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Wagner


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Author Topic: Wagner  (Read 282 times)
Neil McGowan
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« on: February 17, 2012, 05:42:32 am »

It's amazing the ignorant tosh one can come across these days on the topic of Wagner:

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I think we all know the drill by now. It goes something like, "Wagner was a proto-nazi and no-one today can take his cod-Schopenhauerianisms seriously, so we need a 'modern' production that will 'subvert' all this and actively work against a straightforward presentation of the composer's aesthetic and philosophical ideas, because they are so repugnant, or just bat-shit crazy. However, the music is glorious, so let's try to salvage something from the mess." The epitome of this for me was a comment by Heiner Müller concerning his production of Tristan und Isolde from the 90s, in which, if I remember correctly (I don’t have my liner notes with me in BP) he said that he regarded the idea of ‘love death’ as a nonsense because ‘no one really wants to die like that’ (not verbatim quotes, but I think I have honestly and accurately reflected the gist of what he wrote).

Now to me, this represents not a subversion of some reactionary element in Wagners’ dramatic vision, but a simple failure to grasp what Wagner was trying to say. What he was trying to say might well be ludicrous or false, or it could hold a particular kind of truth that is counterintuitive,  but I don’t think we are really relating to his work unless we can suspend our disbelief for at least a moment. For me, part of the pleasure of a more ‘straightforward’ Wagner production is when I am repulsed, alienated or otherwise challenged by what is going on on stage. In other words, I want the whole Wagner in all its saccharine, mystical, bizarre and, sometimes, hard to relate to glory.

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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #1 on: February 18, 2012, 09:00:29 am »

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For me, part of the pleasure of a more ‘straightforward’ Wagner production is when I am repulsed, alienated or otherwise challenged by what is going on on stage. In other words, I want the whole Wagner in all its saccharine, mystical, bizarre and, sometimes, hard to relate to glory.


And here's the real stupidity in all its witless glory  Shocked

This hopeless myth that there is an 'Urtext production' lying at the heart of a sheaf of printed notes was debunked years ago.

'Doing nothing' does not 'reveal the composer's original intentions' - any more than playing his works without a conductor does.  This idea that a 'non-interpretation' is a 'true' interpretation is some of the most worthless intellectual baloney to be found.  Mostly it's put about on the Fiends of R3 site - who believe that operas should be presented in costumed concert performances.

The principle here is that if there isn't an overt printed stage direction saying so - then it shouldn't happen.

If we follow this baloney to its logical conclusion, then the curtain would never rise on COSI FAN TUTTE - because there is not a stage direction saying that it does.

Everything that is done on a stage implies meaning for the audience.  Let us give an example.

The conductor Valery Gergiev adheres to this confederacy of dunces.  He decided he could 'stage' Wagner's RING CYCLE himself, rather than entrust this work to someone with, for example, a single ounce of professional experience in doing so.  The resulting garbage was panned wherever it was shown, and has been withdrawn from public performance, so truly awful is it.

For example, due to Gergiev's inability, he stages (or, errr, FAILS to stage) the big duet between Brunnhilde and Wotan (which fills most of the second half of WALKURE Act III, nearly 45 minutes of music) by seating them both on a log and leaving them there.  They never move at all.  For 45 minutes.  Why?  Because there are no Stage Directions for the clueless Gergiev to follow.

The result is that at the musical culmination of this enormously long scene - a fortissimo chord and restatement of the Love motif - nothing whatsoever happens.  Even though anyone equipped with a pair of ears would realise that clearly SOMETHING happens at that moment (or else why does the moment differ from the rest of the scene? Do they really think Wagner was a fool?).  And in fact what most probably happens is that the emotionally stifled Wotan finally finds enough love and kindness to be able to hug his devoted daughter, before sticking her on a rock behind a wall of fire.

THIS is the kind of garbage which fools like Chakgogka embrace as their 'lost' traditional Wagner productions.

And of course the Groupthink Goons of R3 all chip in to agree with the witless twaddle voiced by their Dear Friend.  Because it is correct?  No!  Because he is their friend.
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« Reply #2 on: February 19, 2012, 05:31:42 am »

. . . seating them both on a log and leaving them there.  They never move at all.  For 45 minutes. . . .



Here we see Tristan and Isolde in two different performances of Act II Scene 2. I do not for the moment know what Wagner's stage directions actually are - I will look them up - but in each case I feel the performers - who mind you are intended to be more than only singers - could and should do a good deal more. At this point in the proceedings the characters are to be thought of as young persons full of vigour are they not.

As Mr. Forman puts it, "We are off into unimagined rapture sublime bliss overwhelming joy and similar." But we detect hardly any of that in these productions. All we are permitted to gather visually is:

1) the fact that there are two persons;
2) the fact that one is male and the other female;
3) through their physical proximity, the fact that each has a certain interest in the other.

But these three facts are absolutely all!  So yes that must be bad "staging," and good staging has to do much more. The cost of erecting a grand opera house hardly seems justified by the portrayal of scarcely mobile mere presences.
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #3 on: February 19, 2012, 08:43:00 am »

I feel the performers - who mind you are intended to be more than only singers - could and should do a good deal more.


Exactly so, Gerald! 

