Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Amazingly enough, today is the bicentenary of the birth of Richard Wagner. (The other colossus of opera born in 1813, Giuseppe Verdi, doesn't arrive until October.)

Here's a celebration I have strongly mixed feelings about. I have the famous Solti/VPO first studio recording of the Ring, and I've sampled various parts of it, but whenever I try to give the whole thing a serious listening, the same thing happens. I get through the prelude, Das Rheingold, an ensemble piece, all right, but then I get bogged down in Die Walkure, which consists mostly of various pairs of characters alone on stage emoting loudly at each other. If I get as far as "The Ride of the Valkyries," it's distracting because in the opera it's accompanied by all these women trying to shout over it. I wish they'd keep quiet and let me listen to the music. The "Ride" sounds great as an orchestral showpiece by itself, divorced from the rest of the opera and the singers. It seems to me that Wagner's real talent was as an author of orchestral tone poems, but he didn't know it.

What might give me the discipline to get through the Ring (or Tristan und Isolde, the listening of which would probably be an even better test of the ability to appreciate the "emoting loudly at each other" approach) would be a Wagner listening group similar to the Proust reading groups that were popular for a while. Nothing would get me to read Proust, but this might be enough to get me to listen to Wagner. And even the Ring, largest single structure in repertoire classical music as it is, is only 15 hours long, which is a lot less time than it takes to read Proust.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think just listening is what works -- I think you need to see it, as Wagner intended. Believe me, it's just not the same experience. The 1990-ish Met Opera version is widely available and both better sung and better produced than the one they've just torn down (although I confess that I do love Jay Hunter Morris -- but Deborah Voigt can't act, so it's pretty much a wash there). But in any case, whichever version you get hold of, SEE it. The first time I saw it was probably the greatest aesthetic experience of my entire life and I just wish I could share that with you.