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In performance: "Götterdämmerung" in concert

In today's Washington Post: The Washington National Opera comes up with a wonderful "Götterdämmerung," by Anne Midgette.

Another view: Here's Jerry Floyd on Wagneropera.net.

Edited to add: More enthusiasm from Ionarts and The Washington Times.

Other opinions?

By Anne Midgette  |  November 9, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  local reviews  
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Comments

"We should all pray that some generous donor will understand the powerful energy going on in this "Ring" and enable WNO to give us a full staging of the entire cycle." (Anne Midgette)

I refuse to get down on my knees at the Washington Post's or Ms Midgette's command. Another opinion would be that a generous donor -- or a revived National Endowment for the Arts -- could find better, more humanistically forward-looking, uses for her, his, or our nation's scare -- and diminishing -- cultural resources than funding a full staging of the entire Ring cycle.

Did the Bayreuth Festival burn to the ground this past weekend? And 'powerful energy' sounds mighty fascist to me, if not to others.

Posted by: snaketime1 | November 9, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

@snaketime1, Washington owned slaves. Jefferson too and even slept with them (so he is perhaps a rapist). Lincoln would have kept slavery to preserve the Union and said so many times (if only the South could trust him). Martin Luther King was an adulterer. So if we can accept those men and their work as great in the annals of history for their "good" accomplishments, I think its possible to do so as well for that antisemitic bigot Wagner. But, of course, only because the music is pretty damn good!

Posted by: prokaryote | November 9, 2009 5:17 PM | Report abuse

@prokaryote

My comment was not addressed to Richard Wagner’s anti-Semitism, but rather to Ms Midgette and the Washington Post’s sense of national cultural funding priorities and to the bizarre tone – in my opinion -- of Ms Midgette’s closing paragraph to her Wagner review. (I have now come to understand that there is no cultural editor watching over what Ms Midgette publishes in the print edition of the Washington Post, no matter how humanistically-damaging or quasi-fascistic.)

From the link to Jerry Floyd that Ms Midgette provides, a reader can learn that the Washington National Opera now hopes to stage the full Ring cycle in 2013. So what if there is a delay of four years in the complete, hugely expensive staging of the cycle? Tens of millions of Americans have lost their employment (and millions their homes) over the past few years, and over one hundred million persons world-wide have been forced back down into absolute poverty by the severe economic recession caused by business practices in the United States. The Washington Post will need to learn that the arts and Wagner are not above economics.

Ms Midgette wants print edition readers – bizarrely --to “pray” for a WNO and Ring funding savior, while I simply want intelligent forum readers to question whether this should be the overriding focus of the Washington National Opera over the next four years. The WNO is a smaller American opera company, and it has also received special recognition from the U.S. Congress in exchange for promising to produce one American opera each and every season.

Posted by: snaketime1 | November 10, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

My question to the Washington Post editorial board is why should print readers be asked by a music critic to “pray” for more funding for the Ring (which has now been mounted at the Kennedy Center both by the German State Opera in 1990 and by the Washington National Opera –with some creativity and imagination used by the WNO to present the third music drama in the cycle) when the company is not keeping its promise to Congress and the American people to be their National Opera company.

The San Francisco Opera has special funders just for new American operas, which has allowed it to stage three world premieres of American operas over the past three years (none of which have yet been reprised by the WNO). If the WNO is looking for new funding – and to meet its responsibilities to Congress and to the American people – then I believe that it should be looking to new patrons and to the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities for funding to meet the National Company’s core mission – which is definitely not staging Wagner Ring cycles every decade.

Furthermore, given Ms Midgette’s recent dismissal of all Western opera from 1600 to 1750, I hope that the Washington Post editorial board will consider calling upon the Washington National Opera to stage mini-festivals of operas by Monteverdi, Purcell, Handel, and Gluck – as well as mini-festivals (extending into June) of operas by Mozart, Verdi, the 20th century opera masters, and American operas. The WNO might consider staging seasons of two operas by Monteverdi, Purcell, Handel, and Gluck; and seasons of three operas of Mozart, Verdi, the 20th century opera masters, and American operas.

