It had to happen. As surely as the irresistible force had to meet the immovable object, as surely as Frankenstein had to meet the Wolfman [sic], Roger Norrington and his London Classical Players had to confront Richard Wagner, the fountainhead of everything against which Mr. Norrington, and all of Early Music, have been in constant zealous revolt. The resulting CD (EMI Classics 5 55479 2), which contains the Rienzi Overture, the Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin, the Prelude and "Liebestod" from Tristan und Isolde, the Meistersinger Prelude, the Siegfried Idyll and the Parsifal Prelude, is one of the most fascinating recordings of the year just past, and one of the most important. Which is not necessarily to imply that the performances it preserves are any good.Read the whole thing.
The woodenheaded board of Der Richard Wagner Stiftung Bayreuth has renewed Katharina Wagner's contract as (sole) director of the Bayreuther Festspiele through 2020. What further proof beyond her disastrous first (co-)tenure of the past six years do these idiots need to convince them Katharina's continued directorship of the Festspiele sounds the very death knell for this venerable institution, the world's oldest and most storied music festival?To which a forum member replied:
"Death knell for this venerable institution"? Just what are you basing that on exactly? People who have actually seen what she has done there seem to continue to go.To which we replied:
On what am I basing that exactly? Why, on actually having seen what Katharina's done there, of course. And as to people continuing to go despite the artistic damage Katharina has already managed to inflict on the Festspiele, people will continue to go to the Festspiele in future no matter how grotesque the productions and less than first-rate the music-making if for no reason other than to experience the amazing Festspielhaus itself, to get a dose of real or imagined nostalgia, and as a kind of pilgrimage of sorts. Artistically, the Festspiele is already beginning to be considered of little cultural importance as well as being something of an embarrassment for Wagnerians, except, of course, inside Germany where other powerful, largely nationalistic forces come into play.Things then began to get quite ugly. MSM opera critic and Eurotrash champion and cheerleader James Jorden, posting under the screen name "La Cieca", responded with the following one-liner:
You haven't been to Bayreuth, you loudmouthed fraud.To which we replied, exercising as much restraint as we could muster:
I never said I'd been to Bayreuth to see what Katharina had done there during her tenure vis-à-vis Festspiele productions (what an idea!), you Eurotrash-besotted, petty little shit. No need to go to Bayreuth for that purpose these days. The full-length presentation of several Bayreuth productions during Katharina's tenure were made available for all to see via YouTube and some also streamed direct by Bayreuth itself. Along with piecemeal video glimpses of several other Katharina-tenure Bayreuth productions, that was more than sufficient for one to make an informed, considered judgment. Needless to say, ALL the productions during Katharina's tenure — every last one of them — were irredeemable, utterly unmitigated Eurotrash. Since Katharina assumed the Festspiele directorship (along with her Festspiele co-director half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier who has now stepped down) not so much as a single Wagner opera or music-drama has made its way to the Festspiele stage. No surprise there. Katharina is and has been a steadfast and devoted Eurotrash champion of longstanding (it was she, for instance, who was responsible for the über-grotesque "disintegrating bunny" _Parsifal_ of Christoph Schlingensief mounted at the Festspiele during her father's (Wolfgang's) tenure). Do you have anything of value to add to this thread, little man? If so, let's hear it.Apparently nothing of value to add as nothing further was heard from Mr. Jorden in this thread.
I've never seen _Klinghoffer_ and was looking forward to the HD telecast of the opera just to discover what all the fuss was about. That now looks like an event unlikely to take place. There is, however, something I can say about such operas generally (i.e., operas grounded in real, historical events still alive in living memory which would include Adams's _Nixon_ and _Dr. Atomic_) which is that as intended works of art they're a really bad idea from the get-go. The reason for that is that it's all but impossible for a viewer to, at least subconsciously, NOT overlay and/or graft his thinking, biases, and prejudices concerning what was true or perceived as true about the historical case and its surrounding context onto the operas even though the operas themselves may not even so much as have touched on any particular point(s) in question. Once that happens, the work instantly degenerates into propaganda (agitprop) and so becomes, poetically and aesthetically, of little value or worth in its totality as an artwork. Such was true of _Nixon_ and _Dr. Atomic_ (the latter of which two operas has some sumptuous and genuinely beautiful music) both of which operas I did see. Opera creators would do well to stay away — far away — from involving themselves in the creation of such operas — unless, of course, it's their intention to create such Brechtian-poisoned crap.
