Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The agony (of being moved by Wagner)

I loathe fairy tales, myths, out-of-mind experiences, the supernatural, voodoo, animalisations, horror movies, most science fiction, miracles, received religions, undefined enthusiasm, and a sense of déja vu.

Yet I’ve dabbled in Wagner. Why? Because the music’s good.

Last night, watching a live HD presentation of Die Walküre by the New York Met I rose up a notch. I was moved.

I need to tell you part of the plot. This is a big turn-off even for people who love things in my black list above. I've kept it brief.

For irresistible political and domestic reasons Wotan, king of the gods, agrees – very, very reluctantly – to arrange that his bastard son dies in a forthcoming battle. His well-beloved daughter Brȕnnhilde is despatched to ensure this. For humanitarian reasons she tries to save the son, Wotan is forced to intervene and his son dies. For disobeying a god’s wishes Brȕnnhilde is punished, horribly.

During the last act Brȕnnhilde pleads against her punishment and has a lot going for her. She has always loved and obeyed her father to the point where she gained “favoured” status. She disobeyed him on this occasion because she knows he loves the bastard son. She is telling the truth and Wotan knows it. He is in agony. But the punishment stands.

The singers – Bryn Terfel and Deborah Voigt – are world-class and the music works relentlessly backwards and forwards to re-create the emotions and regrets both are experiencing. This is believable stuff aimed at proving that power is never infinite, that even gods – never mind humans – are never free. I was moved last night and I am moved again, writing this. I can say no more.


Lucy said...

Come on BB, surely waging war on undefined enthusiasm might be a step too far... In fact I like a lot of the other things on your list of anathemata too, but I'm not proud.

One day I will sit through a Wagner opera and try it. I'm ashamed to say I never have. I like odd bits and pieces, probably the well-known tuneful bits. I've a friend (German) who has 'done' Bayreuth, the Ring Cycle I think. She says it starts off OK then it becomes progressively more agonising (the seats are minimal and hard0 and then you enter a kind of altered state and start enjoying it.

That set looks interesting too.

marja-leena said...

I agree with Lucy, though I'm not a fan of everything on your list, unless thrown together into the opera medium which I must say does excite and move me greatly. I've never seen the entire Ring Cycle, maybe just one or two on TV, in the comfort of home's soft seats and refreshments, certainly un-grand compared to Bayreuth but cheaper! The closest for us would be the Seattle Opera which would have a special summer Ring Cycle season every two or three years.

The only Wagner opera I've seen live is the comparatively lighter The Flying Dutchman, in Olavinlinna Castle in the town of Savonlinna, Finland which holds an opera festival every summer. What a mind-blowing experience that was, fortified by the setting of rocky castle walls and open night sky above us, seated in that open courtyard.

Avus said...

A bit like Lucy, really, BB

Sir Hugh said...

A post from he heart. Nobody could doubt your feelings.

William Wood Field said...

Funny how one can be moved by Wagner's musical arguments once the tottering collection of prejudices and inclinations are left behind...


Barrett Bonden said...

Lucy: C'mon Lucy. I'm selling Wagner, here; it's a hard sell. I've got to go out among the disbelievers and grab their lapels and shout at them so that garlic-flavoured spittle spatters their faces.

And oh, definitely, "undefined enthusiasm". I have never claimed to be particularly good father but I have left both my daughters with a profound sense of unease when they fall foul of this defect.

"Ooh Dad, I saw a reelly good film last night."
"How good?
"Reelly good."
"How good?"

In fact there were hard seats at Malvern so my backside was tortured and I'm presently going through one of my two-month coughing phases so my lungs were too. All the more remarkable then.

M-L: In the end it's the music that matters. And funnily enough the length. You start out being irritated by some of the idiocies of the plot, by the wilfully confusing names, and the fact that everyone looks like a beer barrel. And then, suddenly, you realise you've been listening to an aria for fifteeen minutes and you've been carried away. However, getting started is difficult. It requires faith, a bit like The Holy Trinity. But for me that one never stuck.

Avus: Sauce for the goose, then. see above.

Sir Hugh: In the end preaching does no good at all. In a sense I'm talking to myself. The first step needs to be initiated by the doubter. I know, for decades I was one.

