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The Wagnerian's Review of 2012

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 6 January 2013 | 10:29:00 pm

"Will this ever end?
The Wagnerian is at heart somewhat "idiosyncratic". Yes, it is true that much of the major Wagner news is recorded here but its style might not be "typical" of Wagner reporting elsewhere - and alas, for this we remain shamelessly unapologetic. However, we do, in the main, try to stay neutral (and in the world of Wagner were everyone seems to have an opinion, that isn't easy)  and  suppress a natural urge to throw personal opinion around like pieces of gold in Fafner's cave. But as this is a  year long review we hope we can be forgiven for throwing caution to the wind - just this once.  We promise, it wont happen to often.  Now, with this in mind, it might not come as some surprise that any round-up of 2012 might exclude much that one might expect to be included and contain much it might not.

During each discussion, any highlighted text will take you to an article or interview printed here during the year that discuses each item in more detail. Finally,  it should be noted that as everything here it is the express and personal opinion of your humble editor it is thus of no value whatsoever..

Wagner in England

Wagner in England this year was saved by perhaps the most unexpected sources. While a huge part of the Arts Council funding was being thrown at its two largest recipients -  the ROH and ENO  (and the extended free advertising in the form of "news" reports and interviews both houses receive from the British broadsheets and the BBC) both organisations attempts to present Wagner this year were at best lacklustre, on occasion laughable and all to frequently "painful" to behold. Yes, we will admit the odd  moment of excellence - often from certain individuals - but alas these remained stubbornly infrequent or simply to greatly countered by much that was bad.

Warner's confused and often frankly unintentionally hilarious (if well-meaning)  Ring was dusted off once more at the ROH - and despite the aforementioned funding bonanza (and some of the most expensive tickets to a complete Ring of the year) failed, again, to offer what Wagner at his best (or at his average for that matter)  can. Whether watching from the cheap (or not so cheap) seats or listening on the radio; the production, in general, lacked either visual interest, cohesion or musical excellence  And should we even mention the repeated technical glitches that left anyone without the required moral fortitude and good manners,  to do anything but laugh? The Guardian will be broadcasting act three of Walkure from multiple perspectives on January 7 (more extensive free advertising for the ROH some might argue). We are sure that during this many of you will disagree with our conclusions

Over at ENO (once the home of fine Wagner productions - even if they were sung in English) we found musically at least, what we would expect in a good Wagner production (much of which came from the pit). Alas, Wagner is, more than any composer, in an opera house  as much about the direction as the music - and here things simply fell to pieces  Director Kent decided to not even reinterpret  the Dutchman (a popular pastime among bored opera Directors without the skill to bring something original and interesting from Wagner's own ideas) . Instead he decided to re-write. And what did he mange to turn Wagner's Dutchman into? Nothing less then a poor miss-mach of borrowed ideas from recent pop culture, one of which has at best a  dubious - and now highly ridiculed -  pedigree. As we said at the time: "this seems less Wagner’s Dutchman and more the opening of the fifth series of the new Doctor Who (without the obvious redemption of either character), directed by a Tim Burton who has just become an obsessive fan of the deplorable British horror/come “social commentary” Eden Lake"

But at least we won't have to worry in 2013: The ROH will only be performing only one Wagner drama this year - a new production of Parsifal - and that is nearly at the conclusion of Wagner's bicentenary  And ENO? Well ENO simply can't be bothered.

But not to worry, there was still good Wagner to be found  in England in 2012 - one simply had to go looking.

Rachel Nicholls
LFO concluded their intriguing Ring this year (in preparation for two full cycles in 2013) and in doing so presented to us one of the most promising young Brunhilde that we have heard for a long time: Rachel Nicholls

At the same time, WNO manged to present one of the better conceived and perhaps more importantly superbly conducted Tristan's we have heard in a long time. Yannis Kokkos's production  may now be growing old but - especially in the theatre -  it remains a worth while production. Koenigs grows in our estimation as one of the best Wagner conductors in the UK (and further afield) and one we really do need to keep an eye on. Combined with a Ben Heppner that was at the best we have heard  a long time, the Isolde of  Ann Petersen (who alas, at least at this stage in her career, only  found her Isolde in the second act) we were presented a second act to die for - pun intended.  Next year WNO will be performing a new production of Lohengrin - we simply implore you to get tickets.

And finally intriguing Wagner was found in the most unlikely place imaginable as Fulham Opera continued the insanity of producing a Ring Cycle in a church in Fuham - fully staged to  piano accompaniment. If ever there was a "house" that proves that Wagner can be produced without the supposed small number of "Wagnerian performers" we keep being told  exist and without a budget that would make the eyes of a small countries dictator water - than Fulham Opera prove it is possible.  Conventional or "big budget" it is not but true to the spirit of Wagner it remains. We shall look forward to Siegfried in 2013.

Note to the BBC and the Arts Council: there are other places outside of the ROH were Wagner is being performed. It might be worth visiting them.