I trust that the editorial board of the Washington Post would have been as concerned about anti-Semitism as am I, if –in fact -- that had been the subject of my comment yesterday to the Washington Post classical music forum.

Posted by: snaketime1 | November 10, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

snaketime1-- You raise some interesting and valid points about what WNO should be focusing on. I'm sure that the administration of that company is asking themselves the very same questions.

Major point of clarification though: WNO's designation (HR 4542, sponsored by Senators John Warner and Ted Kennedy) at the "National Opera" was not contingent upon performing American works or funding. In fact, the two have nothing to do with each other and the designation was simply given in honor of WNO's solid national reputation (it had grown quite a bit through the 1990s and early millennium) and being in the nation's capital, similar to the National Zoo, the National Harbor, etc. WNO's brand is tied to American and English language opera, which they have performed most every season, but again, that has nothing to do with the Congressional designation.

It seems like you have a real problem with Anne Midgette and the Opera. It makes for a spirited discussion on this board, but you should really watch your facts.

Posted by: anony2 | November 10, 2009 12:36 PM | Report abuse

Now I'm really confused. You say:

"Tens of millions of Americans have lost their employment (and millions their homes) over the past few years, and over one hundred million persons world-wide have been forced back down into absolute poverty by the severe economic recession caused by business practices in the United States. The Washington Post will need to learn that the arts and Wagner are not above economics."

Rather than "tens of millions", approximately 7.2 million jobs have been lost since December 2007 (AP, 10/19/09).

But I'm not sure what you mean about the arts not being above economics. If a donor is willing to part with some of his money for a Ring, then what's so bad about that. You prefer that he keep his money?

Posted by: prokaryote | November 10, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

@anony2

Mame or Sir: It is you who should watch your facts, not me. Your so-called “major point of clarification” is faulty to the nth degree, and your reference to the Washington National Opera’s so-called “brand” tied to American and English language opera is a naked attempt to circumvent Congressional intent. The full legislative record to S. 2667 (which is the relevant legislative record – not HR 4542 -- since you yourself cite the roles of Senators John Warner and Ted Kennedy) contains Senator John Warner’s legislative comments, including the following:

“The legislation is only intended as a means of recognition of opera in our Nation's capital and its mission to bring to the nation a forum to highlight our musical heritage. Under the new name, the National Opera will bring contained [continued] performances of American opera to the stage.”

Posted by: snaketime1 | November 10, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

The fuller legislative record to S. 2667 reads:

Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, I am pleased to introduce legislation today with Senator KENNEDY, Senator SARBANES, Senator JEFFORDS, and Senator ROBB to designate the Washington Opera as the National Opera.

The Washington Opera has been an innovative leader in bringing to the metropolitan Washington area exceptional performances since 1956. The company has enjoyed tremendous success in the community over the years. Since 1980, the company has grown from 16 performances of four operas to 80 performances of eight operas for the 2000 season.

Mr. President, the purpose of this legislation is to recognize in our nation's capital an opera of national significance. Let me be clear to my colleagues that this legislation does not extend any Federal responsibilities or obligation for funding to the Washington Opera. It would not become part of any Federal activity. Today, the Washington Opera enjoys a contractual relationship with the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for use of its facilities. It is not affiliated with the Kennedy Center in any way other than being named as the resident opera company. This is an honorary designation, but there is no financial support for the opera from the Kennedy Center.

The legislation is only intended as a means of recognition of opera in our Nation's capital and its mission to bring to the nation a forum to highlight our musical heritage. Under its new name, the National Opera will bring contained performances of American opera to the stage.
...

