and over at Twitter, - but never, due to time and other reasons, appear here or the Newsletter. (Newsletter? Yep. Enter your email address in the box on the right of the main page here on the site. Says "Subscribe via email).

Should you want to also keep up to date with this. then stroll over to the link below, like the page and extra daily Wagner goodness (as some terrible marketing type might say) can be yours too.

11:44:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

Watch Now: The Making Of WNO Ring Cycle


A short sieries of documentaries on the staging  Of Washington National Opera's Ring cycle from 2016.


11:24:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

Alex Ross: Wagner In America



Alex Ross returns to his native Washington, D.C., in this afternoon symposium on Wagner connections to American culture.. Fascinating. 


10:37:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

Richard Wagner To Star In Anime Series ClassicaLoid Season Two

Well, this is going to get a bit complicated. We are more than aware of the dangers of stereotyping - especially, stereotyping our more than diverse readership. However, we feel a large number of you have perhaps never experienced, in any detail, the joy, bewilderment, poetry, investigation of Jungian, existentialist, feminist, LGBT, political, themes often presented in an average Japanese animated TV series. Or for that matter,  had that feeling of occasional horror -  other times, disgust -  of its occasional misogynistic themes. Anime (the Japanese term for hand or computer created animation) is the name given to the entire genre, but within that are many, sub-genres of varying complexity. From the relative simplicity of Kodomo (children's), shōjo (girls'), shōnen (boys') anime (although even here one might find the odd reference to Jung or philosophy) right the way through the, very odd, pornography of hentai (Japanese for "pervert"). And there are many, many more classifications and subgenres, But even this makes things too simplistic as there can be much crossover, sometimes at a dizzying pace. To add to this we must say that a newcomer to anime can be further bewildered by how much it relies on the "uniqueness" of Japanse culture. This is especially so of that culture's own nature, ancestral worship based, polytheistic religion: Shinto (that description is far too simple, but this is not the place for a deep investigation). What all of this means is that watching many anime series for the first time - with their own peculiar internal logic and reliance on the viewer having an in-depth knowledge of its history, themes, and greater culture - can make watching a random episode of Twin Peaks seems like a proverbial "walk in the park." It can require a lot of work from the viewer and the need to just simply  "stick with it" early on. We mention all of this should you be, like us, the slightly Wagner "obsessive" and wish to investigate season two of the comedy anime series ClassicaLoid.  Here, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Bach, Schubert - or at least their "Loids" - will be joined by a youthful Wagner and  Antonín Dvořák  - who will be appearing as a pygmy hippopotamus (told you this might get "odd")

A description can never do such a series justice and thus we have presented the "Schubert" episode below, to provide you some idea what to expect should you wish to pursue it. Crunchy Roll (one of the main, legitimate sources of subbed anime outside of Japan and where you can watch it free,  with adverts or a paid subscription -  should you find yourself pulled into this very unique world of anime.) describes the series as:
8:22:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

ROH To Revive Warner's Ring Cycle . Cast Details Added

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday, 10 July 2017 | 11:13:00 pm

No. Before you ask, we have no idea why or what either
The Royal Opera House will, once again, revive Keith Warner's, sometimes troubled, production of the Ring between  September and  November (three cycles) 2018. It will be conducted by the ROH's resident musical director Antonio Pappano. Hopefully, by next year, he will have overcome his busy schedule and boredom of listening to the Ring (reported here two years ago)  and have studied other conductors interpretations - only to expand and develop his own, of course.

Details are a little sketchy at the moment, but the following cast members can be found:

(Edit: It has been pointed out that tucked away on the ROH website is a, nearly, complete cast listing. Our apologies, Blame lazy researchers. We shall castigate them by buying them tickets to every night of the next available revival of a La bohème, conducted by a mediocre conductor. Or indeed, any conductor. For a full cast list click here and then the relevant part of the Cycle and the night you wish to attend. It will take three clicks but there you are).
Stefan Vinke as Siegfried.
Sarah Connolly as Fricka
Gerhard Siegel as Mime 
Emily Magee as Gutrune
John Lundgren as Wotan
Stuart Skelton as Siegmund
Nina Stemme as Brünnhilde
Lise Davidsen as Freie and Third Norn.

Dates

Mon 24/09/2018 Das Rheingold
Wed 26/09/2018 Die Walküre
Sat 29/09/2018 Siegfried
Mon 01/10/2018 Götterdämmerung
Tue 02/10/2018 Das Rheingold
Thu 04/10/2018 Die Walküre
Sun 07/10/2018 Siegfried
Tue 09/10/2018 Götterdämmerung
Tue 16/10/2018 Das Rheingold
Thu 18/10/2018 Die Walküre
Sun 21/10/2018 Siegfried
Wed 24/10/2018 Götterdämmerung
Fri 26/10/2018 Das Rheingold
Sun 28/10/2018 Die Walküre
Wed 31/10/2018 Siegfried
Fri 02/11/2018 Götterdämmerung

11:13:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

John Cage, Frank Scheffer, Nikolaus Lehnhoff & The Ring in 4.24 Minutes.


In 1987 John Cage commissioned Frank Scheffer to record Nikolaus Lehnhoff's Ring at the Bayerische Staatsoper. Of course, being both Cage and Scheffer this was not to be a straightforward recording. Instead, the entire cycle was to take the form of a short experimental film lasting only 4.24 minutes. Using single frame technique, Scheffer referred to the I Ching to decide, by chance, when to take each single frame. This fascinating recording can be seen below. 

5:01:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

Bayreuth Ring 2017: Tickets Still Available

How times have changed! Some of us can recall having to wait years for tickets to Bayreuth - especially a Bayreuth Ring.  But that appears to be no longer the case. Once again, while everything else has sold out for this year's festival, tickets are still available for cycles one, two and three. - details below. Whether this speaks of things at Bayreuth, "Ring Heads", this particular ring or something else we shall leave to your imagination, although, one suspects that once this cycle has been replaced unless things go very badly, you will not be able to get tickets at this late a stage. Anyway, should you have the time, money and inclination, tickets can be bought online, now, by following this link to the Festival's official online booking site.


