Opry Links # 91: All-Wagner Edition
Saturdee Opry Links Overture
"Die Meistersinger," by Wagner.
All of the operas of Richard Wagner, as conductor James Conlon always notes, are
about the redemptive power of love. (You know, like Kendrick Lamar.) Period, end
story. Gee, how controversial. Here is the ode to the evening star, "O, du mein
holder abenstern," from "Tannhauser," one of the most beautiful baritone arias
Wagner wrote (and there aren't many to choose from.) Peter Mattei.
There you are, oh loveliest star,
your soft light you send into the distance;
your beam pierces the gloomy shroud
and you show the way out of the valley.
Oh, my gracious evening star,
I always greet you like happily:
with my heart that she never betrayed
take to her as she drifts past you,
when she soars from this earthly vale,
to transform into blessed angel!
O du, mein holder Abendstern,
wohl grüsst'ich immer dich so gern:
vom Herzen, das sie nie verriet,
grüsse sie, wenn sie vorbei dir zieht,
wenn sie entschwebt dem Tal der Erden,
ein sel'ger Engel dort zu werden!
EXTRA: What makes this aria so special?
This is both hilarious and absolutely amazing. In the opening of Wagner's first
"Ring" opera, "Das Rheingold," we see (and hear) the glorious Rhine river, and
the Rhinemaidens who protect the gold at the river's bottom. (This is at the
center of the story---and the entire four-opera saga.) The music is probably the
longest welling half-crescendo in history, suggesting the flow and rippling of
the river. Astonishingly beautiful! Now, understand that, in the story, the
Rhinemaidens are supposed to be singing and swimming, singing and swimming,
singing of the glorious gold they protect---and then later, taunting the hideous
dwarf, Alberich (who renounces love in order to steal the gold---that rascal!)
The swimming effect is often abandoned in operatic productions, or staged with
singers suspended on wires against a shimmering blue background (very nice!)
Here is the ONLY production I have ever heard of where---yes, you guessed
it---the singers actually swim. And sing! And not a lifeguard in sight.
Translation of opening sequence:
For contrast, here is a Met production with the Rhinemaidens suspended on wires,
against a blue background. (First 40 seconds.)
And here is the same sequence from the beginning of "Rheingold," done entirely
with LEGO. Lego that gold, you filthy rhinemaidens!
"Das Rheingold" is an exercise in the failings of human interaction, the
criminality of politics---set with gods and dragons and giants and dwarves.
There are: ugly barters, kidnapping, bribery, chicanery, larceny, deceit, murder
(fratricide, to make it especially horrid), and even that saddest of human
qualities, "good intentions." In the end, after all manner of stupidity and
clumsiness, Wotan (king of the gods) still thinks he has everything neatly
wrapped up---and he leads all the other gods to their fabulous new digs in the
clouds, Valhalla. Across a rainbow bridge, no less. Here is that scene, with a
whole array of imagery, including great comic book illustrations (!), the
"Entrance of the Gods Into Valhalla," from "Das Rheingold," by Wagner. The
artistry of this music towers over damn near anything written since, and
certainly anything being written today.
Translation of the proceedings:
(Search for "sultrily," and start there.)
And this is pretty terrific! A literal China production. Same sequence starts at
"Die Walkure," or "The Valkyrie," is the second of the Wagner "Ring" operas, a
parable about the inevitable failing and self-destruction of mankind ("And if
there's one thing you can say about mankind / There's nothing kind about
man"---Tom Waits.) And yet, and yet. . .Walkure is about love, forgiveness, and
yes, kindness---in all their Byzantine motivations. In short: Brunhilde, the
Valkyrie, is Wotan's favorite daughter, because she knows his true heart, and
takes after him. Naturally, her stepmommie, who has the ultimately weak Wotan's
ear, dislikes Brunhilde, and plots against her. (Gee, this sounds like my
family!) Brunhilde, whose day-job is to, with other Valkyries, carry the bodies
of fallen warriors to the glorious hereafter in Valhalla (on flying horses!),
disobeys Da-da and renders aid to the couple, Sigmund and pregnant Sieglinde
(who do not realize they are actually brother and sister, but that's another
story.) Brunhilde does this out of simple compassion, a hoary old pre-21st
century concept, yet is condemned for it. Wotan says he will strip her of her
god-hood, and render her nothing but an airhead milliennial addicted to
smartphones. Ah, but let's not forget love. Brunhilde pleads with her father to
spare her from this horrific fate, and he does. Instead, he agrees to put her
into a magic sleep and surround her with a magic fire that only the greatest of
heroes can cross to wake and rescue her. Got it? (This turns out to be the
unborn child of Sigmund and Sieglinde, one Siegfried, so it's a good thing that
Brunhilde saved Sieglinde's life.) So here is one of the most heart-rending
moments in all opera, "Wotans' Farewell." "Leb' wohl, du kühnes, herrliches
Kind!" (Farewell, valiant, glorious child!") The great Hans Hotter is Wotan.