WWF: A different voice. Welcome. One knows all the disadvantages and if one doesn't everybody is pleased to recount them. And yes sitting comfortably, in a middle-class fashion, watching News at Ten I hate all his twisted views and those of his wretched family. But in the end you ask yourself: what does music mean to me? can I at least be open-minded about the notes on the score? Soon, if you're lucky (and honest), the music takes over.

Rouchswalwe said...

Ironic that I have never even listened to Wagner on CD let alone seen an opera. Might give it a go now after your heartfelt words, BB. Have you seen the new Thor film with Anthony Hopkins portraying Odinn?

The Crow said...

I've listened only to Götterdämmerung, and was hooked on the music. I owe it to myself to listen to his other works. Any suggestions?

Plutarch said...

I spent a term at school listening to lectures by a schoolmaster who was German and a Wagner expert. He illustrated his talks with every leitmotiv thumped out on what seemed to be a very small piano. He took us all right through The Ring. I have been a fan, though I admit a passive fan, of Wagner ever since, having suspended every instict which has encouraged me to dislike all the things you list and more which bear on the composer.

Professional Bleeder said...

Is this the one where they sing "Oh Brȕnnhilde you're so lovely"?

Julia said...

It's all about the music for me, though "Oed' und leer das Meer" does wrench my heart every time.

Barrett Bonden said...

RW (zS): I'm not sure there's a way in via CDs alone, certainly not first time round. I have a complete Ring (very cheapo), a much better Siegfried, a Tristan, a Dutchman and a Meistersinger and I must confess I've hardly ever played them. For one thing it's quite hard to set aside the time in the home without feeling the need to break off for various domestic reasons, for another with Wagner more than any other opera composer you need the visual prompts (or at least I do). If there were no chance of seeing the opera live a DVD would be the best way, I think. Also you need sub-titles even if you understand German. A Wagnerian friend of mine used to talk abour "doing my homework" before going to the theatre but the sub-titles from the Met were good enough to follow the quite complicated plot. As to the Thor film, I fear part or all of it may fall into one or more of the categories listed at the beginning of my post and prejudice would stop me shelling out.

The Crow: You say listened (implying a CD or radio) and I'm impressed by that. Me, I needed the visuals. The most accessible Wagner opera is Meistersinger which is about a singing competition. Quite good fun but - I warn you - it may be the longest of the lot.

Plutarch: I think it's remarkable that anyone with broad-based cultural tastes manages to overcome all the negative stuff (esp. anti-semitism) beforehand. The friend I referred to in my response to RW (zS) above was something of a political innocent and was able to detach the music quite easily and concentrate on that. I owe him much of my early musical education but he had a hell of a job convincing me about Wagner. He's dead now and I truly regret the fact that he wasn't able to read this post of mine.

PB: I may be wrong but I fear you're trying to get up my nose. However the short answer is I don't know.

Julia: I've been praying you'd provide your two pennorth. As to identifying the arias by first line I'm not terribly good at that with Mozart let alone Wagner and I owe you for the elbow-push you gave me regarding Soave il vento which I now find includes the word sia. I've got into trouble a couple of times this year by blogging myself into areas I don't understand; perhaps I should regard music as yet another no-go area.

The Crow said...

I was introduced to Wagner forty-plus years ago by my first husband, via vinyl albums. I'd never heard opera before. John told me to close my eyes and just listen to the voices and the music, not to worry about the story line.

The hair on my arms and at the back of my neck stood on end at Siegfried's horn. During the last five minutes of the opera, when the world comes to an end, I wept, without knowing why.

The music is powerful. In the right conductor's hands, sung by the right voices, it can transport the listener to the realm of the gods...the altered state Lucy's friend mentioned.

Julia said...

Don't leave music as a topic; it is an absolute treat to read your thoughts on different pieces and I often consider what you might say about a particular chapter by Charles Rosen, or an aria in (for example) Aida as I'm reading and listening.

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: I omitted the best way of all for disovering music; have someone you know take you by the hand and guide you through it in some way. I was lucky enough to have two friends who did just that for me in my youth and middle age and lo, I turned from "How much is that doggie in the window?" to sterner stuff. Yours sounds a perfect variant on this. The point is you now have some faith in in Wagner himself. As I say try Meistersinger.

Julia: I suppose I was bluffing. Posting about music allows me to get answers to questions I'd be too self-conscious to put out plain and simple. See, I have this ignorance about key signatures for the middle eights of popular songs from the golden age (Rogers and Hart, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter)... Now all I need is to find a plausible post on which to hang the question. Watch this space.