Dates Available: 


  • Ring I

    Rheingold I Saturday, 29 July 2017
    Walküre I Sunday, 30 July 2017
    Siegfried I Tuesday, 1 August 2017
    Götterdämmerung I Thursday, 3 August 2017
  • Buy tickets 

    Ring II

    Rheingold II Tuesday, 8 August 2017
    Walküre II Wednesday, 9 August 2017
    Siegfried II Friday, 11 August 2017
    Götterdämmerung II Sunday, 13 August 2017
  • Buy tickets 

    Ring III

    Rheingold III Wednesday, 23 August 2017
    Walküre III Thursday, 24 August 2017
    Siegfried III Saturday, 26 August 2017
    Götterdämmerung III Monday, 28 August 2017
4:05:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

Alex Ross Gives Update On Wagner Book - And Evidence


Some of us have been waiting, somewhat patiently, for news on the always erudite - and enjoyable to read - Alex Ross's planned book about Wagner and "Wagnrianism" titled, unsurprisingly enough, "Wagnerism". Well, as we begin our Wagner and Norse Myth month (more on this later), we find that it is indeed not a myth and that he has compiled 13 chapters of 15. Even more reassuringly, he provides photographic evidence, - see below. Bravo! For those unaware - there can surely be few - Alex is a regular columnist and music critic for the New Yorker (but we won't hold that against him) and author of the excellent, popular books on "modern" classical music: The rest is noise: listening to the Twentieth Century and follow-up Listen to this And while we  wait, ever patiently, for him to get a move on, you can watch a talk he gave on Wagner a few years ago,

From Alex's blog: 

"In recent years I have made various claims to the effect that I am writing a book called Wagnerism. Above is photographic evidence demonstrating that I have, indeed, produced a considerable pile of paper imprinted with words, although skeptics might wonder whether any given page of the manuscript contains nothing more than typographically varied repetitions of the sentence "All work and no play makes Jack an ambivalent boy." I have completed a very rough draft of thirteen out of fifteen chapters. Hitler is dead, and the story is therefore winding down. Taking a first pass at the manuscript is Minnie, who steps into the role once filled by my dearly missed feline assistants Penelope and Maulina."

3:01:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

What Are We to Make Of Toscanini.

Toscanini with Wieland Wagner
David Denby, at the New Yorker, discusses and reevaluates Toscanini while simultaneously reviewing Harvey Sachs' new biography of the conductor - released to coincide with the 150 year anniversary of Toscanini's birth.

What is the most familiar piece of classical music? The most thoroughly roasted chestnut? A piece so overplayed that it has passed into the automatic schlock-recognition zone of every American? Surely it is the final, galloping section of Rossini’s “William Tell” Overture—the Lone Ranger music, the musical image of righteousness on horseback. The music seems almost a joke. But there was one conductor who rode this piece as if his life, and the lives of his players, depended on it.

I remember my parents calling me out of my bedroom. The year was 1952, so I must have been eight. On our television, a tiny black-and-white screen sunk into a large mahogany console, an old man with a full head of white hair and an elegantly clipped mustache was beating time with his right arm and leading a furious performance of the horse music. I certainly knew the tune (“The Lone Ranger” TV series began running in 1949), but I didn’t know it could sound like this—the skittering string figures played with amazing speed and clean articulation, the entire piece brought off with precision and power, the muscular timpani strokes outlining phrases and asserting a blood-raising pressure under the crescendos. You can easily see this performance right now, exactly as I did, on YouTube: Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony in the televised concert of March 15, 1952. If you listen with good headphones, the sound, though hard-edged, is solid and clear, and the astonishing performance comes through. Toscanini was then two weeks shy of his eighty-fifth birthday.

For many years, Arturo Toscanini was the pinnacle of musical excitement for classical-music lovers in this country—and also for many casual listeners, who enjoyed the sensation of having their pulse rate raised. He was at the center of an American experiment in art and commerce that now scarcely seems credible: late in the Depression, in 1937, RCA, which owned two NBC radio networks, created a virtuoso orchestra especially for him, and kept it going until 1954. The NBC Symphony gave concerts in New York that were broadcast on national radio, and then, starting in 1948, on national television.

RCA hyped Toscanini, and the media responded gratefully, some would say shamelessly: Toscanini was widely profiled and photographed, lionized and domesticated by Life and countless other publications. His NBC years were probably the high-water mark of classical music’s popularity in America. Some of that popularity was doubtless swelled by the excruciating and often condescending music explainers ubiquitous on the radio, in books, in schools, all eager to sell great music to the masses. Still, it was not unusual for earnest middle-class children to struggle with an upright at home, to sing Handel in a school chorus, to play Mendelssohn in the school orchestra. At the time, both amateur and professional musicians, listening to the NBC Symphony broadcasts, did their best to play along.

RCA issued dozens of recordings made by Toscanini and the orchestra (most of them from broadcasts), as well as selected performances made with the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Toscanini’s white face and hands emerging from solid black in Robert Hupka’s mystically glamorous album photographs. Toscanini’s way with music by Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Verdi, Wagner, and Debussy could make the work of other conductors seem dawdling, nerveless. He famously stuck to the score, ending arbitrary practices and interpretive excesses. He drove to the climax; lyrical details were suavely caressed but pressed into the onward rush. The sound he produced with any orchestra was lean, transparent, surging, radiant. “Architecture with passion” was what the young pianist Rudolf Serkin heard in a performance of the Brahms Second Symphony. Other celebrated conductors, including Bruno Walter, Pierre Monteux, and, at times, Wilhelm Furtwängler, acknowledged that he was the greatest of conductors—some said “incomparable.” Having played the cello in the first performance of Verdi’s “Otello,” in 1887, Toscanini is also the invaluable link between the nineteenth century, when so much of the operatic repertory was written, and the modern opera house.

In the nineteen-thirties and during the war period, admiration for him went well beyond music. Opera, always central to the culture of Europe, became at that time a matter of nationalist bluster and political maneuvering. After 1931, Toscanini refused to conduct in Italy, resisting Mussolini, who dangled honors and official posts; he was thereafter reviled in the Fascist press. Hitler pleaded with him to honor holy German art and preside over the Wagner rites at the Bayreuth Festival. When Toscanini turned him down, his recordings and broadcasts were banned in Nazi Germany. Instead of going to Bayreuth, he worked in 1936 and 1937 with the newly formed Palestine Orchestra (later the Israel Philharmonic), an ensemble largely composed of Jewish refugees. Toscanini did not make speeches; he stuck to business. But his sentiments were widely known, and he became a lodestar for anti-Fascists. After the war, Isaiah Berlin pronounced him “the most morally dignified and inspiring hero of our time—more than Einstein (to me), more than even the superhuman Winston.”