We ALL need to talk. Arts administrators, Directors and Conductors, Audience members, Conservatoires, teachers, Families, Friends, Singers and Press and Critics and Opera Companies… EVERYONE. All of you who have known and love Opera...and still do. All of you who know it to be the Art form that is about celebrating the human voice, the human voice at its most Olympian heights of expression. [...] [Opera] is not about lights, it is not about costumes, it’s not about sets, it’s not even about sex or stature… It is ALL about the human voice. [...] All the visual messages that a production and costume brings to an opera does not alter ( even though they can try very hard) the fact that it’s true success in moving and making an audience love the Art form lies in the voice that sails across the pit to the audience and into their ears. ... [Opera] is about and really ONLY about communication through great singing. [...] OPERA is ALL about the voice. Many of those who think they know me and may be surprised by this. But it’s not an opinion, it’s a FACT [all caps for emphasis Ms. Coote's].This sounds like a rant coming from a TOF (TOF: True Opera Fan — like a teenage movie fan only worse; much worse), not an opera professional. So, opera is all about the voice, is it? Well, in certain limited cases we suppose that's true, and most particularly true of those operas belonging to the so-called bel canto opera era. They are indeed "all about the voice" by design as, after all, there's precious little else there all the rest being nothing more than platform and pretext for the showcasing of voices and singing. But Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier is no such opera. It's a genuine dramma per musica — a genuine music-drama — as are all Wagner's mature works and even several of his earlier operas (Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, and Lohengrin) as well as all Mozart's mature works (the so-called Da Ponte operas and even his Singspiel, Die Zauberflöte). None of these stageworks are "all about the voice". They're all about the (music-)drama the singers and singing being just one part of the performance apparatus which exist solely to serve the central (music-)drama. And since when has it been improper and in bad taste to comment on the physical appropriateness of the (singer-)actors in a fully staged presentation of a (music-)drama? Answer: never. It's all fair game for, and in fact a professional obligation of, the professional opera critic to make such comment and has been since Day One. The problem in this particular case was not a fault of the critics but of the inexperience of Ms. Erraught and the advice of her advisors (not to even speak of the production's director) who should have known better than to allow her to accept the role of Octavian in a fully staged version of this opera even though she is more than up to the role vocally and acting-wise.
⚫ Anthony Tommasini for The New York Times: Mr. Wuorinen has written an intricate, vibrantly orchestrated and often brilliant score that conveys the oppressiveness of the forces that defeat these two men, whose lives we follow over 20 years, starting in 1963 when they take a summer job herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain. But the same qualities in Mr. Wuorinen’s music that can captivate listeners — ingenious complexity, lucid textures, tartly atonal harmonic writing — too often weigh down the drama in this work. To his credit, there is not one saccharine or melodramatic touch in the score. Still, you yearn for the music to sing, to convey the moments of romantic bliss and sensual pleasure that the uptight Ennis Del Mar and his more daring companion Jack Twist experience. For long stretches, though, Mr. Wuorinen’s music comes across as a little too brainy and relentlessly busy.
⚫ Andrew Clements for The Guardian: [H]owever striking it is, Wuorinen's rather dry, often etiolated music, sometimes recalling late Schoenberg, sometimes serial Stravinsky, rarely transcends the text enough to enhance the drama rather than just adding rather terse punctuation and commentary to it. The tenebrous opening certainly signals the tragedy that is to come, but when it does, with Jack's death almost two hours later, there's nothing to deliver the gut wrench needed; Ennis's final monologue merely hints at the expressive world the music might have explored. [Wuorinen’s] generally sparse scoring at least means that a great deal of Proulx’s text gets across in the performance, but that’s a mixed blessing. There are far too many words: her original short story is a model of economy, but where most librettists pare down their sources, Proulx too often expands hers, adding explanations and back story, even whole scenes, that are not to be found in her original narration. Some subsidiary characters just aren’t needed, and though the opera is played straight through, in two acts of 11 scenes each without an interval, the pacing is uneven and the drama sometimes holds fire just when it needs to be moving remorselessly on.