And it is the work of the director to give them what to do. Otherwise the director has failed in his duty to direct.

We were, last night, in the Bolshoi Theatre...  where Mr Cherniakhov has misdirected the Russian opera RUSLAN & LUDMILA.  The first act is filled with his usual preoccupations - banquet tables, fireworks, plasma computer screens...  anything, in fact, rather than directing the action of the performers.  There were quite a few decent performers in the cast - especially worthy of mention being Charles Workman singing both Bayan and Finn, and an outstanding vocal performance by countertenor Yuri Minenko as Ratmir - but they were left with nothing to do by Cherniakhov, and ended up pacing around hopelessly in circles.

The massed choral scenes of Act One present a talented director with many opportunities for interesting crowd scenes, and the choral ceremonial wedding dances ought to be spectacular.  However, in Mr Cherniakhov's incapable hands the entire gathered assembly simply sat around large circular tables for so long (22 minutes - I timed it) that if they'd been aboard an aircraft they might have been in danger of thrombosis.  Finally, since he could think of nothing else, Cherniakhov has them stand up, and move slowly around the tables in circles.  No less festive or more witless action could have been devised by human mind - considering this is supposed to be the Wedding Feast of the daughter of a Grand-Prince of Kiev??   Considering that the Bolshoi Theatre has no less than three separate ballet groups - many of whom sit at home doing nought while the top-flight ones get the main ballet roles - it seems extraordinary that no dances whatsoever could have been devised??   Moreover, Glinka was no fool when it came to drama...  the whole idea of the ceremonial dances is to build up a false sense of happiness and gaiety,  so that the effect of Ludmila's abduction would be all the more shocking when it occurs seconds later.  But Mr Cherniakhov 'knows better'.  He conjures up a wedding party of stultifying static boredom (complete with an on-stage video cameraman who is filming their Wedding Video, we assume)....  and then the abduction is handled with all the magic and mystery of a five-bob panto on the pier at Clacton-On-Sea.  The lights are dimmed, a streamer is fired, and...  she's gone?   Well, then who did it?  And how? 

Yet for the Act III scenes at Ratmir's harem (now a C19th Girly-House) no penny is spared on irrelevant bilge and special-effect nonsense...  even though none of it is in the plot.

Peter Brook, in his excellent book 'The Empty Space' (which should be learned by heart by anyone with pretentions to working on the stage) famously said "Tell the story, as simply and directly as you can.  Remove everything which does not tell the story".

Mr Cherniakhov has completely forgotten the story - it doesn't interest him.  He even leaves out Chernomor completely!!  The character who abducts Ludmila never appears whatsoever, and gets no credit in the programme.  (It's a mime role - and Cherniakhov can't stage action, so he leaves it out).

Musically things were no better.  A second-rate German conductor called Ralf Sochachewski directed the musical aspects of the performance.  Mr Sochachewski has learned music, but hasn't got to the letter 'r' (for rubato) yet, and conducted the entire score with the four-square clumsiness of a military band.  He belongs on the same seafront as Mr Cherniakhov.
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2012, 10:45:11 am »

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IIRC, the point of oratorio was that theatres weren't allowed to stage operas during Lent, is that right? So Handel had to write oratorios instead based on Biblical subjects.....but made them as operatic as possible!

Oh dear  Tongue
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #5 on: February 29, 2012, 03:23:16 pm »

Another opera wrecked by some juvenile fools

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« Reply #6 on: March 01, 2012, 04:07:08 am »


At first I thought you meant the booers, but upon reading the article I realized that you probably mean the directors. If that is so I agree.

"As long as I kept my eyes shut, it was gorgeous," said Jane Tinkler . . .

What is "The Only Way Is Essex" by the way?
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #7 on: March 01, 2012, 04:11:01 am »

you probably mean the directors.


And not only the directors, but the fools at the ROH who employed them.
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« Reply #8 on: March 13, 2012, 11:46:27 am »

. . . seating them both on a log and leaving them there.  They never move at all.  For 45 minutes. . . .



Here we see Tristan and Isolde in two different performances of Act II Scene 2. I do not for the moment know what Wagner's stage directions actually are - I will look them up . . .

Which I have now done; actually there are not a great many stage directions; just things like this at quite rare intervals:

    "Stürmische Umarmungen beider, unter denen sie in den Vordergrund gelangen."

or

    "Tristan zieht Isolde sanft zur Seite auf eine Blumenbank nieder, senkt sich vor ihr auf die Knie und schmiegt sein Haupt in ihren Arm."

But since so much of the action of the subsequent scenes takes place upon the aforementioned Blumenbank, I would venture to suggest that any production lacking one, or attempting to substitute some old sofa, would be sadly unfaithful to the composer's intentions.
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Neil McGowan
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« Reply #9 on: March 13, 2012, 12:00:23 pm »


But since so much of the action of the subsequent scenes takes place upon the aforementioned Blumenbank, I would venture to suggest that any production lacking one, or attempting to substitute some old sofa, would be sadly unfaithful to the composer's intentions.


Indeed so!

A further assumption of the untutored is to suppose that if there are no stage directions at all, then nothing is to happen.

Most of the 'stage directions' are there in the printed score - for those who have ears to hear them, of course Wink
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