In recent decades, however, Toscanini’s musical reputation has faded badly. Some of his old fans have shifted their loyalty to the work of other conductors—to Furtwängler, say, whose soulful expressiveness and spontaneity have been held up as musically and emotionally superior to Toscanini’s fiery propulsiveness. In the revisionist view, Toscanini rushed through passages that other conductors would turn into contemplation or mystery or sheer loveliness. He offered a maximum of line, a minimum of texture; he was all athlete, no philosopher. Beethoven and Verdi formed his aesthetic, and he never moved into the twentieth century, ignoring the dazzling rhythmic and harmonic explorations of Stravinsky, Bartók, Schoenberg, Berg.


The critic and composer Virgil Thomson complained of a lack of personal culture in Toscanini, which allegedly resulted in a “streamlining” of the classics. Theodor W. Adorno, the Marxist philosopher and theorist of twelve-tone music, appalled by Toscanini’s radio concerts and his employment by corporate America, tagged him as a proponent and victim of commodity-fetish capitalism. In effect, Adorno said, Toscanini turned every piece into a chestnut. Picking up from Adorno, the music historian Joseph Horowitz, while acknowledging Toscanini’s greatness in “Understanding Toscanini” (1987), ridiculed his temperament and public persona, casting him as the false messiah of the middlebrow music-appreciation racket. Both Adorno and Horowitz indulged in scathing contempt for radio listeners in the Toscanini era. It incensed them that classical music—for a brief period—became part of mass culture.

2:36:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

Kent Nagano To Begin "HIP" Performance Of Ring From 2020,

Kent Nagano and  the Concerto Köln have begun a project to reproduce a "Historically Informed Performance" of the Ring during 2020 to 2021. 

In their most recent collaboration, Concerto Köln and  Kent Nagano, pursue a unique project: in cooperation with scientists at the University and Musikhochschule in Cologne, by taking on Richard Wagner’s tetralogy, “The Ring of the Nibelung”. Their undertaking will provide the international opera scene with new impetus in historically-informed approaches to musical-theatrical works of the 19th century.

Jochen Schäfsmeier (Managing Director, Concerto Köln): “Concerto Köln is as honoured as it is inspirited to approach Wagner’s “Ring” together with Kent Nagano and to be able to make an important contribution to the historical performance practice of 19th century music.”
"Richard Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung” is probably one of the most researched compositions yet nonetheless, a systematic approach to the tetralogy from a historically-informed perspective has not been attempted thus far." Kent Nagano

For the first time, the entire “Ring” is to be viewed from an early music movement perspective: the instrumental and vocal styles as well as the staging at the time of Wagner will be examined over a period of several years and compiled to form a historically-informed performance concept.

Kent Nagano (Artistic Director): “It is due to historical performance practice that nowadays there is a much different understanding of many composers and their works than was standard 30 or 40 years ago. Moreover, thanks to historicized approaches, we have gained knowledge about instruments and playing techniques which opens up to us new, pioneering pathways into the interpretation and performance of our music.

Richard Wagner’s “The Ring of the Nibelung” is probably one of the most researched compositions yet nonetheless, a systematic approach to the tetralogy from a historically-informed perspective has not been attempted thus far. It is therefore all the more important that such an undertaking is tackled and that, in romantic repertoire now as well, normality in terms of sound which seemed irrefutable so far is called into question.

I have collaborated together with Concerto Köln for several projects in the past and am convinced that I have found two most competent partners in the Cologne ensemble and the Kunststiftung NRW who are able to provide the scientific basis for a historically-informed reading of Richard Wagner’s “Ring”. Together we will pursue this endeavor and bring the music to the stage!”

The simultaneously scientific as well as artistic undertaking on such a mammoth scale requires tremendous effort with the additional aim of becoming a guide to performance practice of 19th century music and opera. The outcome, interpreted by Concerto Köln and Kent Nagano, will be performed from the 2020/21 onward. All research findings will be published in Open Access.

Prof. Dr. Hans-Joachim Wagner (Kunststiftung NRW): “For the Kunststiftung NRW, the support of the project, “WAGNER-READINGS”, is of significance in a number of ways. For several years, supporting artistic research has played a major role within the Kunststiftung’s funding programs – albeit with a primary focus on theater, dance and literature; examples of this being the Christoph-Schlingensief guest professorship for scenic research at the Ruhr University in Bochum, the Pina Bausch fellowship and the Thomas Kling lectureship at the University of Bonn. With “WAGNER-READINGS”, the base of support is expanded to the area of music, bringing art and research together in a so to speak ideal-typical way by conducting research into the complex correlations involved in the musical-theatrical production of Wagner and translating the results into artistic practice.”

Initial work already began in May of 2017. The official go-ahead for the project is a symposium in September, 2017. Financial support is provided by the Kunststiftung NRW and the Freunde von Concerto Köln e.V. Additional support is provided by the Strecker-Stiftung and MBL Akustikgeräte GmbH & Co. KG.
2:15:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

Wagner's greatest roles

How does it feel to encounter, at first hand, the Herculean demands made by Wagner’s most iconic roles? By Arnold Whittall

