And last, the more contentious singer/opera matter.Mr. Douglas: How about if we change T____'s sentence just a little bit - like - Great voices can make the opera libretti less distasteful than might otherwise be the case. For many people, myself very emphatically included, great music making trumps all other facets of the operatic experience.For all opera (i.e., for all _dramma per musica_) — from the most slight French or bel canto confection to the most profound Wagner music-drama — the music and its performance are the work's _sine qua non_ and central dramatic element. There can be no argument concerning that point. But the libretto is of utmost importance as well, as, again, from the most slight French or bel canto confection to the most profound Wagner music-drama, the libretto acts as armature of the drama providing as it does those critical narrative and concrete details music alone is incapable of expressing. Great voices can make a weak and/or clumsy libretto more convincing and lend it more weight than it otherwise would have, but if a libretto is truly distasteful then distasteful it will remain no matter how great the voices singing it or the music accompanying it — that is, if one is actually paying attention to what the libretto is saying. And if one is not, such a one is missing a critical part of what the opera is about no matter how superb the music and no matter how deep one's enchantment and involvement with that music might be. The synergistic dramatic coupling of text and music — a genuine organic unity in a Wagner music-drama (as opposed to his operas); something less, sometimes even much less, in ordinary conventional opera — is principally what makes opera the unique dramatic artform it has grown to be.
It is elsewhere that we find singers who sing today, enjoying their prerogatives as complete and unencumbered artists, but never in the opera world. To hear singers sing the way Patti did, with sovereign command and the complete control of what they want to do and without the barest hint of interference, one has to go to the world of pop, to rock, and to country western....And that's precisely where such anarchic, individualistic performance practices belong. They have NO place in opera. Ever since the first public opera houses opened in the mid-17th century in Italy where pimping theater owners/managers understood that pandering to the tastes and sensibilities of opera-going groundlings was the way to make the most money, singers became the dictators of what appeared onstage in those houses because they and the pimps understood what the groundlings valued in opera: spectacular voices singing spectacular songs amidst spectacular sets and stage effects. About opera as a new and unique dramatic artform the groundlings couldn't have cared a rat's ass worth and so opera as _dramma per musica_ all but died almost at its very birthing a mere half-century before. It's been a long, hard, bumpy ride from that time to this, but finally today, with the help of a few extraordinary geniuses, opera has managed to reestablish itself as the unique dramatic artform it was intended to be by its late-16th-, early-17th-century innovators, and singers now understand their proper place in the artform: as another part of the musico-dramatic machinery whose every effort must be focused on achieving the most vivid and compelling realization of the opera creator's concept and vision as made manifest in the score (music, text, and stage directions) under the direction of first-rate conductors and stage directors devoted to achieving that end.
A stranger asks me to write an Aesthetic Statement. He demands my notion of the ideal poem, so he’ll know the secret of my love of some poems and my distaste for others. I feel his pain. Perhaps he wants to prosecute me should I praise a poet who deviates from my Platonic ideal. An aesthetic statement is of little use to a critic unless he’s a lover of manifestos, a maker of quarrels, or a host who treats his guests like Procrustes. Aesthetics is a rational profession for the philosopher, but for the working critic it’s a mug’s game. To write about your aesthetics is no better than revealing your secrets if you’re a magician, or returning a mark’s stolen wallet if you’re a pickpocket.This is must-read stuff — for MSM professionals as well as for us mere blogger amateurs.
