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Countdown to Siegfried: 3...

Saturday night is the opening of the Washington National Opera's "Siegfried." As it approaches, I want, as promised, to return to the interviews I did with four opera directors about the "Ring" cycle, which yielded far more wonderful material than we could fit in the paper.

Here's what they had to say on the length of Wagner's operas.

Achim Freyer:
"The ["Ring" cycle] is 7 hours, not 19, because it’s so gripping. Sometimes you sleep a little, which isn’t bad; you hear more intensely when you’re sleeping."
...Anne Midgette: Should you cut Wagner?
AF: "You shouldn’t, not by one second. I would like to do staged introductions and make it longer, but I didn’t."

Stephen Wadsworth: Wagner is “so interested in intimacy between people that he explodes time. He’ll actually take us to bed with Tristan and Isolde… It actually is real time. But it doesn’t feel like real time.”
“I think of all [dramatic] music as being different ways of describing real time in which intimate transactions occur.”

Otto Schenk: "The length is a part of [the experience]. If you’re not ready or don’t have the piety to attend a long Mass, you shouldn’t go to the "Ring"…. Thomas Mann, in the forward to “The Magic Mountain,” says, “What I’ve written may have gotten a little long” – “Magic Mountain” is 1200 pages long – but he always believed that only the thorough is truly compelling."

Francesca Zambello: "I may be a heretic to say it, but I’d be happy to do the ten-hour version [of the “Ring”], and whittle certain moments down…. Wagner would benefit from a little cutting. We cut every other composer except Wagner… His contemporaries, we have no problem cutting them."


By Anne Midgette  |  April 30, 2009; 6:35 AM ET
Categories:  interviews , opera  
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Comments

Are we going to get to hear the Classical Beat take on the Clifton Williams article?

Posted by: Lindemann777 | April 30, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Zambello's comment worries me a little. As Mr. Schenk observes, Wagner's operas are long, but they create their own time frame (at least the Ring, Tristan and Parsifal do). I think Wagner knew what he was doing in terms of the theatrical experience and these operas, at least, should not be tampered with.

Interestingly, I have sometimes found cutting operas to have a paradoxical effect. When Wolf Trap cut a chunk of Rameau's Dardanus a few years back, it threw off the dramatic structure and made the first half seem longer.

Sam Soopper


Posted by: geranuk | April 30, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Cut The Ring? Heresy is too soft a word.

Maybe we can find some parts of the Sistine Chapel, Taj Mahal, Guernica, David, Anna Karenina, or the Great Pyramid of Khufu that we don't need while we're at it. I don't think those comparisons are unfair.

I'd like to quote Johannes Brahms from a letter to Clara Schumann about the Bach D minor violin partita. "If I imagined that I could have created, even conceived the piece, I am quite certain that the excess of excitement and earth-shattering experience would have driven me out of my mind." Here Brahms allows that he could not have even conceived of this masterwork!

Before we take a hatchet to the work of someone who far, far exceeds even our conception of our abilities, take heed. To cut Wagner is to say, "I am more than Wagner."

Posted by: smdunkel2 | April 30, 2009 11:26 PM | Report abuse

In the interests of clarity: Zambello is not, in fact, cutting the "Ring" in her production. She is simply saying here that she would like to.

Posted by: MidgetteA | May 1, 2009 1:01 AM | Report abuse

You could quite happily cut a lot of the "Previously, in the Ring" scenes in the later operas.

I don't know why everyone gets all worked up about cuts in Wagner when cuts in every other composer are common- the same folks rarely insist on the conclusion of Marcellina's and Bartolo's Act IV arias in Figaro, for example. I'd also be very happy to see a lot of the ballet music cut from 19th century operas, unless the company has a) a real choreographer and b) a real dance company.

Posted by: ianw2 | May 1, 2009 8:18 AM | Report abuse

“I would like to do staged introductions and make it [Wagner’s Ring] longer, but I didn’t." (A. Freyer)

I would be curious as to whether our Washington Post music critic or anyone else participating here in this forum saw (as I did) Achim Freyer’s “exciting” extended mimed prologue (or staged introduction) to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” in Berlin, in recent years. (It featured infants not in Shakespeare’s text or stage direction.)

And there was also the mimed, inserted “ballet” to Achim Freyer’s interpretation of Weber’s “Der Freischütz,” which featured
supernumeraries dressed as rabbits engaged in extended self-sexual activity. (I have preferred not to share this tape with my children or some of my culturally moderate friends; although I’d have no problem sharing with them a tape or disc of Achim Freyer’s “Magic Flute” which I saw in Hamburg.)

I’d be curious, too, if others – unlike myself – would appreciate an Achim Freyer “Reingold” in which a “staged introduction” featured the Norns, along with guest appearances by Erda, the Wood Bird, and an aroused Grane.

Posted by: snaketime | May 1, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

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