In both Rienzi and Tannhäuser (again, in contrast to Holländer), the title-role is given to a tenor, seen by Wagner as the ideal sound for conveying his musical embodiment of flawed heroism. If Rienzi is primarily about the psychology of political ambition, Tannhäusercomes closer to Wagner’s own world in exploring the psychology of the artist in society. To be convincing, the singer tackling Tannhäuserneeds to confront unusually demanding challenges. While he often seems to treat individuals, as in his dialogues with Venus, Elisabeth and Wolfram, like public meetings, Tannhäuser’s encounters with the real public (primarily in Act 2) serve to highlight his private, self-obsessed concerns. This poet is never at ease in either the private or the public arena, and the music Wagner invents to chart his decline and fall moves from almost hysterical eroticism (the ‘Hymn to Venus’) to melancholic despair (the Rome Narration). At least one celebrated tenor – Jon Vickers – found the role so distasteful that he refused to tackle it. Others have ruefully noted that Siegfried and Tristan are in some ways easier – musically and dramatically more rewarding, that is. And it has certainly never been easy for producers to find a style of staging that deals convincingly with the clashes between the real world of the Landgraf and his court on the one hand and the fantasy realm of Venus on the other.When the 31-year-old Richard Wagner completed Tannhäuser in April 1845, he had already taken a giant step away from Grand Opera conventions. Der fliegende Holländer, first staged two years earlier, had turned away from what, for Wagner, was the one-dimensional, cardboard cut-out dramatic world of Spontini, Auber and Meyerbeer, while not rejecting the more local, more German operatic traditions of Beethoven and Weber. In this context Tannhäuser, and the title-role in particular, seemed something of a reversal, if not quite to Spontini and Meyerbeer, then to Wagner’s own successful version of Grand Opera, Rienzi (begun in 1838, first performed in 1842).

Wagner’s next opera, Lohengrin, offers a very different confrontation between the real world of 10th-century Brabant and a realm that seems to transcend mundane reality – the Grail knights’ Monsalvat. If the determining quality of Tannhäuser is an all-too-human fallibility, that of Lohengrin is a godlike self-assurance. Both qualities are, in the end, more destructive than anything else, but it is understandable that singers warm more immediately to the lyrical poise that distinguishes much of Lohengrin’s part. More tenors seem at home with this than with Tannhäuser’s trials and tribulations, though some – René Kollo is one – have managed equal conviction in both, at least on disc. As singers might sometimes ruefully confess, Lohengrin is a role to tackle when your voice still has its youthful bloom and your career is poised to take off; Tannhäuser is best taken on when you are well-established and have nothing to lose. Basses, baritones and bass-baritones might also use this latter formula in relation to the great antagonistic pair in the Ring cycle – Wotan and Alberich.

It is a measure of the proliferation of Ring performances and recordings in the years since 1950 that complaints are sometimes heard that the Wotan sounds more like an Alberich, or even (though less commonly) that the Alberich sounds implausibly noble and godlike. Occasionally there are singers (Sir John Tomlinson has been a prominent example in recent times) who can seem as convincingly in character as both villain and hero – as Hagen or Wotan. It has also been argued that the noble, even sacerdotal vocal qualities that singers such as Hans Hotter or Theo Adam brought to the role of Wotan short-change those less savoury aspects of the character, like the deviousness which Wagner’s text relishes in Das Rheingold and Siegfried. On the other hand, no one wants to hear Wotan bidding a soulful farewell to his daughter in Die Walküre in tones that might serve equally well for Alberich’s ragings against fate.

That Wagner has endowed both characters with an unusually wide range of attributes – something which helps to explain the attractions of the roles to singers – is especially evident in their encounter in Act 2 of Siegfried, where adumbrations of both comedy and tragedy are starkly juxtaposed. In turn, a particular attraction of what is probably Wagner’s most highly regarded role for a bass-baritone – Hans Sachs – is the blend, not so much of villainy and heroism, but more that of ‘poet and peasant’, artisan and armchair philosopher. It takes special reserves of stamina for the singer to sustain the kind of relaxed good humour needed throughout the long third act of Die Meistersingerand then to assert benign but decisive authority in the final address, rather than projecting a desperate determination to last the course, and to deal adequately with those hair-raising high Es. A persuasive Sachs certainly needs to be more of a Wotan (or Wolfram?) than an Alberich, as the most memorable interpreters of the role on disc, from Friedrich Schorr to Gerald Finley, can testify. Wagner showed few if any signs of wanting to give his female singers an easier time than their male colleagues. Saintly submissiveness might be called for, suggesting a cliché-ridden acceptance on Wagner’s part of woman’s primary nurturing role, but this is usually onlythe starting point for a transformation which reinforces the decisive function of women in promoting and effecting dramatic resolution. Sopranos are well aware that there’s no point in thinking of tackling Brünnhilde if you quail at the prospect of launching those high Bs in your very first lines in Act 2 of Die Walküre. The part’s rhetorical range across three nights is phenomenal, although Wagner is usually credited with a shrewd awareness of the need to provide passages to be coasted through in the interests of husbanding resources, especially when the character is on stage for so long, as in Act 1 of Götterdämmerung. In the end, however, Wagner takes no prisoners and those singers (Astrid Varnay and Gwyneth Jones inevitably come to mind) who are the most successful are those who recognise that aesthetic refinement matters less than sheer visceral conviction.


1:59:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

Paul Heise's life is Richard Wagner.

An overview of Paul Heise's (creator of Wagnerheim)"obsession" with Wagner.

Paul Heise's life is Richard Wagner.

The Annapolis resident has immersed himself in the 19th-century German composer's Ring Cycle for over 35 years, dropping out of graduate school and giving up jobs to study the set of four epic operas.

Heise has a website devoted to his analysis of Der Ring des Nibelungen, http://www.wagnerheim.com (heim is home in German), which features more than 1,500 pages of information.

"I've never met anyone quite so single-minded," said Elliott Zuckerman, a retired St. John's College tutor who once had Heise in a class about another Wagner work, "Tristan and Isolde." "He really has had one thing in his life."

You know, when you read a piece of literature or hear a piece of music that gets inside you? This thing got inside of me. It was as if I'd woken up in some way. That was it. It rendered me permanently unemployable.

Zuckerman said Heise's conclusions about the Ring are as "good as any others" and was impressed with the breadth of what Heise posted online. "The website is remarkable and incredibly complete and very apt these days with renewed interest in the Ring," Zuckerman said.

Heise's love affair with the music began when he was 18 and heard a sampling of the work for the first time on the radio. "It was a goose bump moment," he said.

The Annapolis native immediately went to a store to find a recording. He took it home and listened - nonstop - to all 19 records. "I dropped the needle and I was instantly hooked," he said. "I stayed up 24 hours. You know, when you read a piece of literature or hear a piece of music that gets inside you? This thing got inside of me. It was as if I'd woken up in some way. That was it. It rendered me permanently unemployable."

That's a bit of hyperbole, but not that far from the truth. Heise has held a series of jobs over the years, including a stint as a juvenile probation officer, but he's also taken long breaks to focus on his research. He's currently a part-time gate attendant at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis.