Posted by: snaketime1 | November 10, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

The history of the Washington Opera and its commitment to bringing opera as an art form to the Washington area community is to be commended. The Washington Opera's Education and Community Programs are dedicated to educating future audiences and making the experience of opera more available to residents of the region. Since 1992, over 150,000 students have participated in these programs. Today, there are over 22 programs that provide performance experiences, curriculum activities, in-school artist visits, professional development opportunities for teachers and young artists, and other activities that bring opera into our schools and communities.
Mr. President, with this national recognition comes the obligation for the Washington Opera to undertake additional programs to serve a larger national audience, expand community outreach for underprivileged youth, and other missions that embody a larger national presence. I am confident that the opera will enthusiastically accept this challenge.
I ask unanimous consent that the text of my legislation appear in the RECORD following my statement.
There being no objection, the bill was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
S. 2667
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. DESIGNATION.
The Washington Opera, organized under the laws of the District of Columbia, is designated as the ``National Opera''.
SEC. 2. REFERENCES.
Any reference in a law, map, regulation, document, paper, or other record of the United States to the Washington Opera referred to in section 1 shall be deemed to be a reference to the ``National Opera''.
Source: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/F?r106:1:./temp/~r106ipi6JV:e190631:

Posted by: snaketime1 | November 10, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

@ prokaryote

Your point is taken.

Corrected version:

"Tens of millions of persons world-wide have lost their employment (and millions their homes) over the past few years, and over one hundred million persons world-wide have been forced back down into absolute poverty by the severe economic recession caused by business practices in the United States."

Posted by: snaketime1 | November 10, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

In Sunday's performance of Gotterdammerung, was there really some trick of makeup + lighting that turned Brunnhilde's face into a death's head during the immolation scene? It sure looked creepy from where I was. I would have settled for fierier light effects. And I am glad to read, in one of the posted reviews, that I should have heard Hagen at the end--I am a newcomer to this opera, but I knew the climax should have been more powerful than the way it came over.

Posted by: strawsercj | November 10, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

snaketime1: I’m happy to see a range of views in the comments section, including ones counter to my own; that’s what this blog is for. But the point is to foster discussion rather than to allow any one person to monopolize the conversation.

You have your own blog, and I’d suggest if you have longer points to make, you post them there and link to them here, as some other bloggers do. As for your comments here, please try to keep them to a reasonable frequency and politeness - politeness, at least, to your fellow posters.

And as for my rhetorical exhortation to “pray,” I’m touched that you take imperatives in the Washington Post so literally that you feel the need to defend yourself against them. I hope you don’t read the Weekend section, since an article with a title like “10 Must-See Things in DC This Weekend” would represent an alarming imposition on your time.

Strawsercj: Hagen has one single line at the end of the opera, which he sang from offstage on Saturday; I don't think that, had you noticed it, it would have made a lot of difference to your perception of the drama. It’s true that it’s anticlimactic to have a single soprano standing alone on an empty stage while the music indicates that the world is crashing down all around her. But it’s a scene that is often anticlimactic in staged productions, as well: it's hard to bring off.

Posted by: MidgetteA | November 11, 2009 2:18 AM | Report abuse

As a bass in The Washington Chorus (we had a four hour rehearsal at Kennedy Center on Saturday morning before the Wagner concert version), who had to sweat blood to learn how to sing as an "opera chorus," I appreciated the in-depth reviews of the concert, as well as some of the comments. (I also developed a deeper appreciation for what full-time opera choruses must go through in order to memorize and then sing their parts without flubbing them).

I agree that at first it was a bit disconcerting to get used to seeing several singers at a time on a bare stage. Still, after a while I found it more conducive to actually listening to the music - without being distracted by the action on a normal operatic stage.

Item in point, the wonderful choral sequences in Act II of "Goetterdaemmerung." Somehow, as a chorus member myself, I found it thrilling to be able to concentrate on Hagan's chorus of male bondsmen, without being distracted by a lot of men performing pointless "busyness" on the stage in costumes either too large or too small. To use our Georgetown University students' favorite phrase, I found it "awesome" to be able to concentrate on the repartee between Hagan and his men, with the chorus lined up in a solid phalanx. I also noted which singers had obviously sung their roles on a live stage, and those who had to use the music. But it was heartening to see Ms. Therion dispense with the music at the end and let us hear "full throttle" that lovely and powerful voice which she was evidently protecting in her "Ariadne auf Naxos" role (I have some comments also on "Ariadne," which I finally saw last night, but will save that for that blog).

