During his tempestuous life, Wagner lived in many cities across the Continent, leaving an indelible imprint on all of them. In Leipzig, Dresden, Paris, Zurich, Lucerne, Vienna, Munich, and Venice, among other places, you can go on Wagner walking tours, seeing the houses where he lived, the halls where he conducted, and the meeting-places where he held forth. In recent weeks, as a kind of thought-experiment, I have been following ghost tracks of Wagner in New York, a city that he never saw and probably would have hated. A case of authorial obsession is to blame for this peculiar undertaking: I am working on a book called Wagnerism: Art in the Shadow of Music, an account of Wagner’s cultural impact. To be candid, the itinerary is often pretty dull, but it picks up interest toward the end, as traces emerge of hidden links between the Rockefellers and the Holy Grail.Read the full text here.
The writing [in Mad Men] is extremely weak, the plotting haphazard and often preposterous, the characterizations shallow and sometimes incoherent; its attitude toward the past is glib and its self-positioning in the present is unattractively smug; the acting is, almost without exception, bland and sometimes amateurish. Worst of all — in a drama with aspirations to treating social and historical “issues” — the show is melodramatic rather than dramatic. By this I mean that it proceeds, for the most part, like a soap opera, serially (and often unbelievably) generating, and then resolving, successive personal crises (adulteries, abortions, premarital pregnancies, interracial affairs, alcoholism and drug addiction, etc.), rather than exploring, by means of believable conflicts between personality and situation, the contemporary social and cultural phenomena it regards with such fascination: sexism, misogyny, social hypocrisy, racism, the counterculture, and so forth.Should the Mad Men sixth season opener astonish us by disappointing our expectations we'll come back here with an update — and an apology. Meanwhile, don't hold your breath.
[T]he injection of a mild strain of Regietheater [in opera stagings in American opera houses] ... is a healthy development because it forces American audiences to see opera as something other than a nostalgia trip. [...] [I]t's because we endlessly repeat the same old pieces that we feel the need to reinvent them in ever more drastic fashion.Yes, well, certainly an interesting view of the matter. Consider, however, that by that same sort of reasoning it might be "a healthy development" if American symphony orchestras did away with repeating year after year performances of, say, those same old Beethoven symphonies the way Beethoven wrote them and instead reinvent them just a bit by injecting some orchestration or other that never occurred to Herr Beethoven such as, say, kazoos in place of bassoons; or, say, slide whistles in place of flutes; or, say, musical saws in place of violas. After all, if that were done, American audiences would surely be forced to see those symphonies as something other than nostalgia trips. Yes indeed. They most assuredly would.
The new [Met] Ring, I loved it, in the Met and in HD. The sets were fantastic, and elastic. The singing was very good as well. So why exactly are so many against it?To which we replied:
Because it ended up being a Robert Lepage spectacular (actually, a spectacular that failed as a spectacular; but that's quite beside the point) with Wagner's music serving as sound track and Wagner's drama given only lip service. Mr. Lepage's focus seemed to be on what he could get Le Machine to do that would result in some visually arresting effect for its own sake at any particular moment rather than on how the capabilities of the contraption could best be exploited to support, express, or frame the drama moment by moment from work's beginning to end. It's a tail-wagging-the-dog approach that's all but guaranteed to result in shallow (at least attempted) coups de théâtre pretty much every time, precisely as it did in this production.After a repeat viewing of the Met's HD film of the tetralogy (via our HD DVR recordings of the HD PBS telecasts), we saw nothing to alter that opinion. For our comments on each of the music-dramas as telecast, you might want to consult the following S&F entries: Das Rheingold
While I take your point (and it's a reasonable one), saying we ought to accept the lesser of two evils with some measure of gratitude is hardly an answer to the problem. The Lepage staging of the Ring is in every way unacceptable, especially for a company with the prestige and stature of the Met. And what makes it unacceptable is NOT fixable except by doing away with it altogether as it's flawed conceptually. The Lepage staging centrally features Le Machine as the looming, hulking, impotently conspicuous star of the show as it could not otherwise be, and that's utterly and fundamentally perverse. And when I say the staging must be done away with altogether, I mean doing away with both Lepage and his humongous, dead-weight, ill-conceived, Frankenstein contraption to which contraption he's devoted entirely. The ONLY way such a contraption could justify itself is if it were capable of becoming THE ENTIRE STAGE ITSELF, perfectly plastic and malleable, and by so doing become invisible or transparent as a contraption. That's nowhere in the cards with Le Machine, either technically or practically; ergo, it has to go, along with its creator who cares infinitely more for it than for Wagner's great work which work both he and it were supposed to serve.And so it goes.