1:54:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

Sex and The Married Wagnerian


One from the archives: 7 years ago (where does the time fly?) our editor published the following. Followed a few weeks later by part two- which can be found here by clicking here.  We have gained many, many new readers since then, and find the audio parts especially worth revisiting for their benefit alone

I am presently reading - it has been sitting here for months - Laurence Dreyfus's "Wagner and the Erotic Impulse" (see here for a review). As tends to happen (Jung and all that synchronicity nonsense no doubt) while skimming through the Wagner Journal this morning, I find, what appears to be at first glance, an interesting, mainly, Marxist/Feminist critique of the book by J.P.E. Harper-Scott. Indeed, from a quick read, Harper-Scott seems to suggest that in Wagner's works - especially the Ring and Tristan  - Wagner is making pre-Marxist statements about male/female "power relationships" and women as "economic currency" - I think. (it's about much more than this but this might be described as it's central thesis - the essay, not necessarily the works.) Anyway, it begins:


"Wagnerian women

When it wanted to conduct an inquiry into the erotic qualities of Tristan und Isolde, the New York City public radio station WNYC invited the vintner and opera fan Natalie Oliveros onto its ‘Evening Music’ programme. After listeners had been presented with virtually all of the second-act love duet the presenter asked his guest what she thought about the sexual content of the music. ‘It’s what we call tantric sex,’ she answered with a giggle, ‘and I wonder if Richard Wagner himself could last like that. I think that every woman just once in their life would like to have that kind of passion and emotion and experience that kind of love that you hear in the music. I think he was probably a very giving lover.’


And what are her qualifications for saying this? Well, in addition to being a vintner, Oliveros, who is addressed on the show by her professional name Savanna Samson, is a hard-core pornographic actress with Vivid Entertainment, the world’s largest producer of pornographic videos. Is there any composer other than Wagner for whom the association with porn would not seem immediately ludicrous? Or, to put it another way, is it only in Wagner that we can find such a suggestive parallel between tonal music whose functional control of desire and (denied) resolution is radically reduced to its fundamental elements (essentially a teasing focus on variously powered dominant chords) and an art form whose current dominant style similarly treats human bodies, and particularly female ones, literally as body parts, as partial objects of desire, many-holed machines for producing orgasmic outcomes from certain inputs conceived in orthodox fashion?


It seems that there is something naughty and at the same time very masculine about the erotics of both Wagner and mainstream pornography, and listeners to the WNYC show seem to be invited to be uncertain whether it is the music, the woman talking about it, or the combination of the two that is most meant to make their blood flow. In a certain sense, Savanna Samson is a typical operatic woman. Within the masculinist–capitalist ideological space she inhabits, she is a sexual commodity serving the function of gratifying male desire at the same time as expressing male power over her.

It is interesting that although she gives a woman’s response to Tristan, focusing on what she sees as the sexual experience from a woman’s perspective (one which in its tenderness and patience is entirely at odds with the obscene haste and functionality of modern pornographic film), that response is folded straight back into the ideology. Here is a woman who is up for it, available for purchase ($29.95 a month from her website), and happy to present her male listeners with advice on how to impress a woman like her sexually (be as tender a lover as she imagines Wagner to have been; physical appearance irrelevant). Many operatic women are judged according to their success in performing this kind of function, and criticised if they don’t. Turandot is monstrous precisely because she refuses to submit to this purchase arrangement; the Dyer’s Wife (in Strauss’s Die Frau ohne Schatten), who refuses to submit to pregnancy, is taunted by a chorus of her unborn children; Brünnhilde is placed defenceless and asleep behind the very effectively secured shop window of her fiery rock until any man who evinces the right purchasing power (fearlessness, in this mythic codification of the exchange) can take her away for his private consumption" J.P.E. Harper-Scott
Now, how many other composers journals would have that sort of discussion? Who said academia needs to be boring.

To continue reading Harper-Scott's essay, buy a copy of the Journal or subscribe. More details here:  The Wagner Journal

EDIT: I have just been informed that Harper-Scott has made the full essay available on his blog. Go there to read his new introduction and then to the article itself as a PDF - J.P.E. Harper-Scott:Wagner, Sex, and Capitalism . But don't forget to go to the journal's website also. Go on, you know you want to.

 The radio show cited by Harper-Scott at the beginning of his essay below:

Blue Wagner:

What makes Tristan und Isolde so sexy? Anthropologist Helen Fisher weighs in on just how Tristan gets the juices flowing. Also, adult film actress/"Vivid Girl" (and Tristan fanatic) Savanna Samson chats with George Preston about the lusty side of Wagner's music—and shares recordings of her favorite "sexy-voiced" singers.



Tristan Mysteries: Highlights




"It's a well-known fact that music can arouse more than just the ears. On this installment of The Tristan Mysteries, Amy O'Leary uncovers the aphrodisiac qualities of Wagner's opera. Also, George Preston examines the sex-appeal of Tristan from the clinical—and decidedly non-clinical—point of view, with anthropologist Helen Fisher and adult film star/"Vivid Girl" Savanna Samson.

Contributors to The Sexual Mystery include:
Terrance McNally, Playwright & Librettist
Colin Levin, an opera student at the Oberlin Conservatory of MusicA Soprano who wishes to remain anonymous

Executive Producer, The Tristan Mysteries: Limor Tomer
Producer/Host, The Sexual Mystery: Amy O'Leary
Producer/Host, Blue Wagner: George Preston
Web Producer, The Tristan Mysteries: Brad CresswellThe Tristan Mysteries is supported, in part, by a grant from The Corporation for Public Broadcasting."
11:58:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

Watch Now: Tristan Und Isolde. René Kollo & Gwyneth Jones

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday, 13 June 2017 | 6:51:00 pm



Again, made freely avaible by Euroarts. One of our early Tristan's on the then newly emerging DVD format.

This performance was recorded (in HD) in Tokyo during the Deutsche Oper Berlin's 1993 Japan tour.


René Kollo - Tristan
Robert Lloyd - King Marke
Gwyneth Jones - Isolde
Gerd Feldhoff - Kurwenal
Peter Edelmann - Melot
Hanna Schwarz - Brangäne
Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin
Chorus of the Deutsche Oper Berlin
Jirí Kout - conductor
Götz Friedrich - stage director
6:51:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

Watch Now: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Deutsche Oper


Made available, freely, by Euroarts. It may help one take one's mind off of all sorts of insanities.