If Wagner had a flaw as a librettist, it's that he was not ruthless enough about trimming interesting "color" details he had unearthed in his research. There are places in MEISTERSINGER and PARSIFAL where it is difficult to get a clear emotional through-line because there is so much talk about minutiae of the Mastersingers' tablatur [sic] or the complicated relationship between the Grail and the Liturgy, for example.Bypassing our, um, corrective response to the former commenter, we responded to the latter:
While I never had a problem dramatically with the setting forth of the minutiae of "the complicated relationship between the Grail and the Liturgy" in _Parsifal_ as its dramatic pace fit well with the dramatic pace of the rest of the music-drama, I for years had a problem feeling the same way about the lengthy, detailed, dramatically disproportionate explanation of the technical requirements a song must meet in order to be considered a song worthy of a Mastersinger not to even speak of a song worthy of a prize. But little by little I came to realize that without that lengthy, detailed explanation the audience would never really feel or get a real sense of just what Walther was up against in creating a new song for the competition much less a song worthy of a prize from the Mastersingers — in this case, THE prize. Once I understood that, the lengthy, detailed explanation of the technical requirements a song must meet in order to be considered a song worthy of a Mastersinger and a prize seemed just the right thing dramatically, its disproportionateness a purposeful (if dramatically risky) creative act on Wagner's part. Lesson learned: never second-guess a transcendent creative genius. If you imagine there's something amiss with a work of his (or hers) you will invariably find in the end that the fault was with your understanding, not the work.We await the static our above closing graf is almost certain to bring.
Ah, does Mr. Douglas even suspect the implications of his last paragraph? One wonders...To which we responded:
Mr. Douglas is indeed aware of "the implications" of said paragraph. But then, it very much depends on who one considers to be a member of that very exclusive Transcendent Creative Genius club. In the domain of opera, one may, for instance, consider, say, Verdi to be among their number. But with all due respect to Verdi's great creative gift, I do not. In the domain of opera, I consider but two composers to be members of that very exclusive club: Mozart and Wagner, and so in this case my referenced paragraph applies to them exclusively.We expect more. Or perhaps not, given our above quoted response.
[There was] a lot that made me feel stupid, but a lesson in how much we've come to depend on directors for clear answers, even if provocative ones.Mr. Woolfe seems to have lost sight of the fact that in a Wagner music-drama (i.e., those stageworks subsequent to Lohengrin) the music, built upon the narrative armature of the text, provides an attentive audience all it needs for "clear answers" to any questions it might have; that in fact that very thing is at the very heart of Wagner's unique genius. Mr. Woolfe, it would seem, is in urgent need of some curative or rehabilitative therapy to restore his critical judgment and understanding of such matters.
Advance word on the new Bayreuth Ring, staged by the Berlin-based director Frank Castorf, promised a sharply political interpretation, one in which the curse of the Nibelung’s gold would give way to the curse of international oil. Photographs from the rehearsals showed such settings as a gas station on Route 66, an oil rig in Baku, and the façade of the New York Stock Exchange. Leftist approaches to the Ring are nothing new: Wagner designed the libretto as an allegory for the corrupting forces of nineteenth-century capitalism, and late-twentieth-century productions by Joachim Herz, Götz Friedrich, and Patrice Chéreau articulated that agenda onstage. Still, the time seemed ripe for a radical Ring set in the twilight of the American empire.Say what(!)? By what perverse reasoning or logic would "the time [have] seemed ripe for a radical Ring set in the twilight of the American empire"? Rather, given the occasion — the bicentennial celebration of Wagner's birth in The House That Wagner Built — the time would have seemed ripe in our modern-day world to have Wagner's magnum opus set for once as Wagner himself envisioned it: in a timeless, universal, largely place-less world (the pre-historic — literally — Rhine Valley being the only identifiable location) wherein his timeless, universal, mythic (music-)drama could play itself out. By his above introductory graf, Mr. Ross betrays his surrender to and even tacit approval of the pernicious malignancy known more familiarly as Eurotrash (i.e., Konzept Regietheater) and one cannot but mourn this shameful surrender by one of our otherwise most thoughtful and perceptive classical music critics.