OK, I admit we do seem to give poor old K Wagner a hard time but honestly she makes it so difficult not to, but then there has been a long tradition of this at Bayreuth so perhaps she is simply carrying on a deeply ingrained family tradition?  Whatever the reason,  this year saw little change.

We will refrain from mentioning the new Dutchman, but it continues a recent trend  that we suspect may reach its peak with Jonathan Meese's  Parsifal. This year musically, Tannhauser was a vast improvement and the Dutchman was a delight but how much longer can every ones cheerful conductor Thielemann continue to save the festival?

And outside of the productions themselves, K Wagner continues to make PR plunder after plunder. There was the bizarre Colon Ring fiasco, the continuation of the bungling that lead to the Wagner Societies losing their ticket allocation and the less said of Jonathan Meese's  ridicule of the festival and the Wagner;'s themselves. But all of it seems to go straight over Bayreuth's head - or should that be Green Hill?. And next we have every ones favourite  octogenarian "angry young man" Frank Castorf's Ring production. Be afraid, very afraid. We really do want Bayreuth to return to its former glory - it is without doubt of great importance to anyone with an interest in Wagner. However, how this will come about in its present state it is difficult to imagine.


Two music books took more than our usual amount of time this year,  one oddly enough that has nothing to do with "classical music"-  never mind Wagner. Or at least at first glance

Firstly we had Millington's Wagner the Sorcerer of Bayreuth  If the best of the "For dummies books" (many of which are much better as introductions than their name might suggest) was produced with full color  high quality graphics then Millington'ss book would be one of the better ones. If you can't be bothered reading the many books on Wagner that we recommend here but would like a detailed concise summery of them then this is the book:  a primer on recent Wagner research for those that don't have the time to read every book and paper published about and around Wagner.  If it has a failing it is, as we have already discussed, Millington's thesis that Wagner's antisemitism can be found prominently within his work , which he makes while not presenting any counter argument - of which there is much.

Next, a book with nothing to do with (at least on first appearances)  Wagner, opera or indeed "classical music": KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money by J.N.R. Higgs. As it is likely many readers are unfamiliar with the KLF, a brief overview: the KLF were one of the biggest and most influential British Acid House "groups" of the late 80's early 90s. Formed by the duo of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty who, in the simplest of terms, took Robert Anton Wilson/Robert Shaw's "novel" "The Illuminatus! Trilogy"   and created one of the biggest "groups" of the Acid House movement. The book explores the history of the KLF while trying to "explain" why they burned their last £1, 0000, 0000 in a ceremony in 1994.  Along the way, Higg's visits  Discordianism; Chaos Magick; Timothy Leary/Robert Anton Wilson's "Reality Tunnels";  Alan Moore's ideas around gods and "Idea-space" why the world's economy died in 2008 (maybe) and much else. But to tell you too much would simply spoil the "ride". One of the better books about the modern music industry, the "creative"  and "critical" process written in sometime.

And why does this book make an appearance here? Apart from the fact it is well written and a good "story" you mean?  Anyone that has spent time reading about or discussing Wagner  would highly benefit from an overview of both "Reality Tunnels" and maybe even Moore's "Idea-space (especially if you are unfamiliar with the Jungian "collective consciousnesses"  of which Moore's Idea-space is certainly an exploration). There are few places in the world of opera where people allow themselves to be funnelled down such narrowly constructed "reality tunnels" as those that exist around Wagner and his work .  Highly recommended. By the way, it  took us 23 hours to read.

Wagner Returns to Ireland

When arts funding in Ireland changed recently there was much fear that it would lead to the death of opera in Ireland. No longer would the Arts Council fund individual "house's" but instead individual "projects". For those that feared the worse, those fears were laid to rest by the work of Ireland's newest opera company,  Wide Open Opera, who not only manged to produce Ireland's first Tristan Und Isolde in over 50 years but did so with much success. And thanks to them the entire world managed to see the results as the production was broadcast on line for free. In an interview with The Wagnerian, Ireland's first Ring was promised for the future  We can only suggest that we keep a close eye on this company.

Recording of the year

Actually, the title is miss leading for the recording of 2012 won't reach us till 2013. So, lets not cheat to much and call it the recording announcement of 2012. Whatever, you might say about his touring Ring cycle a few years ago - Gergiev's Parsifal  on the Mariinsky Label was more than a success. So, when Marjinsky announced recently  the first part of a Ring with a cast to die for everyone listened. Look out for Walkure in February 2013

MET Ring

Poor old Lepage, not even the directors of the worse of Bayreuth's new generation have received the sort of "hatred" that Lepages production has received  Oddly, we don't happen to think it is that bad. Its just not what you might expect from the most expensive Ring cycle ever produced. Don't get us wrong it has wonderful moments but its biggest problem is that it can often come across as a semi staged production with the "machine" acting as little more than a moving video screen. We would suspect that with more imaginative direction and a move away from the centrality of said machine, future runs may prove more successful - but might be wrong. Of course it goes without saying, so we will say it anyway, that Levine was more than missed as the cycle continued.

Roll on 2013