This magnificent production of Wagner's masterpiece at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, brilliantly directed by Götz Friedrich and staged by Peter Sykora, was not only a great success in Berlin but in Tokyo as well.

Solisten/Soloists:
Wolfgang Brendel - Hans Sachs
Victor von Halem - Veit Pogner
David Griffith - Kunz Vogelsang
Barry McDaniel - Konrad Nachtigall
Eike Wilm Schulte - Sixtus Beckmesser
Lenus Carlson - Fritz Kothner
Volker Horn - Balthasar Zorn
Peter Maus - Ulrich Eißlinger
Otto Heuer - Augustin Moser
Klaus Lang - Hermann Ortel
Ivan Sardi - Hans Schwarz
Friedrich Molsberger - Hans Foltz
Gösta Winbergh - Walther von Stölzing
Uwe Peper - David
Eva Johansson - Eva
Ute Walther - Magdalena
Peter Edelmann - Ein Nachtwächter

From the Deutsche Oper, Berlin
Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin
Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos - conductor
Götz Friedrich - stage director
6:31:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

Listen To The 2016 Bayreuth Parsifal.

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 15 April 2017 | 9:54:00 am




NRK KLASSISK Radio is rebroadcasting, the 2016 Bayreuth Parsifal today at 16.00 GMT
. Full details below. To listen, simply click this link. You might also have to press play, but no matter your native language, hopefully, the play icon should be universally comprehensible - top of the page. Any difficulties, facebook or tweet at us. We will try and get back to you.
9:54:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

A Wagnerian With No Wagner? Not Music To An Aussie. 10 Down, 8 Across.

Written By The Wagnerian on Thursday, 30 March 2017 | 7:12:00 pm

Colin Dexter: 29 September 1930 – 21 March 2017)
As readers are surely aware, Colin Dexter, creator of probably one of this generation's most famous Wagnerians - Inspector Endeavour Morse - sadly died last week. For those unfamiliar, Morse is a somewhat idiosyncratic, curmudgeonly, romantic, crossword addicted, fictional Oxford,
police inspector. He first appeared in Colin Dexter's  1977 novel Last Bus to Woodstock - the first in a series of 13 - plus one short story. Since then, he has appeared in one stage play (An original story, recently adapted as a radio play by the BBC and to be found, in full, below) a number of radio play adaptations and two TV shows (plus another spin-off show "Lewis in which he does not appear).

As we have noted, Morse was a Wagnerian - as too was his creator. The original novels are filled with references to Wagner - many relatively obscure to those without an interest.
“Colin Dexter, the series’ writer had Morse down as a Wagner freak, but to tell you the truth, I can’t stand Wagner. So over the years I gradually phased his music out.”
This last week, with some spare time on our hands, and following the sad death of his creator, we have found ourselves revisiting the world of Morse; both the original novels and the various TV shows: Morse, the prequel series Endeavour and the spin-off series Lewis.
7:12:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

Celebrate 10 years of the Wagner Journal

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 12 March 2017 | 5:56:00 pm

The Wagner Journal is 10 years old this year - no small task when so many magazines and journals are struggling to survive in the second decade of the 21 century. Happy Birthday! To celebrate, they have not only just published a new edition but revamped the website. Click here to visit and read below what you can expect in this quarter's edition. As always, recommended. 

• 'Wagner: Race, Nationalism and Other Distractions' by Derek Hughes
• 'Teleology, Providence and the ‘Death of God’: a New Perspective on the Ring Cycle’s Debt to G.W.F. Hegel' by Richard H. Bell
• 'All in it Together: the Gesamtkunstwerk Revisited' by Barry Millington
• 'David Breckbill 1957–2016' by Barry Millington

plus reviews of:
Mariusz Treliński's Tristan und Isolde at the Met, Das Rheingold and Die Walküre in a multi-director Ring in Karlsruhe, Tatjana Gürbaca's Der fliegende Holländer and Lohengrin in Essen, Pierre Audi's Parsifal in Amsterdam and Neil Armfield's Ring in Melbourne.
DVD of Dimitri Tcherniakov's Parsifal from Berlin
CDs of Die Walküre over a span of 80 years
Eva Rieger's Frida Leider: Sängerin im Zwiespalt ihrer Zeit and Ulrich Drüner's Richard Wagner: Die Inszenierung eines Lebens


www.thewagnerjournal.co.uk

5:56:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

Watch Now: Opéra Monte-Carlo's French Language Tannhauser.


But first listen to those involved in, Opéra Monte-Carlo's new production of Tannhauser,  discuss the production, the work itself and why they are staging the Charles-Louis-Etienne Nuitter translated 1861 "Paris version"
5:27:00 pm | 0 comments | Read More

Was Bugs And Fudd Your First Time?


Many of the people involved in the Washington National Opera's production of the Ring say it was theirs. Well, at lest that their first exposure to Wagner's "operas" came from the same source: Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd cartoons. Or so they say in interviews in this short video from the Wall Street Journal.
10:06:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

Is The ‘Ring’ a shadow of the Trump presidency?

Written By The Wagnerian on Monday, 20 February 2017 | 2:39:00 am

Not a real Tweet. Unsure what his thoughts on Wagner might be

In this insightful essay, Richard Bammer finds reflections of todays political events in Der Ring des Nibelungen. Whatever your political views - if you have any - this is an interesting exploration of the Ring, from a staff reporter on a small local newspaper in Vacaville, California that could be easily overlooked. Well worth reading and a writer for Wagnerians to keep an eye on. 

By finding humanity through myth, it is Wagner’s metaphor for society and social decay that still speaks to our own times, including the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, animus toward refugees, religious intolerance, bigotry expressed by prominent national leaders, the consequences of the global economy, the ignoring of science and environmental destruction, and the rise of far-right political parties in democracies across the globe.
In Richard Wagner’s “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” perhaps the single greatest operatic work of all time, he created not only 15 hours of revolutionary 19th-century music but also — using Norse myths and medieval Germanic poetry — a story rich in themes of greed, desire, corruption and politics, the destruction of nature, the consequences of an unbridled pursuit of power, and the redemptive qualities of a love that ultimately triumphs over all.
Mark Twain once said, “Wagner’s music is not as bad as it sounds.” I’m not sure the great 19th-century American author of “Huckleberry Finn” realized it at the time, but there is a sense of sex and sexuality in all of the German composer’s music, and his is a sound — expressed in “leitmotifs,” or defining themes — that relates to and stirs the deepest human emotions.

