Monday, August 30, 2010

Furchtbarer Ring

From hi-tech Ring from the late 19th century
Philip Kennicott's article on the Ring in the current issue of Opera News makes some claims which are considerably more tendentious than the tone of the article grants.  For instance, Kennicott seems to imply that the ideological viability of the Ring stands or falls by the person of Siegfried.  Surely Siegfried can hardly be less than problematic, but a number of interesting stagings have rendered him less central than Kennicott claims he must be. Take Brünnhilde, for instance: Definitely the Opera has a recent post about the significance of her arc in the narrative and how different directors have treated it, especially from feminist perspectives.  And come to that, is the Ring's status as an opera (or four) of ideas really that exceptional?  I might argue that the Ring differs from other philosophical reflections in operatic form in degree, not in kind.  (If I argued this, of course, I would not be able to cite sources other than the operas themselves and I could never maintain a debate.  I need to read some books about Wagner.  My father suggests that I should "just add another degree on the side."  I disagree.  But I do want to read some more books.)  At any rate, I enjoyed reading and rereading the article, sometimes wondering how I would formulate a polite and intellectually respectable disagreement with Mr. Kennicott over coffee, and sometimes just savoring things like a description of Ring-lovers as "itinerant crowds of slightly deranged pilgrims who will hop continents to see it."  Can I add "become slightly deranged Ring-pilgrim" to my lifetime to-do list?

Although not yet a slightly deranged pilgrim, I did check the Karl Böhm Ring (1966, Bayreuth, live) out of the university library this weekend.  The poor young man who checked it out gaped in dismay as he tipped the discs in their neat paper slipcovers out of the battered case.  "There are fourteen of them!" he exclaimed.  "Yes."  I tried to smile encouragingly.  "You want all of them?"  "Yes, please."  It transpired that each individual disc had to be coaxed out of its sheath and checked out of the system.  So while we worked at getting them out of their covers, I tried to make small talk.  "It's four different operas," I said, "but they tell one overarching story."  I suggested a narrative arc with expansive hand gestures.  "Only a slightly crazy person would have come up with such an idea," I said; the young man laughed.  "There's a curse, and love and death and power struggles, and it all ends with the end of the world."  "Wow," said the helpful young man.  "Are you going to listen to all of it?"  "I'm going to try!  Although not all at once."  The young man shook his head in  wonder.  "Are you a teacher?"  "Sort of," I said, "but this is for fun.  I like the music," I explained.  "It's... it's dense, but really exciting and... well, it's really exciting.  It's my last pre-term indulgence."  "Well, good," said the young man.  "We all need a little indulgence.  It's due on Monday; is that okay?"  It has been a Wagner-saturated weekend.  And that's absolutely okay.


  1. Kennicott seems to think that the Ring's meaning is relatively clear, but I think it's the giant surplus and elusiveness of meaning that has helped the Ring survive. He has this dichotomy between textual fidelity and restaging but so much about the Ring is unexplained by Wagner that it seems ridiculous to reduce it to something that simple. And if it's all so clear to him I think I have a few things I'd like to ask him about...

    It's a shame Kennicott mentions rumors of the LA Ring without bothering to see it, because I thought Freyer's Brechtian superhero Siegfried was a really interesting and unique take on the role.

    Also, if he thinks movies and books are all getting shorter he obviously skipped Avatar, Lord of the Rings, Batman Begins, and everything by Jonathan Franzen and J.K. Rowling.

  2. Oh my. He's completely out to lunch. It's saddening.

    Yes, Philip Kennicott, Der Ring is actually Wagner's answer to Peter Pan, Harry Potter and About a Boy.

    The Ring hinges on whether Siegfrid is a 'positive' or a 'negative' character! (The teacher will now collect your assignments, Grade II class!)

    The relevance of the Ring depends on... um.. how strong German nationalism is, and whether Shaw's Fabian socialism looks credible from where Mr Kennicott is sitting (likely a Manhattan Starbucks).

    And of course Mime is Jewish. How do we know? Well, we just know. Shut up. IT IS OBVIOUS TO EVERYBODY.

    And to write about the meaning of the Ring without once mentioning Brunnhilde... Blind man.

    How about this strange proposition, Mr K: the chief relevance of The Ring is that it isn't - never was, and most certainly will not be now -- an easy story about Promethean heroism. In fact, it's more about some inherent problems around this well-worn narrative with a long life across cultures.

    That's it. I writing Opera News a cranky email about know-nothingism.

    And if Lepage's Lipsynch is anything to go by, this is going to be a helluva feminist Ring.

  3. By the way, how's the Boehm Ring - is it DVD or CD?

  4. Strength and longevity of a work in ambiguity and layered meanings? Now THERE's a radical notion. ;) Opera News probably has far too few justifiably cranky e-mails in its life, and this would seem to justify one... maybe the hordes of slightly deranged pilgrims will rise up in articulate protest! Or, maybe I'm just indulging in wishful thinking and unjustified optimism - again!

    The Boehm Ring is CD, sound quality not optimal, but I'm usually happy to trade that for the excitement of a live recording. I always feel unequal to sophisticated assessment of conductor choices. Boehm certainly led with a lot of vigor and strong dramatic propulsion, and I'd like to listen to it again. James King's Siegmund and Nilsson's Brunnhilde were stand-outs in the Who's Who of Wagnerians cast.


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