⚫ Shirley Apthorp for The Financial Times: [T]here is nothing particularly provocative about Annie Proulx’s stark short story of two men sharing an impossible love in an inhospitable environment. It is very much the stuff of operas. Since Proulx wrote Wuorinen’s libretto herself, and the creative team stayed well away from the temptation of echoing Ang Lee’s film, the opera stands on its own. It is more explicitly tragic than the story. Ennis barely speaks at the beginning, but his part evolves as the work progresses, until finally, after Jack’s death, he can express his love in lyrical lines. Proulx’s text gives her characters words that were only implied in her original tale. Too many words; less would have been more. A superlative author is not automatically a consummate librettist.
Wuorinen’s score is as perilously close to sentimentality as it is possible for atonal music to be. Though he cites Moses und Aron as an inspiration, the music is unashamedly pictorial, echoing early Alban Berg more than late Schoenberg.
I hate to see this, but Martin Bernheimer has grown OLD. He has forgotten the magic a fairy tale can evoke, he has forgotten the power a naive imagination can wield in the theatre, he has forgotten that all of us are, essentially, inner children using the beauty and magic of art as tools in our lifelong search for our outer adult. NO ONE has read "Alice in Wonderland" once too often; NO ONE has listened to the "Nutcracker Suite" once too often; NO ONE has seen "Fantasia" once too often. But lots of people have talked themselves into believing that they have. They blame their own jaded eyes and ears on "familiarity," instead of placing the blame squarely where it belongs: on their own paucity of imagination.We find ourself in sympathy with this but mostly (although not entirely) disagree with the reasons given for Mr. Bernheimer's response. Rather, it is, we think, something more base. And that is that today it's not considered a "smart" critical response to praise any opera staging that hasn't been "relevantly" deconstructed socially and/or politically and/or psychologically and realized onstage in modern dress and with "kitchen-sink" realism. That such a staging is an absolute kiss of death for an opera such as Rusalka (or Frau or the Ring operas, etc.) seems to cause these "smart" critical types not so much as a moment's pause. But then, it's the 21st century and postmodern lunacy still reigns supreme and, unhappily, there's nothing for it but to attempt to ignore it until the inmates no longer control the asylum and the postmodern ethos dies of its own demented imbecility.
The biggest part of the problem is the Great Man myth that still permeates classical music and which has also found its way into the new music claiming its lineage from that tradition. Until we rid ourselves of the notion that the best music of all time was created by a handful of men who lived an ocean away from us and who all died more than a century before any of us were born, we will never have programming that truly reflects the vast array of musical creativity all around us. It’s the same myth that locks American repertoire out of most programming at opera houses and symphony orchestras as well as music by anyone from anywhere who is currently alive. When a work by someone who is alive, American, or female (or a combination of those attributes) is played, it’s inevitably a single work wedged in between the obligatory performances of works by Great Men. Heaven forbid a major opera company or symphony orchestra would most [sic] a season that included a broad range of works that were not penned by Great Men!If "the biggest part of the problem" is truly the Great Man Myth (and we don't for an instant imagine that it truly is) which has it that "the best music of all time was created by a handful of men who lived an ocean away from us and who all died more than a century before any of us were born," then we've news for Mr. Oteri: the "problem" is indissoluble and will remain so for even the most remotely foreseeable future. For the "Great Man Myth" as above defined (except for the "more than a century" part which more accurately should have read "more than a half-century or so") is in large part no myth but a demonstrable truth that no amount of wishful, PC, or delusional thinking can make disappear or cease to exist. It's time living composers (and incidentally, their champions and cheerleaders as well) accepted and got over that demonstrable truth and their destructive "anxiety of influence" response to it, to borrow Harold Bloom's neatly and aptly named formulation, and instead got on with the business of composing new music as best their native gift will allow without the need to attempt to demythologize or pooh-pooh a purported myth that's no myth at all and never was. Yes, we understand your pain. But instead of railing at us for the above as you may be wont to do, you would do better to consider it our sincere if modest contribution to the furtherance of new music worldwide.
