Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Opera Wednesday

Last Wednesday I mentioned the Met opening of Robert Lepage's new Rheingold. Apropos of that comes this thoughtful, provocative piece by Alex Ross on why Wagner is still relevant. (Wonder of wonders, not everything in the Times is bilge.)

Ross' point is that Wagner wrote not for an elitist, arts-and-croissants crowd, but for the masses - the audience to which, in fact, opera belongs:

Perhaps we’ve seen too many commercials with toffs in penguin suits to accept
the fact that operagoers are, in fact, a motley middle-class lot. And the Wagner
audience is the motliest of all — emeritus professors sit side by side with
“Ring”-loving schoolteachers, fanatic record collectors, neophyte opera mavens
and that woman wearing a Valkyrie helmet.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mark Twain, who famously commented that Wagner "isn't as bad as he sounds." It's often used as a humorous riposte on the part of opera critics - or, more specifically, critics of Wagner, who cite the bombastic scale and epic length of his works. (I was going to include mind-numbing in that description, although with Wagner it's more likely to be butt-numbing.) Twain, though, loved to couch the truth in humor, and here Ross recounts Twain's words following his 1891 visit to Bayreuth:

He sent home an essay that reads at first like a methodical takedown: he notes
all the weirdness of the Wagner cult, the confounding aspects of the experience.
“Sometimes I feel like the sane person in a community of the mad,” he writes.
Then, just when he seems ready to give the knife a final twist, he reveals
himself as another convert. “But by no means do I ever overlook or minify the
fact that this is one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life. I have
never seen anything like this before. I have never seen anything so great and
fine and real as this devotion.”

This new production of Rheingold, the first part of the Ring cycle, may be good or bad. (You know our apprehension about new productions of the classics.) One thing it will not be, however, is indifferent, and for sheer spectacle it may well be extraordinary.

The only sure way to know is to answer the question yourself. Go see the live broadcast on Saturday afternoon at one of the many movie theaters carrying the Met's season. Don't let me, or anyone else, tell you what to think of Wagner - let yourself go, and let the truth come to you.
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