(Note: this performance is probably rushed for television purposes.)
(Search for "Farewell, thou valiant")
For contrast, here is a the very fine---and more properly paced---GQ production
by Chereau in the mid-70's.
Those of you wondering where all this Trump/Putin/Xi/Kim/ Corporation-ravaged
world is going, here's the answer: doomsday! Wagner perhaps suspected this when
he wrote the final of the four "Ring" operas, "The Twilight of the Gods," or "Gotterdamerung."
For the "Future is Female" crowd, you will be pleased to know that it took a
noble little lady to bring it all down. Brunhilde, who has known right along
that Wotan, her father, had unwittingly sabotaged the Big Everything, now
becomes an instrument of realizing its demise.This is the Boulez-Chereau version
from the '70's, which is part literal staging, part metaphor. I dare you to stay
with this clip to the end, and see if geese are walking on your arms. Watch as
the pyre rises! Watch as Brunhilde flings herself into it! Watch with the
stunned, ragged remains of the human race as they stare at the smoldering
remains of the universe. (That was a Frenchy touch not part of Wagner's
With English subtitles.
For laughs and weird effects, not much beats this:
Start at 4:22:00.
Jonas Kaufmann has the "baritenor" so well suited to Wagner tenor roles, as is
evidenced here in his tender rendering of "In Fernem Land" from the wonderful,
Synopsis: To this point, the Knight has not been allowed to tell his name or his
origin. However, he now must leave because he has killed Frederick, the Count of
Brabant, and now tells his past. He is a Knight of the Grail from the island of
Montsalvat and his father is Parsifal, the leader of all the Knights of Grail
who strive to do good in the world as long as no one knows their secret. He
finally reveals that his true name is Lohengrin.
EXTRA: Kaufmann discusses "Lohengrin!"
Here is the expressive, rich voice of Kaufmann again, from the same concert,
with "Rienzi's Prayer" from Wagner's "Rienzi," which is the story of an early
ancestor of mine. How anyone can listen to this and not be moved is well beyond
me. Of course, I feel the same about Kendrick Lamar, although his "music" moves
my bowels. Wagner's moves my heart and intelligence, which used to be priorities
in art long before the 21st Century.
Synopsis: Rienzi has been excommunicated for leading a force of Roman citizens
against the treacherous Roman nobles, prompting everyone to abandon their
support of him. On the brink of disaster, Rienzi prays to God that he might be
given strength to weather the crisis. He feels that he is doing God's work by
empowering the common citizen.
EXTRA: Kaufmann discusses "Rienzi!" Funny how his
speaking voice is more tenor than his singing voice.
And now, as we approach the end of the world, I mean the end of today's
anxiously awaited edition of Saturdee Opry Links---an all-Wagner edition---here
is the greatest Wagnerian heldentenor, Lauritz Melchior. What? You've never
heard of him? Of course you have. He was in many a goofy old movie, like this
one. "Two Sisters From Boston." This is the joyful "Morgenlich leuchtend im
rosigen Schein" from "Die Meistersinger." Or "Shining in the rosy light of
morning." An essay in gratitude.
Synopsis : Walter sings his Prize Song for the song contest. It is a beautiful
and magical piece which poetically describes his love for Eva.
About the movie:
EXTRA: What the hell is a heldentenor, anyway?
FINAL BOW: In conclusion, here is the conclusion of Wagner's most innovative
opera, musically speaking, "Tristan und Isolde." Surely you have heard of the
"Tristan chord," which changed all music forever. You haven't? You think Philip
Glass did this? Oh, you have permission to go out and play on the freeway, then.
Or worse, go listen to "The Phantom." Anyhow, here is the transporting,
punishingly poignant aria (if you can call it that), "Mild und Leise," from
"Tristan." Talk about a declaration of love. Nina Stemme in a concert
performance. "Don't you see it? Brighter and brighter. . ."
Synopsis: After Tristan has died, Isolde looks upon him in a trance. She
believes that she sees her beloved coming back to life as she hears a lovely
melody around her. The hallucinations become stronger and stronger until, at
last, she falls down dead next to Tristan.
EXTRA: The Tristan Chord:
EXTRA: Stemme Takes on "Tristan"
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