When “The Ring” (as it’s called for short) begins, a low E-flat rumbles from the sonic depths and sets the entire work’s tone, suggesting the birth of the universe, and, some minutes later, ushers in the first scene: Rhinemaidens frolicking (often in the nude, depending on a directors’ staging) in the Rhine River and puts into motion the first of four operas in a cycle, “Das Rheingold.”

Over the course of two hours in that opera, the cycle’s prelude, and through three more, each nearly five hours long, we are introduced to giants, dragons, gods, heroes and heroines, with characters clashing over fidelity and honor, and struggling for control of the ring, which grants its bearer absolute power.
By finding humanity through myth, it is Wagner’s metaphor for society and social decay that still speaks to our own times
The other operas in the cycle are “Die Walkure,” which boasts the hit “The Ride of the Valkyries” (music featured in the film “Apocalypse Now”), a story in which we meet the warrior-maiden Brunnhilde, the heroine of “The Ring”; “Siegfried,” about a defiant, boastful and arrogant young hero and title character, who wins the ring and falls in love with Brunnhilde; and “Gotterdammerung” (The Twilight of the Gods), which brings the story to a tragic conclusion, recalling a prophecy in “Das Rheingold” as the Rheinmaidens recover the ring and flames consume their celestial fortress, Valhalla.

By finding humanity through myth, it is Wagner’s metaphor for society and social decay that still speaks to our own times, including the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency, animus toward refugees, religious intolerance, bigotry expressed by prominent national leaders, the consequences of the global economy, the ignoring of science and environmental destruction, and the rise of far-right political parties in democracies across the globe. (Consider that Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw viewed “The Ring” as socialist commentary on the evils of capitalism.)

2:39:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

Dallas Symphony Orchestra To Perform Walkure


In an exciting last season as Dallas Symphony Orchestra's Music Director - to include Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Bruckner's Eighth and Mahler's Second and Fifth symphonies - Jaap van Zweden will conduct a complete, unstaged, version of Die Walkure.

The production will mark Jaap van Zweden's last season as musical director and the Dallas Symphony Chorus' 40th anniversary year,

Performers and dates follow: 

MAY 18 + 20 | 2018
JAAP VAN ZWEDEN CONDUCTS
HEIDI MELTON SOPRANO (Brünhilde)
MICHELLE DEYOUNG MEZZO-SOPRANO (DSO Artist-in-Residence) (Sieglinde)
SIMON O’NEILL TENOR (Siegmund)
MATTHIAS GOERNE BARITONE (Wotan)

1:51:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

Watch Now: Walkure (Highlights) Miami Wagner Institute



Miami Wagner Institute Debut

July 16th, 2016- New World Center



Michael Rossi- Artistic Director
Christine Goerke- Program Director/ Brünnhilde
Kathleen Kelly- Principal Coach
Dan Wallace Miller- Director



Cast:



Christine Goerke- Brünnhilde
Alan Held- Wotan
Sieglinde -Tracy Cox



THE VALKYRIES:





Gerhilde -Elisabeth Rosenberg
Ortlinde -Rebecca Wilson
Waltraute -Jillian Yemen
Schwertleite -Rehanna Thelwell
Helmwige -Jennifer Root
Seigrune -Stephanie Newman
Grimgerde- Lauren Frick
Roßweiße -Molly Burke



1:25:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

The Catholic,The Actor And Richard Wagner.

For Francis Philips, writing for the Catholic Herald, Simon Callow's new Wagner biography, raises - for most of us well visited -  arguments about Wagner

Reading Stephen Pollard’s article about anti-Semitism and social media in the Telegraph last week gave me a jolt. According to Pollard, figures from the Community Security Trust which monitors anti-Semitic incidents with the police, “show that in 2016 there was a 36% rise in incidents of Jew-hate over the figure for 2015 – and a 29% increase in violent assaults on Jews.”

It gave me a jolt because in my own daily life I never encounter it (though I have read of problems with anti-Semitism within the Labour Party). It seems such a strange and abstract crime, if an ancient one: hating a whole people simply because they come from a particular race or religion.

Interestingly though, I have come across anti-Semitism twice in the comment box when I have blogged: once, when I wrote about the Tridentine Mass and remarked that a Jewish convert who attended the Extraordinary Form had been upset by certain anti-Semitic remarks she had heard; and a second time when I wrote about a book called The Crime and the Silence: confronting the Massacre of Jews in Wartime Poland by Anna Bikont. On both occasions I was taken aback by some of the comments.

Apart from Pollard’s article my thoughts on the subject have been roused by reading Simon Callow’s Being Wagner: The Triumph of the Will (its subtitle eerily echoing Leni Riefenstahl’s notorious film about the dark glamour of the Nazi Party in its early days.) Callow, a lifelong devotee of Wagner’s musical dramas, does not gloss over the more unpleasant features of the composer’s personality – in particular, his virulent anti-Semitism.

Continue Reading
1:06:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

The Arts Strike Back: MET Opera Vs The President

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 19 February 2017 | 7:54:00 am

Siegfried may not be the only one fighting dragons at the MET
Lost amongest so much media coverage of Donald J Trump's administration, are his plans to close down both the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities. Admittedly, public funding for the arts in the US is already the lowest of any developed country - and some less developed - however, eliminating these two sources of funding, however small that they are, may impact Trump supporters the most: the poor and those in rural communities.

To give an idea of how serious things are, the MET's Peter Gelb warned listeners, midway through this Saturdays live broadcast, .that many of the stations they were listening to would risk severe cuts or even closure, Said Gelb, "I think it’s really important that people be aware of this: The possibility of losing the arts on the radio, losing the arts on television, losing the arts altogether is very real if these cuts were to go through,". At the same time, the St. Louis Symphony sent an email asking its board members to call their elected representatives in the hope of stopping the cuts.

