David Breckbill: Wagner and advances in recorded media

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David Breckbill: Wagner and advances in recorded media

Postby alberich00 » Tue Sep 03, 2013 2:47 pm

Another contribution to my mini reviews of talks presented at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina in the winter of 2013.

"Wagner and advances in recording media" by David Breckbill (Doane College):

Breckbill said that this is a good time to be a Wagner fan, with a huge range of dvd's and recordings available. He posed the question: how do recordings influence the live performance of Wagner's operas and music-dramas?

The Decca/London Records "Ring," produced by John Culshaw, bypassed the opera house to reach into our homes.

Karajan introduced recording which freed producers from having to worry about the size of the voice, so that recording studios could hire singers with lighter voices who would not stand out in an opera house, since their voices could be manipulated to sound bigger than they actually are.

Also, singers who are filmed in performance for dvd's have to be just as dramatically convincing as actors in movies [PH: As a Wagnerian I find this influence of recorded media a net plus]. Of course, singer-actors who are very persuasive in dvd presentations often would not impress in live performances at opera houses.

Nowadays, live performances are designed to be recorded.

But Breckbill feels the Wagnerian experience is diminished by our ability to repeatedly experience a performance any time on dvd. There is a certain excitement in unrepeatable live performances missing from recorded media. [PH: I appreciate this, but I must also say that given my limitation of funds throughout my life, and the small scope for travel available to me, not to mention my need to get to know Wagner's operas and music-dramas far more intimately than would be possible without being able to repeat performances at will in my home by listening to recordings and watching dvd's, I would not have the appreciation for Wagner I do have without this possibility. I virtually lived the "Ring" each time I heard the 1951 mono recording of Furtwaengler with the RAI; I only knew the "Ring" through this recording for many years, and acquired the Decca/London/Solti "Ring" also before I ever found the opportunity to see the "Ring" live. In fact, the only "Ring" I have seen complete was that performed by the Berlin Oper in Washington, DC, at the Kennedy Center, many years ago. Furthermore, the tendency of many director/producers in the past several decades to tamper with the "Ring" has meant that quite often I could only experience it in the purest sense alone, while listening to a recording and letting my imagination replace what would otherwise have been a staging wholly at variance with the spirit and tenor of the original.]

Q&A: Someone brought up the subject of the influence of post-production, the multi-tracking mixer, etc. [PH: The point being that electronic engineers can, in a sense, recreate any performance in their own image, so to speak]. Someone else noted there is a distinction between consuming a performance, and experiencing it. The video-director makes you focus on what he wants, not what you, as the audience, might choose to focus on. For whatever reason I didn't record Breckbill's response to these points.

PH: I can safely say that it would have been preferable, in an ideal world, that I had been able to see a large variety of live performances of the "Ring" and Wagner's other works, to experience that indefinable something that is missing from recorded performances. However, I did not have the resources necessary to make this possible, except on rare occasions [I've seen one "Ring," several performances of "Rhinegold" and "Twilight" as stand-alones, two performances of "Tristan," one of "Mastersingers," one of "Lohengrin," two of "Tannhaeuser," and two of "The Flying Dutchman," but that is all], and my private experience of the "Ring" and Wagner's six other repertory works, in my silent home, provided me an intimate knowledge of these artworks which I feel is second to none. In other words, there is something to be said for the virtues of being able to experience these artworks intimately and alone, which, perhaps, only Ludwig II could manage previously. Also, one of the deepest and most satisfying experiences of my life was growing up listening to WETA's "Classical Grooves," the fabulous chamber music program which used to come on between 11:00pm and 1:00am, if memory serves, through which, over time, I became familiar with the length and breadth of Western chamber music, in the privacy of my basement with no interruptions and no intrusions. In this way I made our musical/dramatic heritage my own.
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