Sam knows no progress is possible on getting a policy in place so that gays and lesbians can openly serve in the military; Josh confronts a group of Republican Congressional staffers who threaten him with poison-pill legislation if he even thinks about pushing for campaign finance reformers on two newly opened Federal Election Commission seats; and Toby screams to Leo that they've had only one victory in office and that was putting Judge Mendoza on the Supreme Court. The staffers and the President feel listless and ineffectual in their jobs, and worry that they will be unable to achieve anything meaningful due to the constraints of the political system. The memo and news coverage of how Bartlet too often compromised his positions to placate his opponents and avoid controversy resulted in Bartlet's popularity going down in the polls. On seeing his job approval rating dropping five points in a week to 42 percent, the staff comes to realize that the Bartlet administration has been ineffective because it has been too timid to make bold decisions, focusing instead on the exigencies of politics. Finally, Leo confronts President Bartlet with his own timidity, challenging him to be himself and to take the staff "off the leash." – in other words, he seeks to "Let Bartlet be Bartlet". The President and his staff resolve to act boldly and "raise the level of public debate" in America by moving forward with a more liberal agenda.As we said, an eerie similarity.
[Schoenberg's] String Quartet No. 2, written in 1908 in the middle of an extreme marital and psychological crisis, starts with a richly harmonised minor key melody which would not have frightened Brahms. But by the end of the piece, a soprano has — highly unconventionally — joined the quartet and she sings "I feel the air of other planets", to music which is fractured, atomised, ethereal and floating utterly free from the gravitational pull of 600 years of harmonic tradition.
For the past five years, the New York Times Magazine has offered an end-of-year feature called "The Music They Made" — an audio collage of musicians who died that year. [...] [W]ith the exception of David Mason, the trumpeter who played on "Penny Lane," no Western classical musician has appeared in these compilations. The omission is particularly maddening this year, since we lost two gigantic figures: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Elliott Carter. Almost every other genre has been represented at one time or another....We might point out to Mr. Ross that Western classical musicians have no place in such a compilation and would, in fact, be made to appear ridiculous by their inclusion. They require a completely separate compilation of their own and it's shameful, especially considering the publication, that no such compilation exists there. However, Mr. Ross's complaint that an annual compilation by the same publication called "The Lives They Lived" is also absent any Western classical musicians is a thoroughly justified one and the New York Times Magazine should feel doubly shamed by the omission.
[S]ome directors are deliberately trying to stage an opera in a way that is at odds with the music. They don't want you absorbed in the story, they want you to actively question the work. [...] I simply cannot agree that directors should abandon attempts to apply their ideas and concepts to a work. That is the creative soul of the occupation.To which we responded (here reprinted with language somewhat polished):
No, that is the "creative soul of the occupation" of a Eurotrash/Brechtian Regie, not that of an honest opera director. The "creative soul of the occupation" of an honest opera director resides in his attempt to discover, to the utmost capacity of his gift, the most vivid and compelling way to realize onstage the full sense and spirit of the opera creator's concept and vision as made manifest in the score (music, text, and stage directions). Attempting anything beyond that involves the opera director operating within territory he has no business even so much as stepping foot into much less messing about with.And so ought it to be in saecula saeculorum.
But Leontyne Price says never sing on principal, only on interest. So difficult to keep up with all these pearls of wisdom from great thinkers whose qualification to theorize on the nature of art consists mostly of the ability to make a pretty noise in the throat.To which we responded:
You mean as opposed to all those pearls of wisdom from great thinkers whose qualification to theorize on the nature of art consists mostly of their desperate, urgent need to justify and make acceptable their parasitic hijacking of the original works of others, or the theorizing of those great thinkers whose qualification to theorize on the nature of an artform consists of a view of that artform that's long been jaded by their having been obsessive-compulsively addicted to that artform for reasons other than art? I of course dismiss the theorizing of academic types as their theorizing on an artform is provoked and corrupted by things external to art and is therefore ipso facto worthless.Usual Suspect's immediately following sally attempted the less snarky, more sober approach, managing only to dig himself into an even deeper hole:
I see nothing particularly brave in what Beczala said. Essentially he states he will refuse to work with "crazy" directors who try to "reinvent" the opera without bothering to define what constitutes either craziness or reinvention.... I would call it brave, for example, if Beczala had named names, said, "I worked with Fritz Krank in Graz on a terrible 'Traviata' in which I had to sing my cabaletta nude in a children's swimming pool filled with Jello." But he offers neither names nor concrete examples of what he considers "crazy." (What he says about a crocodile in "Lohengrin" is hypothetical and therefore pointless....)To which we responded:
Since when does being hypothetical equate with being pointless? And in the case of Lohengrin, Beczala's hypothetical crocodile is perfectly on point given the recent infamous Bayreuth Eurotrash Lohengrin — the so-called "Rat" Lohengrin — with its army of rat-costumed Brabantians complete with tails. In any case, the man is setting forth a principle and his stated rejection of any staging of Lohengrin — actual or hypothetical — in which a crocodile takes the place of the swan illustrates that principle in a way perfectly comprehensible to all — to all, that is, other than cheerleaders for and staunch fans and defenders of that malignancy known as Eurotrash (i.e., Konzept) Regietheater.We await (but do not expect) any further argument. Stay tuned.