Saturday, 9 October 2010

Real Rheingold?

At the start of the Met Das Rheingold, someone proudly announces that "James Levine is the best Wagner conductor that ever was!". Which explains a lot about the Met and its audiences.

Here's a clip from some nobodies known as Karajan, Schreier and the Berlin Philharmonic. What do Europeans know about opera, someone said to me recently. Well listen to this! I've chosen this clip because it illustrates one of the trickier sequences to stage, when Wotan and Loge enter the underworld of the Nibelungs. It's not as flashy as say, the Rainbow bridge, but in terms of the meaning of the Ring, it's critical, This scene embodies the conflict between the Gods and Alberich, between the haves and have-nots. This scene at the Met is well done, the best part of the whole production. It's good at filling the interlude  of the journey, But apart from that the expensive staging doesn't add to drama or meaning. It looks fantastic, so that'a plus.

The comment about Levine probably indicates a lot more than it seems. Basically, this is the same old Levine Ring from 30 years ago, with a high tech trendy backdrop. Why is it scary to think of Wagner's ideas? It's the drama that meant most to Wagner, and the complex, cosmic rationale behind them  Sets are a means to an end, not an end in themselves. I'll be writing more about the Lepage production, which is quite weak apart from the fancy technology. But what's even more interesting is what the wider implications are. What makes an opera dramatic? And what makes Wagner opera in particular what it is? Do people really care about meaning? Here's my analysis of the Met's Rheingold.


Mark Berry said...

It sounds perfect for the Met. Typical Lepage: Zeffirelli with a bit of 'technology' thrown in, nothing to frighten the dowagers. We have much to complain about over here, but at least a deplorably insufficient level of subsidy leaves us with a little defence against the execrable 'tastes' of idle rich donors. At least Otto Schenk did not claim to be doing anything more interesting.

You hit the nail on the head with regard to meaning. Why would these people want to be encouraged to change their lives by a revolutionary socialist? (Some of these people even think Barack Obama is a socialist: if only!) They prefer to pretend, perhaps even to delude themselves, that the Ring is somehow 'about' dragons and rainbows. But what do we Europeans know about opera...?

Lisa Hirsch said...

That was Peter Gelb, the Met's general manager, and what I heard was "one of the greatest Wagner conductors," not the greatest. The line about Terfel being a great new Wotan was what truly killed me, since he is so obviously not that.

Doundou Tchil said...

Guess it's marketing hyperbole. But still, it assumes no awareness of Furtwangler, Karajan, Solti, Boulez, Bohm, Klemperer, Haitink, Barenboim etc. whatever their individual merits. Even before this, I was worried about Terfel, who tends not to push himself too much these days, but one man can't save a show where everything seemed on autopilot.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Of course it's marketing hyperbole, but the phrase "one of the greatest" is inclusive, and is intended to say that he is as great as the conductors you name. And presumably also in the same class as Knappertsbusch, Krauss, Toscanini, etc.

Doundou Tchil said...

I guess "greatest" is a loose term. Greatest publicity, market share, media interest etc. or artistic merit, insight, influence. Unquantifiable terms.