Magazine article The Spectator

Ways with Wagner

Magazine article The Spectator

Ways with Wagner

Article excerpt

Recently the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation interviewed me about some of my views on Wagner, as part of their featuring the first complete Ring cycle to be performed in Canada. In the course of the interview, I was asked how I would like to see the Ring and Wagner's music dramas in general staged and produced, in the light of my expressions of distaste for all the recent Ring productions I had seen. Fortunately, that was a question I had often asked myself, so I was able to reply fairly promptly: I just don't know. Or rather, I do know up to a limited point, but I'm bashful about saying what I think.

First, to eliminate the obvious undesirables: I don't think that in the Ring in particular, but probably in any of the mature Wagner dramas, with the possible exception of Die Meistersinger, anything approaching an old-style 'naturalistic' setting is any longer possible. It was once, and you only have to flick through a book of pictures of Ring productions from the early 20th century to see that some of them look very appealing. Now, they would strike one as just kitschy, or a deliberate evocation of the theatrical past. I'm not sure why our attitudes to staging have changed so drastically, though the cinema no doubt plays a large part in the story. I feel, as I think most members of an operatic audience do, that it's unnecessary to see props, unless crucial to the action, as Siegfried's sword or Wotan's spear clearly are.

What seems to have happened recently is that one kind of naturalism has been substituted for another. Where we used to see Hunding's hut in a forest, with an ash tree growing through it, we now see a suburban kitchen with tasteless furnishings, or a sleazy bar. To stress Siegfried's domestication at the beginning of Gotterdammerung we see him in a suit and tie, Brunnhilde serving him his coffee in a pinafore, and obviously fake flames licking round the table. So there is no lack of props, and the most influential Ring so far as current productions go, Chereau's centenary one at Bayreuth in 1976, had a huge amount of hardware always in evidence.

The main point there was, and is, that what one sees is a big shock after what one would have seen 50 years ago, and that it should strike one as being at odds with the music. The grander and more noble the music that Wagner's characters sing and are accompanied by, the more petit-bourgeois and the more mundane what we see.

This is supposed to serve two separate, though connected purposes: it cuts pretensions to cosmic grandeur down to size, and it demonstrates the relevance of this drama to our - small-scale and ordinary - lives. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.