I confess it's beyond me how anyone who admits to "wearing [his] Wagnerian badge on [his] sleeve" could have any good words to say for the staging of the new Opera Australia Melbourne _Ring_. That staging is clearly and unmistakably out-and-out Eurotrash and should be condemned as ought all Eurotrash stagings of any canonical opera whatsoever. Such stagings are an especially pernicious malignancy no matter how well-designed and -executed they may be. Any directorial hack can come up with a Eurotrash staging of a canonical opera. There's no trick to doing that. The trick is to come up with a new, fresh, and revelatory staging of a canonical opera that's faithful to the full spirit and sense of the concept and vision of the opera's original creator (called in German, _Werktreue_). And the trick there is that such a staging requires an opera director with a deep understanding of the opera in question as well as a genuine creative gift, a rare commodity always. On the evidence of this Melbourne _Ring_, Neil Armfield is clearly no such opera director.As always, the above reprinted here for the purpose of making a record of it on S&F.
But I do think that the [English National Opera] management has expended too much energy trying to please the critics and a metropolitan coterie of mavens and diehards with shows that are "ground-breakingly original" or "radically challenging" while failing to give enough thought and attention to presenting day-in day-out, bread-and-butter opera that offers less sophisticated or exigent audiences an enjoyable and modestly priced evening out....So, pander to the tastes and sensibilities of opera-going proles in order to bring more cash into the ENO box office. Wow! Now there's a new and novel idea. Incredible. That's been the money-making solution since Day One of public opera houses, and for opera as an artform it's always the wrong solution. Some people never learn.
I have an opinion that is much simpler, lol. We're dealing largely with the world of myth. How does one "realistically" portray a world of mythical or fantastical creatures onstage? - Ancient gods with human behaviors, dwarves, giants, sea maidens, fates, magical birds and dragons, etc. Though the experiences and triumphs and foibles and emotions of these characters are of course meant to be universal, many of the characters themselves are not rooted in our everyday human reality. They are creatures of our imaginations, who live in imaginary worlds. How does one "definitively" or "realistically" portray this onstage, in a basic sense, let alone all the various "coups de theatre" events that take place? [...] [W]ith the Ring ... we're dealing with a much more intangible world of imaginary settings and characters. There is no definitive world here.To which we responded:
Oh, but there is. Does any sane, honest (as opposed to self-serving, self-involved) opera director/stage designer (or anyone at all, actually) imagine that Wagner's setting the _Ring_ in mythological time and space was done willy-nilly or because it was expedient? Of course not. Accordingly, in staging the world of the _Ring_, there are three fundamental, "definitive" requirements that must be met: 1: The overarching physical context of that world must be a recognizable (as opposed to metaphoric or symbolic) representation — abstract or literal — of raw Nature at whatever scale is called for in the score.Once again, the above for the purpose of making it part of the S&F record.
2: There must be NOTHING in that world that fixes the time of the action to any specific, identifiable real-world era or period — past, present, or future — beyond the action taking place at some time deep in mankind's prehistoric (literally pre-historic) past.
3: There must be NOTHING in that world that fixes the location of the action to any specific, identifiable real-world place beyond the action taking place somewhere along the length of the pre-historic Rhine River Valley. Beyond staging the _Ring_ so that that staging first satisfies those three fundamental, "definitive" requirements, one is perfectly free to do pretty much whatever it is one's little heart desires provided it's at all points consonant with the full sense and spirit of Wagner's original vision and concept as made manifest in the score (music, text, and stage directions).