In an interview with the New York Times, Hollywood star Robert Redford, the president and founder of the Sundance Institute, went as far as to say; "“It’s another example of our democracy being threatened. Arts are essential. They describe and critique our society.”

As is often the case with such cuts, it will be those living in poorer, rural communities and smaller towns, who came out in force to vote for Trump, that will suffer the most. As Martin Miller, the executive director of TheatreSquared, said today, "“The N.E.A. has a big impact in the middle of country — even more so, I suspect, than in urban areas where funding is more diversified. Losing the N.E.A. would mean that many smaller, mid-American arts companies couldn’t weather a recession. Losing these companies would mean fewer jobs, a lower quality of life and less local spending in the small towns that need it most.”
7:54:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

Wagner And The Popular Authoritarian Leader

It's difficult to become fascinated with Wagner without becoming equally fascinated with racist, far right authoritarian leaders. Not because Wagner may have been any of these things (as much as some biographers would have us believe) but because of a person who has grown so closely associated with him; Adolf Hitler. And not just Hitler and the Third Reich but similar extremist authoritarian movements; both in the past and the present. I am even more fascinated by how such people come to power - a lifelong one that influenced early academic choices. The most common answer to such a question is that the people that elect them (when commentators admit they so often elected) are simply not the "norm", poorly educated (although there is sometimes truth in this) or that they are "manipulated". Indeed, this excuse is being used now in the US as an explanation for the chaotic presidency - only 8 weeks old - of Donald J Trump. However, the truth is much more complex than this although, sadly, this may not be the place to discuss it any depth.

However, I sat with fascination today watching the recent Trump press conference and then his rally in California. Watching the crowds at the later it was difficult to not be reminded of the ending of the recent film version of Timur Vermes'  comedy novel "Er ist wieder da" (Look Who's Back). If you are unfamiliar, both the book and film imagine that somehow Hitler is transported in time from his last day in the Führerbunker to present day Berlin. Quickly acclimatizing, he uses social and traditional media to rise to power. The film is unusual in that it uses both scripted and unscripted scenes, with its unscripted moments being perhaps the most disturbing. During these Oliver Masucci manages to channel Hitler in the most extraordinary manner. More interesting is how, in Germany of perhaps all places, while in character, so many ordinary Germans agree with him; "If you were him, I would follow you today", says one.

The movie ends with Hitler explaining why he came to power and why he will again.

Boyd van Hoeij of The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a poor review, saying that it "... doesn't ... suggest something meaningful about either contemporary German society or whether Hitler's ideas and methods could potentially take root again", He said this in May 2016 - only six months before Trump became the "Leader of the free world"  and only eight months before a poll yesterday found 40% of Americans felt Trump was "doing a good job",.

If you have not seen it I cannot do more than recommend you get it on DVD. If you have access to Netflix it is also available there right now.

If you are still undecided, and are unbothered by "spoilers" - although I  think hardly relevant in this case -  you can watch the "denouncement" in the clip of the final few minutes of the movie below.

By the way, Wagner's music only appears once, and then only by a terrible TV show.
3:27:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

Simon Callow Is Even Less Reliable Than Wagner About Wagner?

It seems that Micheal Tanner finds Simon Callow an even more unreliable Wagner Biographer than Wagner. He has a poor grasp of Schopenhauer also. Our own thoughts will be arriving shortly. 

The dust cover features one of the best-known caricatures of Richard Wagner, his enormous head in this version opened like a boiled egg, with a photograph of Simon Callow either emerging from his skull or sinking into it. The idea is that rather than just writing another book on this over-biographised figure, Callow will let us know what it was like actually to have been him, something he also tried in his one-man show at the Linbury Theatre, Inside Wagner’s Head. Callow tells us that he has been a lifelong Wagnerian, but that only in the last four years has he investigated him as a man, reading the most important biographical and, especially, autobiographical works, together with a fair number of critical studies.

So we have one flamboyant theatrical figure claiming to portray another. Wagner’s narratives of his life — there are many of them — are notoriously unreliable, often with dramatic intent. Callow is not the man to mind that; and he adds a large number of inaccuracies and flourishes of his own, so that, in many respects, the book turns out to be a mine of misinformation. Callow even gets Wagner’s birthday wrong, twice, though it is correct in the chronology at the end. More seriously, he takes Wagner’s word for it that it was seeing the great soprano Wilhelmine Schröder-Devrient as Fidelio in 1829 that determined him to become an opera composer, and also was a lifelong influence on his view of the ideal operatic performer. But it has long been known, and stated in several of the books Callow lists in his bibliography, that she didn’t perform in Fidelio then. It was part of Wagner’s mytho-autobiography.

1:41:00 am | 0 comments | Read More

Johannes Debus On Wagner: "There is something in this music that is so sick"

Canadian Opera Company conductor Johannes Debus is frank about his relationship with the music of Richard Wagner.
“I always tried to avoid Wagner,” he says. “There is something in this music that is so sick. Something in it that takes you over and doesn’t let you go. It manipulates you. Of course, there are those moments of ecstasy that are so powerful, so strong. And yet, sometimes you don’t want to get close to that, because it’s somehow dangerous. There’s a reason why that music has been used and abused in our history – in German history.”
But Debus has been unable to avoid Wagner any longer. Over the past three years, the Canadian Opera Company has presented three of the four operas of the famous Ring cycle, with Debus leading the orchestra, and soprano Christine Goerke – the next great Brunhilde – featured on stage. Two years ago, it was Die Walkure. Last year, Siegfried. And, starting Feb. 2, the last of the cycle – Gotterdammerung.
Debus’s observations are not entirely new regarding the music of the great, controversial 19th-century opera composer. Debus quotes Leonard Bernstein on Wagner, who said: “I hate Wagner. I hate Wagner on my knees.” (He also quotes Woody Allen: “Every time I listen to Wagner, I get the urge to  invade Poland.”)
Traditionally, these qualms have been washed away by citing Wagner’s musical/historical significance, which is undeniable, or absolving the composer from the abuses to which his music has been put, or just noting its power and popularity. But anyone who knows Debus knows that he is an intense, thoughtful, deeply committed artist and citizen in the modern world. Simple answers to ethical and aesthetic dilemmas are not for him. And fair enough. These days the music of Wagner needs to be confronted morally as well as musically.
1:31:00 am | 0 comments | Read More