How have we allowed this to come about? How has one of mankind’s most glorious achievements [viz., opera] fallen into the hands of this freakish band of directors that seeks only to demean the form in its own narcissistic, solipsistic image? How have we come to be beholden to such as one of the most outré of this ill-begotten breed who can trenchantly assert that he is ‘faithful to Mozart’, a claim that carries as much validity as would Richard Dawkins declaring he is faithful to God? It is my firm conviction that no part of the operatic world, from administrators, to conductors, to singers, critics and audiences can escape censure.*The essay is well worth one's time reading in full. (Our thanks to Opera-L member Peter Bollard for the above Early Music World link.) * To which compare our,
And what sort of respect should be shown singers and musicians — the sine qua non (literally) of an opera performance — who were too cowardly to adamantly refuse to take part in such butcheries? That's right. None at all. They deserve to share the full weight of our censure along with the butchers initially and ultimately responsible for the butchery.
Anyone who can read German will discover that the review under the inflammatory headline is, in fact, mixed rather than negative. "Not to be taken seriously" in context means "treated lightly and ironically." But I forgot: this is [an opera forum] where very few read reviews even in English let alone go to the trouble of actually seeing any of these productions they're all up in arms about.In response to which we butted in by writing:
And lest anyone forget, the above is [written] by __________ who has something to praise about all Konzept Regietheater opera stagings unless, of course, that staging bears any resemblance or relationship to the spirit and sense of the opera creator's original vision. And I would be interested in learning just how most folks here (were they masochistic enough) could have "go[ne] to the trouble of actually seeing" the imbecile, unintentional burlesque that is Frank Castorf's Wagner Bicentennial Bayreuth staging of the Ring which, in any case, is clearly one of those Eurotrash (Konzept) Regietheater stagings that makes "actually seeing" it totally unnecessary in order to render an informed and infallible judgment concerning it.That did it. Now WE became the target, both publicly and privately — not by the above referred to "progressive" MSM critic but by other forum "progressive" types. Herewith a sampling:
⚫ I cannot help but feel a certain amount of pity for someone who subordinates their [sic] own thought processes and critical faculties to someone else. For my money, NO, you cannot render an informed and certainly not infallible judgment on a performance you have not seen.Und so weiter. Well, for starters, we never claimed to be able to render an informed and infallible judgment of either a "performance" or a "production" without actually seeing it. We spoke only of judging the staging of a production unseen by us in the theater, and only of certain stagings, not all. Furthermore, none of our numerous commentaries on stagings unseen by us in the theater could be taken as our "subordinat[ing] [our] own thought processes and critical faculties to someone else." (What an idea!) We finally felt constrained to set things straight on the forum regarding this matter, and perhaps it's also time we set things straight on this matter here on S&F as well. Following (with language slightly polished) is what we wrote in response to the criticisms:
⚫ Now is it possible that _____ did actually read what you wrote but like ma[n]y people considers it necessary for someone to actually attend a production rather than dismiss it out of hand through the [critiques] of others? Of course only the 'others' who agree with your already formed opinion!
⚫ Sorry, "little man", *no one* can judge a theatrical production from production photos.
⚫ You patronising twat.
In all the years I've commented on Eurotrash (Konzept) Regietheater stagings (and I've commented a great deal) I've NEVER - not once - depended on the critical opinion of others. When I write about these stagings, stagings I've never actually seen in the theater, I base my commentary on production photos and/or video clips of the staging and on reliable, straightforward written descriptions of the physical action absent one or the other of these two pieces of data I will offer no critical commentary at all. Even given the above two pieces of data, some stagings simply cannot be commented on without actually seeing them in the theater (the 2009 LAO Achim Freyer staging of the Ring is a perfect example). On the other hand, some stagings can be easily and accurately judged merely on the evidence of those two pieces of data. Such is the Frank Castorf Eurotrash staging of the Ring for Bayreuth from which staging there is no possibility that Wagner's Ring could ever emerge. And that's the principal thing that makes this Castorf staging utterly contemptible, unmitigated Eurotrash and so richly deserving of utmost censure.The above explanation just for the record.