So I must agree, it was one of the better Wagner performances I have witnessed, and I was pleasantly surprised by how little I missed some of the normal "busywork" on the stage. Musically speaking, this "Goetterdaemerung" was a real treat.
I for one would not mind attending other concert versions of opera, especially in bad economic times, if the singers possess the fine voices which this group, by and large, seemed to possess.

Posted by: reithl | November 11, 2009 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Ms Midgette, I have fostered discussion in this forum. If you disagree, perhaps we can agree to invite the Washington Post Ombudsman to weigh in on the matter.

I also hope that the Washington Post editorial board will weigh in on the issue of whether the Washington National Opera's Congressional enabling legislation - which I needed to cite at length in order to answer anony2 (or OperaLove, who earlier identified herself as the Washington National Opera's publicist) -- called for the Washington National Opera to actively promote American opera, as opposed to what anony2 (or OperaLove) called English-language opera.

Perhaps the Washington Post editorial board would also like to keep this classical music forum open, and will invite you to create your own personal blog outside of the sponsorship of a major national and international newspaper, just like Phillip Kennicott and many others have done. As it is, your voice and opinions dominate this so-called official forum.

If it is indeed the Washington Post's intent to create a quasi-official classical music forum to promote healthful dialogue, then -- in my opinion -- it should not also be your personal blog. The Washington Post editorial board will have to make a decision as to whether they want this to be an open forum. Perhaps the Washington Post Ombudsman will communicate the editorial board's decision as to whether it wants to sustain this open forum.

As to politeness, I believe that I have been more polite than you were polite to Opera Lafayette. Should we also ask the Washington Post Ombudsman to investigate and adjudicate your politeness and critical fairness regarding that outstanding local cultural organization? Alternatively, the Washington Post Ombudsman could ask an outsider of the cultural calibre of the Washington Shakespeare Theater's Michael Kahn to adjudicate your and the Washington Post's politeness and fairness to Opera Lafayette.

Posted by: snaketime | November 11, 2009 11:06 PM | Report abuse

snaketime1: I encourage you to write directly to the ombudsman or the editors if you have points you would like to raise with them (the editorial board won’t be of much help to you, since they are responsible for the editorial pages).

As for your civility: I’m not concerned about your civility to me, but to other commenters. I am delighted when you foster discussion, but unhappy when you drown it out.

Posted by: MidgetteA | November 12, 2009 12:48 AM | Report abuse

Here's a wonderful comment on "Götterdämmerung" that was sent to me, posted here with the writer's permission:

I read with interest your review of the concert "Götterdämmerung." I didn't attend because it wasn't part of my subscription. I take issue with your remark that Zambello's portrayal of Brünnhilde as the heroine of the cycle is an "insight", both because I'm sure that field has been plowed before and because I think it wrong. "Götterdämmerung" is best done in concert; the music is transcendent but the plot is a dramatic disaster. Wagner got to this point and didn't know where to go with the story. We're left with a disappointing climax to three superb operas and a compelling narrative.

I know the estimable Fr. Owen Lee sees great drama in parts of the opera, but I sense he's just trying to rescue it. As for Brünnhilde, what a sorry redemptress she becomes, to say nothing of not being the brightest crayon in the box. She fails to protect Siegfried's back?! She never thought he might be surrounded by enemies? Achilles' heel I can accept; it makes sense and it's a charming image in the imagination. But Brünnhilde's lack of foresight is just too contrived. Besides, Wagner never explains where she gets the power to protect any part of Siegfried. In "Walküre" Wotan informs Brünnhilde that his kiss takes her godhead away. Earlier in "Götterdämmerung" she acknowledges to Siegfried that both she and Grane have lost their power. Where does she get the "magic arts" to weave a "spell"?

