The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview

52. Rosa Sucher and Jenny Broch

May 10, 1885

Frau Sucher is to be numbered among the consoling few whose guest appearances on foreign stages always guarantee something good (our resident Court Opera singers are foreign guests on their own stage). She belongs among those who do not display themselves with a glittering trinket on their miserable dresses, who do not impose upon us, for the sake of a few effective arias or scenes, Italian or -- now pouring from the solicitously administered opera factories in ever greater abundance -- "international" operas with Old Testament settings. She belongs among those who, because they shine like precious metal, do not scorn a gold setting, in contrast to those who seek to prove that the brilliance of the stone is sufficient unto itself, and that whether the setting be of precious metal or base is of no consequence, or that -- to abandon metaphor -- it is all the same whether one's talent be lavished on good works or bad.

It is not all the same. An extraordinarily endowed artist may blind us however totally to the faultiness, if not the faultless tedium, of a piece (if tedium itself is not to be reckoned a crime). He may focus our attention however intensely upon his person. He may raise our powers of imagination however infinitely above the marshy lowlands of some wretched work. He must, in the end, return to his point of departure, to the work itself. In this he is not different from the jumper who cannot escape the pull of gravity. There he lies (not the jumper but the artist) in his swamp, as tiny and insignificant as a frog that has happily survived a near-fatal inflation. What do we now see? Swamp. What do we now hear? The ever so varied and melodious chorus of its worthy inhabitants.

Ah, a highly precarious terrain for the vainglory of performers is a bad piece of theater. The attraction of the characterless, the false, works magnetically in drama on even the most brilliant genius of the performer. And quite naturally so, since in the end he is displaying only himself and not his role. There is a contradiction here, rendered the more sensible the more the performer tries to bring the character into its own, thus falling into ever greater confusion, and leaving the audience with a sense of having lost all contact with both the role and the performer. The latter, in a work of art, on the other hand, has an easy time of it. Granted some talent and a sense of the genuine, he will succeed in finding the right interpretation, the appropriate gesture, the proper bearing.

-142-

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