Monday, March 04, 2013

 
I drove down to NYC Saturday morning, leaving at 6:30am to make a noon curtain at the Metropolitan Opera. The performance was the new production of Parsifal, Wagner's last opera and, like much of his work, still controversial politically and philosophically and very much open to a variety of interpretations. That last point is not one that is embraced by a segment of the American opera audience that holds that there is one and only one way to do the great operatic works: the way they were done when they were first performed and the composer, presumably, approved. Time, they feel, must be frozen when it comes to producing opera, and that the productions must be done "as the composer intended." The fact that theatrical production techniques, including the way scripts (or librettos in the case of opera) are read and analyzed, have changed enormously since the great works were written means nothing to them.

What to do with the massive figure of Richard Wagner, who bestrode the 19th century performing arts like the proverbial colossus? He wrote the texts to his operas incorporating politics, philosophy, history, myth, religion psychology, and literature; write the music in the vanguard of the development of new styles in what he pretentiously but with dead accuracy termed "music of the future;" he often stage directed and/or conducted his operas along with having a major hand in their design. Wagner was the uber-creator, to use the "uber" that has become fashionable recently, and therefore his works should be staged today in accordance with everything he did, yes?

Well, no. Wagner was a restless, inquisitive, constantly evolving genius (in addition to being a thoroughly exasperating person on any number of levels) who was rarely satisfied with his own work, most famously when he told the cast of the first production of The Ring of the Nibelung that "next time everything will be different." Patrick Carnegy in his wonderful book, Wagner and the Art of the Theatre, is convinced Wagner realized that 19th century theater technology and production style in which he had always worked were simply inadequate to produce his works as he ideally envisioned them. Had he lived even another fifteen years, he would have seen advances in lighting, projections, costuming, and three dimensionality on stage he would have leaped at -- he was always drawn to the new and gave famous advice to those who would come after him, "children, make the new."

That's a good idea, applied to Wagner--or Verdi or Handel, or any opera composer, any playwright, or any stage director. We are not a 19th century audience; we don't know what they knew and don't attend the theater the way they did.  Any reading of the history of opera will reveal that the interpretation of some of the greatest works has changed radically as society has changed.  Carmen, for example, used to be an evil temptress who destroys an innocent young man for her own self-gratification.  She is now seen as a strong, independent, thoroughly honest woman who is drawn irresistibly to the one man who has the potential of destroying her.  That's one example -- the entire repertory is seen differently today than when the operas were premiered because we are very different people.  

Director Fran├žois Girard has conceived the MET's production as taking place partially in the never-healing wound in the side of the King of the Grail Knights, Amfortas.  That wound, the cause and the symbol of the massive decline in the Holy Grail knighthood, dominates the production until the moment just before the opera ends when Parsifal, having recovered the spear that pierced the side of Jesus during the Crucifixion, restores it to the Grail Temple.  A touch of the spear on the wound heals the wound and the way is clear to rebuilding the knighthood.  In the striking photo below, Parsifal reunites the very male symbol of the spear with the very female symbol of the Grail cup.  Here are two photos of the Metropolitan's new Parsifal.

Obviously, I am very open to contemporary production styles that build concepts on visual elements, including time periods and kinds of space in which to place the action, that do not resemble any of the traditional settings the composer may have known.  Here are two comments on this new MET production that appeared on WagnerBlog, comments typical of reactionary invective:

 Anonymous said...
Eurotrash has reared its ugly head, and this preposterous, jejune, imbecilical little exercise in pseudo-intellectuality is a somber omen. I watched clips from the Opera de Lyon, the original malefactor of this travesty, and it's a sight to see -if you want to get really depressed. I fear we as a society are so dumbed-down by now, are so out-of-touch with the greatness of this and other works, that spectators from now on will respond only to kitchy staging. It's really a microcosm of the demise of culture in general. So, let's thank our lucky stars for the previous Met production, still available on DVD. 

Anonymous said...
I suppose Euro-trash Wagner shall now premiere at the Met. If my goal was to stage these Wagner's great works in a way that would open them to nothing but ridicule and laughter, I could hardly do better than what is generally being done today.  Does anyone out there actually like this crap?? Maybe bring back the old vaudeville tradition of pelting the stage intermittently with tomatoes, eggs, cabbages...etc. would discourage productions such as these. The MET audience members better bring a good supply. It'll have to last four hours. 

Interestingly, neither commenter wishes to have his/her name connected to their comments.  I place no value in anonymous critical comment.