...The scene that really makes me cringe, though, is when Siegfried, wearing the Tarnhelm, comes through the fire and approaches Brünnhilde, advising her that he's Gunther and he's come to claim her as his bride. Now, what would any woman say in that situation? She'd say: "Hold on, Buster. I'm already a bride. My husband is Siegfried, the world's mightiest hero, and if you touch one hair on my head he'll lop off your head with his invincible sword, Nothung". But does she say that? No. Does she mention Siegfried? No. All she does is say: "Oh, woe is me." Over and over again, "Oh, woe is me". Fortunately, the Act ends then and I can go out for a drink.

Whenever I hear the phrase, "Hell has no fury like a woman scorned", I think of Brünnhilde. In the Prelude, she says she and Siegfried are united as one. By the end of the opera, he's back in her good graces. But, in between, the woman who pledged eternal love for Siegfried ("Apart, who can divide us?"), tells his mortal enemy how to murder him.

The Ring is the story of Alberich and Wotan. In the end, evil, in the form of Alberich, survives. Wotan and the old order are destroyed, a new, more feminine, order arises to do battle with evil. We don't need construction cranes and whatever else Zambello and her cohorts dream up to tell us that.
--from G. A.

Posted by: MidgetteA | November 12, 2009 12:57 AM | Report abuse

Anne Midgette has been, and is, a superb music critic, doing what a music critic should do: express considered opinions about musical performances and stimulate public discussion. This does not mean that we should, or that she expects us to agree to everything she writes. If we did, she would not be doing her job.

I, too, find the WNO emphasis on Wagner misplaced and I tend to picture Zap! Pow! Kaboom! flashing before me while Siegried plods on with Teutonic seriousness from one incest in search of another. It is Loony Tunes, but Loony Tunes with really good music.

I also find it difficult to agree with the in absentia canonization of Francesca Zambello, who all by herself nearly killed my love of opera, with her inane staging of previous WNO efforts. But she seems to be the It director while Domingo is asleep at the wheel, so there obviously must be something wrong with me.

However, even when I could not agree, I have learned from Midgette, and my musical horizons have been pleasantly expanded by reading her opinions and those of the people responding to her, even those arguing with her. To attack her personally because you disagree with what she writes is uncouth enough. But to characterize her writing, or any part of it, as "fascist" is not only inappropriate, but a trivialization of a genuinely evil ideology. Those of us who have some familiarity with the horrors perpetrated by fascism know better than to apply the term to anyone or anything that does not agree with our own superciliousness. Let's try to keep these discussions civilized!

Posted by: gauthier310 | November 12, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

My family does have direct familiarity with the horrors perpetrated by fascism and German nazism. As such, I am especially sensitive to those who equate attendance at Wagner's Ring Cycle with the secret understanding of some "powerful energy" - which is what thousands of Washington Post print readers were being asked to do in the case of the music review in question.

And, again, I will speak out in this forum in the name of American civilization when the paid publicist for the Washington National Opera -- posting here under a second alias -- questions my facts when she herself hasn't even closely read the relevant Congressional enabling legislation authorizing the change in name from the Washington Opera to the Washington National Opera; and the clearly expressed responsibilities such a change in name was expected to entail.

Lastly, in your third paragraph, are you referring to opera director Marta Domingo?

Posted by: snaketime | November 12, 2009 8:58 PM | Report abuse

"Lastly, in your third paragraph, are you referring to opera director Marta Domingo?"

No, she has done some really nice work. I was referring to Placido Domingo, who we all like and love, and who brought about some noticeable improvements when he first came, but who seems to be distracted by the musical promiscuity of his current obligations.

Posted by: gauthier310 | November 13, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Thank you. I too love Placido Domingo and feel that he has done unsurpassed service to opera in America and Washington. But I also feel that his worldwide obligations have stretched him to the detriment of our newer National Opera company. Happy national opera week.

Posted by: snaketime | November 13, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

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