Editorial: You Are A Very, Very Bad Wagnerian

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday, 4 June 2014 | 6:43:00 pm

Our Deputy Editor (Fred Oswald)  moans, in response to  some readers, and threatens to take his ball home, while our editor in chief hides under a desk refusing to leave the office. You have been warned, at least about the moaning.

Two days ago we ran an article about Hartford Wagner Festival's project to mount a full scale Ring cycle replacing a live orchestra with a "digital orchestra". Now, I have to admit,  we have run a number of articles over the years that have generated an "energetic" response but surely none as much as this. In the space of two days we have been told, repeatedly, that we are "bad Wagnerians", that we are " irresponsible", that we need to be "put straight", have things "spelled out" (sic) for us, that in Wagner "the orchestra is most important part of the experience" (sic) [Ed: Oh dear that sounds like another call for abominations with names like "Wagner without words"], that we are "incredibly sad (for having chosen to use) a digital orchestra for this production" (I didn't think we had. Is our editor moonlighting again) [Ed: If only I had the time. If only I had the time] that our "support for this project [Ed: We have supported it?] is "bad for society" and at least one "death threat" [Ed: I hope that was aimed at you. Remember protect your leader at all costs. I have a terrible aversion to pain don't forget. Anyone need Fred's full postal address?].  


And if you think things are "bad for us" then you might want to take a trip over to the Hartford Wagner Festival's Facebook page. Over there are things that would remind one of Nazi book/record burning  and worse. "Banning" is being called for. Blacklisting of those taking part. Calls to "bring in the unions". Not being allowed to ever conduct again. Examples? OK:

"...anyone who thinks it is acceptable is delusional"

" What's the most special price for opera karaoke? (sic)" 

To produce a Ring cycle without live orchestra is a farce. Nobody involved in this project can honestly claim they have any artistic integrity whatsoever [Ed: Must prove insulting to all of those opera companies that produce limited instrument/piano only Wagner productions]

You are extremely deluded.

You are trying something cheap. May all your ticket sales be in bitcoins!


User 1: "Shameful. We should make sure that this "conductor" never, ever sets foot in front of a live orchestra again, anywhere".

    2nd User: "According to the website, Paul Polivnick is the Music Director".

       3rd User  "A name to remember"

The most important thing is that Wagner would not have approved of this.

I implore you to consider shutting down the project

And on [Ed: and on, and on, and....] it goes. Indeed, anyone familiar with the history of Wagner's work in his own time cannot fail to be reminded of Tannhäuser and the Jockey Club.

Now, I really don't want to get into the merits or the success of using an alternative to a live orchestra. The truth is I have not heard the production and cannot make a comment about it till if I have - assuming I ever will. Indeed, we try here, with admittedly the odd exception, to remain as neutral as it is possible. This is certainly the case when reporting an event. For example, I think it would be very difficult for most readers to be aware that both I and our esteemed leader [Ed: That's more like it] abhor orchestral only performances and recordings of Wagner's work. I would rather  listen to a 24 hour nonstop broadcast of the Eurovision Song Contest than I would one CD of anything as soulless as "Wagner Without Words". In a similar vein, there are alas too many prominent orchestras and conductors who slaughter Wagner on a regular basis and should never be allowed near his work again. But all of this is personal opinion and far from common.  And outside of a rare review we intentionally try to keep away from such views.

What is most surprising is perhaps how many musicians have taken this stand. This is even stranger, in that one must assume music schools still teach the history of music development and criticism. But of course this is not the first time that a digital orchestra has caused mass negative response from the musical establishment. Many may not remember for example a particularly cold winter for The Opera Company of Brooklyn back in 2004. During that winter OCB was forced to cancel a benefit concert including excerpts from the  Magic Flute that was to be accompanied with the electronic orchestra, the Sinfonia. A move that was forced by the Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians who threatened to demonstrate outside the event claiming it would "take jobs away from players"

This is extraordinary. Do professional musician now feel that their skills are so poorly understood  [Ed: Or heard?] that they can be replaced by digital sequencing and sampling? And if they do and they are correct -  that we live in a world where people would not be able to tell the difference -  then I say we do-not deserve their talents. Or do they assume the average opera goer is more dimwitted than we have ever imagined.  

By all means decide you do not like the idea or decide this is not for you but please do not decide that you are the the final word on what I or others can or cannot listen to or what a company should or should not produce [Ed: No doubt while listening to the heavily digitised/produced abomination known as the  Solti/Culshaw Ring]. Certainly, even in a time when Europe seems to be returning to its fascist past, you have no right to threaten a production you do not like or tell people they are a "bad wagnerians" because you somehow feel they do not agree with your views on what is "proper" Wagner. Anyone with only the briefest knowledge of what was done with Wagner's legacy should know far better.