Comments:
But, but...did you like it? What did you think of the performances and this production?
 
I loved it.
 
Nobody I know who's seen it here - and I haven't, since I was at a play matinee and then a Threepenny Opera on Saturday - has a bad word to say about any aspect of the performance/production.
 
I saw the second performance in the house, as well as the HD on Saturday. I loved it. I think it is one of the finest, most well thought out productions the Met has mounted in a long time. Sure, I might have a quibble about some of the details, but overall, I thought Girard's concept worked, and I would go so far as to say Mr Wagner might have liked it too. And you would have to search far and wide for a better cast singing today.
 
DON'T WATCH T.V. VERY MUCH,BUT CAUGHT ''most of Siegfried,all die Valkyrie,and die Gotterdammerung,having seen the final years ago.LET ME SAY,ALL ART REALLY IS OPINION,BUT SOME FACTS,BASIC TRUTHS ARE IN WAGNER,I SHALL STATE THEM,YOU DECIDE,BUT I KNOW,I'M RIGHT WITH THIS.why is it,german,a rather NOT ATTRACTIVE SPOKEN LANGUAGE,WHEN SUNG,IS FANTASTIC,AND OTHER LANGUAGES,ITALIAN I SAY,WHEN SPOKEN IS BEAUTIFUL,WHEN SUNG IS COARSE TO ME,MOST OF THE TIME.wagner must have channeled ancient Germanic,nordic spirits,NO PERSON COULD SINGLEHANDADLY WRITE SUCH MAGNIFICENT LYRICS,LOOK AT ""TRISTAN AND ISOLDE",MORE TIMELESS NOW THAN THEN!!,HE WAS,SAID TO BE THE ULTIMATE MODERN COMPOSER,CORRECT!!now a friend of mine actually did someway compare ""MENDELSOHN",AS "WAGNER LIKE",FINGAL'S CAVE,MENDELSOHN'S MUSIC IS ELEVATOR MUZAC TO WAGNER,NOT EVEN A A SINGLE COMPARISON,HE SUCKS,BAD,now you hear these """three tenors'",belching out low butch ugly toned music,this bullshit,and the ""blind man""andrea,sorry folks,you have the compendium of the supernatural,fantastic world,and you get """FIGARO,FIGARO,FIGARO"",it blows chunks.WHY IS IT PEOPLE DO NOT ""LIKE"" WAGNER,SIMPLE,THEY ARE SIMPLE,AND IDIOTS,THEY BELIEVE WHAT THEY WERE TOLD,""OOOH,HITLER'S FAVORITE COMPOSER,nearly a hundred years dead,he was a anti semite,ooh,like I care,all races fuck us over,i'm german,well,see,jews can be sterotpical as germans can be mean,ect.SIMPLE FACT,THEY KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING,ABOUT WAGNER,HIS OPERA,AND LYRICS,IF THEY DID,THEY'D CHUK THOSE GODDAM SIMPLE ITALIAN """MELO-OPERA'S""",IN THE GARBAGE CAN,NOTHING,NOTHING COMPARES OPERA TO WAGNER,some strauss,comes close,BUT NOT CONTINUOUSLY,i prefer paul Hindemith to anybody,but nope.HERE IN PHOENIX,SAME GODDAM OPERA'S OVER,AND OVER,AND OVER,I KNOW WAGNER IS THE HARDEST,BUT THAT MAKES HIM EVEN MORE FANTASTIC,HOW MANY GODDAM TIMES ""COSI FAN YOUR GODDAM TUTI,LUCIA,GOD FORBID NOT ANOTHER ""LA BOEHME",CHRIST JESUS IN HEAVEN!!!
 
I liked it very much and if Mr/Ms Anonomous feels that places me among the great jejune masses I'll learn to live with the shame of disappointing them.

I'm intrigued by a view that any art form should only be reproduced rather than re-interpreted. Different for its own sake is a mistake but I would often rather see a new view than the same thing for the 18th time. Even if the new view does not match my taste I give any company credit for trying. I wonder why Mr/Ms A wants the Met to produce live performances at all. Surely the whole rep must be on DVD by now. They could just roll down the screen and show the 1983 production every season.
 
Have you abandoned the blog???
 
No, J, just had three brutal months of work and heavy personal obligations -- I will be back soon, I promise.
 

thank god for that! LOL!

:0p
 
Do hope the sabbatical is nearly through. Thanks for engaging my own blog during. But always a pleasure!
 
test test test????
 
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