Saturday, 14 May 2016

Comments from the outside

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Reactions of outsiders to the DC Ring, which I raved about in my last post.

valk blog

The Valkyrie, end of Act 2. Battle under an overpass, with Fricka watching from above.

By "outsiders" I mean three people outside classical music, three people who all happen to be arts professionals, in different ways, but who don't normally go to hear classical music. And certainly not Wagner.

Each saw just one of the Ring operas. One loved it; don't know specifics beyond that.

Another saw Rhinegold (the DC Ring used the English names of the operas, though they were sung in German). She thought it was silly — all those gods and giants.

Which leads me to wonder (and when I have a chance, i'll pursue this with the woman in question): Does she think Lords of the Ring is silly, too?

Not mythic enough?

If she might have liked Lord of the Rings — if she doesn't  have a blind spot for mythic fantasy — maybe the DC Ring wasn't mythic enough, to justify its mythic characters to her. Maybe that's because of its contemporary, American setting. Or because of the somewhat chamber music approach that Phillipe Augin took in conducting the music.

Maybe if the music had been bigger, and the production more epic, this newcomer to the Ring would have been more convinced.

Or maybe the giants weren't strong enough on stage, weren't giant enough, rough enough, mythical enough. Maybe they seemed too ordinary. I thought, as an experineced opera person, that they were really well sung and acted, by Julian Close and Solomon Howard.

But maybe I was making the kind of allowance I normally make when I see opera, not expecting it to look as convincing as a play or a musical would, or a movie, or even a bad TV show. That's a persistent problem, one I'll discuss in my next post. It's one of many reasons classical music doesn't seem to inhabit the world everyone else lives in.

So maybe this woman expected — reasonably, given everything else she'll see — that giants in an opera should really be giant. And found the opera silly because they weren't.

Someone who loved it

Finally, our third friend, new to the Ring, who saw Valkyrie and was very deeply moved.

One sign of her deep immersion in the performance — and of the production's strength — was her reaction, when I told her that the first two scenes in the opera (Wotan/Frick, and then Wotan's long monologue) were often thought boring, even by convinced Wagnerians.

She could barely believe that. Because she'd been so powerfully affected.

And I have to say the staging in both those scenes was completely convincing, by the standards we expect in films, TV, and theater. So there was nothing for an insider to make allowances for, and nothing to put an outsider off.

A great dramatist

One more thing I said to this friend was that Wagner was a great dramatist, on a par with Shakespeare. I said that to put him into a world she already knows. She knows what a great creator of theater does. She just didn't know that Wagner was one.

And this is a sadness. Our friend is hardly alone in not knowing Wagner. Because of the way classical music has removed itself from current culture, we have by now maybe two generations of people — from age 55, let's say, down (or even age 60 down) — who know great drama, who know Shakespeare and Brecht and Chekhov, who know great films. But who have no idea that any opera composer is on that level.

That's a great loss for our wider culture. And one of the reasons that we need to bring classical music back.

Although here's a troubling thought. I fully believe classical music will be reborn. But I think the classical mainstream, as we know it — with constant performances of all the familiar works — will to some extent fade away.

We'll have fewer performances of old music, and more of new music. Which would make us more lively and more powerful artistically, and of course more in tune with contemporary life.

But then what will happen to giant standard works like the Ring? For these to be done well, they have to be done often, and singers and instrumental players have to be educated thoroughly in the old repertoire.

How will that happen in the new age that's dawning? I don't have an answer, and — much as I welcome what's to come, and think it's necessary — I'm wistful about what we might lose. How can we keep what's precious about what we have?



Original Content: Comments from the outside

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