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Looking for sparks of redemption in 'Götterdämmerung's' ashes

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday 23 August 2015 | 9:26:00 pm

Reflection: Looking for sparks of redemption in 'Götterdämmerung's' ashes


On the way home Friday night from the Union Avenue Opera on North Union Boulevard, I landed in the middle of a beehive at the intersection of Euclid and Maryland avenues. The place is always busy, but on weekend evenings it's especially alive. However, this Friday the corner drew many more police officers than usual, including the chief, Sam Dotson.

Alderman Lyda Krewson was there; so were many worried longtime residents of the neighborhood. There were tourists from St. Louis County and beyond -- parents bringing their kids to college.Llots of folks were hanging out in the bars and outdoor cafes drinking up a storm. Gridlock-causing motorists, either just cruisin’ or looking for parking places or glimpses of civil disobedience, were in abundance.

Some members of this end-of-the-week congregation had no clue that demonstrators had blocked that intersection Thursday in response to the shooting death of 18-year-old Mansur Ball-Bey by police officers on Wednesday morning in the Fountain Park neighborhood. But other members of the crowd were curious, and some came in anticipation of a rerun of Thursday. Such is our desire to sit in the bleachers to watch the violence.

At Union Avenue, I’d seen its final show of the season, Richard Wagner’s epic drama “Götterdämmerung, The Twilight of the Gods.” This is the fourth in Wagner's monumental four-opera cycle, “Der Ring des Nibelungen,” and it was presented in a celebrated shaved-down version created by the British composer Jonathan Dove in 1990. It is "more intimate than heroic," said the British music critic Paul Griffiths, writing in The New York Times in 2000.

Over the years, Union Avenue has presented all four of this Ring’s component operas. By taking on this task and the responsibilities attached to it, the company performs not only an operatic but also a civic function of extraordinary importance now.

On the stage, the Wagnerian pantheon is eradicated. Out on the street, demonstrations that began a year ago continue in response to continuing shootings and killings of African Americans.

Condensed or not, the performance Friday night made connections of art and reality, opera and truth, as evident as they were stunning -- and frightening, too. The point is not to reflect on Union Avenue’s production in any great detail. It was good enough, though it had some obvious problems, such as a lack of balance. For example, the powerful voices Brünnhilde (Alexandra LoBianco) and Gutrune (Rebecca Wilson) often effortlessly steamrolled over the singing of their male colleagues and even the vocal ensemble. A sampling of the costumes called to mind the Marx Brothers’ “A Night at the Opera,” a distraction in a work of profound seriousness. I never felt the visceral thrills I often have listening to this music and feeling its ecstatic power and its wont to absorb a listener into its mystical quarters.

But all that falls into the category of picking of nits. When removed to a universe far beyond yet just next door to the opera house, into a place where conditions demand serious discussion and drastic remediation -- all that is beside the point. What matters is a small company’s commitment to taking on such challenging work. The commitment is entirely commendable, not because it sells tickets or stirs up publicity but because it is right and salutary to do so.

Especially now.

Living in chaos

Because now, “Götterdämmerung” can teach us a lot about life in times as troubled as any encountered in Wotan’s world, which when observed carefully looks too much like ours for comfort. The operas of the Ring are all, bar none, about chaos, and moral frailty, and about greed and duplicity, and about the fact that inevitably appearances are deceiving, and what seems real and what seems important in fact are not.

This is important to understand now when nonsense is presented as truth, and where human lives are sacrificed unnecessarily and when greed beats out making sacrifices for the general good.

Now especially, these operas of the Ring are important to see and to discuss, because the entire Ring cycle and “Götterdämmerung” in particular reveal in extravagant and some times exaggerated language and byzantine metaphor one simple and apparently intractable fact. That is, the situation of humankind today is a mess, not only in Syria and Iraq but here in St. Louis and St. Louis County as well.

God myth

In his review of “Wagner and Philosophy,” Ralph Blumenau...Continue Reading