Sunday, April 04, 2010
ALL Wagner, ALL the time!
It's over a week since my last blog entry; a week filled with preparations for the Richard Wagner symposium I'm giving on the next two Wednesdays. Greenfield Community College in north-central Massachusetts an excellent, very well run symposium program. I was invited four years ago to give an Introduction to Opera program which went very nicely and I have been invited back ever since. In succeeding years I've offered a program on Mozart and one on the four giants of nineteenth century Italian Opera: Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi.
Wagner is a huge topic. I'm using my usual audio-visual aids. I always have a photo array of portraits, pictures of relevant theaters and other sites, and productions both historical and modern to illustrate the evolution of interpretation of a composer's body of work. I also make up a pre-edited tape of music cued to my text. There will also be some video cues because an opera is first and foremost a combination of arts meant to be experienced together in performance on a stage.
The music cues this year will not be simply a medly of "Wagner's Greatest Hits" but excerpts chosen to highlight the progression of Wagner's use of musical style and motifs to establish the orchestra as an equal partner with the characters on stage rather than an accompaning ensemble.
I also use a great deal of humor because it can illuminate aspects of a subject and it keeps the audience engaged. Here are several examples, comments by some famous names on Wagner and is music:
* Wagner’s music is better than it sounds – Mark Twain
* Wagner has great moments but dull quarter hours – Rossini
* Every time I listen to Wagner, I get the urge to invade Poland
– Woody Allen
* I like Wagner’s music better than any other music. It is so loud that one can talk the whole time, without people hearing what one says.
– Oscar Wilde
* Listening to the Prelude to Tristan und Isolde puts me in mind of the painting of the Italian saint whose intestines are slowly being unwound from his body on a reel.
– Edward Hanslick (Viennese critic and Wagner's critical nemesis)
There will also be a reading assignment, a not very pleasant one. No responsible study of Wagner can dodge his antisemitism and the still controversial use of Wagner's work by Adolph Hitle and the Nazi propganda machine. I will have copies of Wagner's Essay Das Judenthum in der Musik (usually translated Jews in Music, perhaps more accurately as Jewishness or Judiasm in Music) for them to read. The second session will close with a look at the history of the Wagner family and the Bayreuth Festival after the composer's death, through their connection with the Third Reich, into the present and the current generation's promise to open all the family's archives and allow the full story to come out at last.
We spent much of the day digging and planting on the property. Fritz had already put in radishes, peas and turnips all of which are sprouted and nicely on their way. Other seeds and young plants will go in as the season develops. The one bad news of the spring is the failure of the maple sap from our trees. The crucial temperature shift -- warm days, and nights safely blow freezing -- happened only sporadically. By the time we had enough sap to begin boiling it down, the earliest sap collected had begun to ferment and become scummy. It's a huge disappointment.
Good luck with your symposium! :)
I like the notion Wagner is not played in Israel; while nothing by Wagner is played in Bayreuth. it balances
the universe, no?
The Wagner symposium sounds wonderful...he's always been a favorite of mine, musically.
Good luck with your seminar. Have fun.
And Canada geese are fine, like anything, in moderation...