Christian Thorau: Wagner on dvd: music-form/Regie-theater

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Christian Thorau: Wagner on dvd: music-form/Regie-theater

Postby alberich00 » Tue Sep 03, 2013 3:50 pm

A mini-review by Paul Heise of "Wagner on dvd: musical form and the gaze of Regie-Theater" by Christian Thorau (Univ. of Potsdam, Germany), a talk presented at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina:

Thorau points out that one can now see dozens of "Ring" productions at home, even on youtube. This allows anyone who wishes to analyze Wagner's artworks very closely [PH: A huge benefit to myself, in particular].

In Regie-Theater [Director's Theater], both the text and the score of Wagner's operas and music-dramas are subject to analysis. Thorau says that the secret of form in Wagner is one of the central myths in Wagner research. However, Wagner has been charged with formlessness in Wotan's monologue from V.2.2. Wagner's extensive use of recitative in this scene seemed anti-dramatic, this in spite of the fact that Wagner described Wotan's confession as the most important scene in the "Ring." The tonal organization of this scene seemed confusing, but it is a conscious and bold experiment.

Carolyn Abbate assesses this scene with a new hermeneutic approach. During Wotan's conversation with himself Wagner's employment of musical motifs is somewhat suspended. It's almost a ballad or song, strophic, with repeating cadences. Abbate, however, does not offer an overall scheme.

Wotan's most dreadful outburst contains a series of musical motifs [PH: Think here of Deryck Cooke's analysis] which are reprised during Wotan's confession several times. This past, present, and future tense is repeated three times. This offers us a design for the entire scene, which no longer seems amorphous.

Chereau's pendulum which he employed in V.2.1 and V.2.2 helps to organize this scene. Harry Kupfer built on Chereau's' architecture for V.2.2.

Wagner's music prior to Wotan's explosive utterance "Das Ende" makes the audience expect the end, and Regie-theater helps to bring this structure out.
Form in Wagner's music can't be divorced in analysis from the staging. Formal musical analysis of Wagner depends also knowledge of performance history.

Q&A: Someone proposed that Wagner's art is a work of total theater, in which music, word, and staging can't be divorced.

Anno Mungen asked about the link between dvd productions and form. He noted that Brian Large, the cameraman, had made those choices for the audience. In the future, however, thanks to sophisticated modern technology, an observer will be able to decide what view to take of each scene in a dvd.

Someone else proposed that though Wagner's orchestra, his score, controls the time, the director has choice with respect to other elements [the fermata] of the staged work.

PH: I am very happy to see the musico-dramatic structure of Wotan's confession being taken so seriously. Wagner was right to say this scene is a key to the entirety of the "Ring." I think Wagner was also right to say that though he had fears for this scene, if performed with true conviction, with all the elements coming together, it can be shattering from beginning to end. Take for instance that moment, just before his confession, when Wotan asks Bruennhilde (really, himself) whether if he spoke what ails him aloud, whether he could sustain his grip on his will, and Bruennhilde responded that she is his will. Wotan then said that in speaking to her, he speaks to himself, and thus what he says shall remain forever unspoken. Well, it is during the last moments of this little sequence that Dr. Allen Dunning noted a sequence of chords which correspond with those heard during the finale of "Twilight," when Bruennhilde is telling Wotan that he, the god, can now rest from his wanderings. For those who are interested please consult this passage here in wagnerheim.com from "The Wound That Will Never Heal."

PH: That sequence of five motifs, by the way, to which Thorau alluded, which are first heard in conjunction when Wotan cries out in despair to Bruennhilde about "God's Noth," etc., and that he is the unfreest of men: This motif sequence is here identified with Wotan's confession, as a repression into Wotan's own unconscious mind (Bruennhilde) of thoughts too terrible for him to contemplate aloud, i.e., consciously, thoughts (his hoard of forbidden knowledge) which are thus repressed into his unconscious mind, where they shall be forever unspoken, in words, but which will nonetheless be felt by Siegfried, musically, thanks to Bruennhilde, Siegfried's muse, holding these thoughts for Siegfried. Siegfried feels fear of Bruennhilde because he subliminally fears that in waking her, Wotan's repository for thoughts which if conscious might drive him mad, Wotan's unbearable thoughts will wake in Siegfried. It is only through loving union with his muse of unconscious artistic inspiration, Bruennhilde, that Siegfried can forget the fear she taught, and re-repress Wotan's thoughts, by producing that work of art which sublimates those thoughts and their horror into sublime feeling, or music.
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Re: Christian Thorau: Wagner on dvd: music-form/Regie-theate

Postby WOLRAM » Sat Nov 30, 2013 5:38 am

I have recently finished watching the DVD recordings of the Kupfer/Barenboim production of the Ring. I've only seen parts of other productions (such as Chereaux/Boulez), but my gut feeling is that the Kupfer production is a very good modern production with some truly great performances, in spite of one or too details that I found questionable. I've only read as far as Siegried Act III in your analysis so far, but I have the impression that you dislike too much alteration of the staging of the Ring as it can undermine the metaphorical meaning. How much do you think Kupfer's production reflects the true meaning of the Ring? and how does this production compare with others in terms of reflecting Wagner's intended meaning (rather than his actual staging instructions)?
For what it's worth, the main aspect I found irritating in Kupfer's production was Woton's implied manipulation of the Woodbird, I also found the conclusion of Gotterdamerung puzzling, though dramatically quite effective. On the other hand, I liked the way Wotan and Alberich both had an implied presence in scenes in which they didn't directly play a part. On the whole, I thought it was visually and musically very effective, moving and credible.
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Re: Christian Thorau: Wagner on dvd: music-form/Regie-theate

Postby alberich00 » Mon Dec 02, 2013 12:56 am

Dear Wolram:

The problem is that I only know the Kupfer production by reputation: I've never seen it. But I think I can give you a general answer which addresses your question. Re Wotan's manipulation of the Woodbird, let us suppose for purposes of argument that this was Kupfer's way to drawing attention to something which I feel I've discovered in the "Ring," which is that the only person in the "Ring" who would have a motive for telling Siegfried the three distinct things that the Woodbird did tell him (re a motive for obtaining Alberich's Hoard, Tarnhelm, and Ring, Mime's treachery, and the sleeping Bruennhilde) is Wotan. Even so, if I were producing/directing the "Ring" I would never try to make something more explicit than Wagner already does in his original stage directions, and through his manipulation of music (motifs, etc.). Why be blatant when Wagner is subtle and subliminal: that destroys the whole spirit of the work.

In Chereau's "Ring" (which I saw on tv), there were various things Chereau added (that were not there, not even suggested, in Wagner's original text, directions, and recorded remarks) which were dramatically effective in their own way, but nonetheless detracted from the overall unity of the "Ring' (at least as I conceive it. Still, in spite of Chereau's various conceits his interpretation is better than many.

As for Wotan's and Alberich's implied presence, it's already implied here and there in the text and music. To also add a visual component where Wagner didn't is perhaps, again, an example of overkill, which makes Wagner blatant where originally he was subtle. What most of these Regie-Theater types often forget is that Wagner left infinite scope for interpretation anyway, without actually introducing all kinds of iconography which is alien to his spirit.
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Re: Christian Thorau: Wagner on dvd: music-form/Regie-theate

Postby Goldenapples » Tue Feb 04, 2014 4:29 am

I've come late to this topic - I'm a very new member of the forum - but I have always suspected the woodbird was in some way manipulated by Wotan because without it Siegfried wouldn't have got off his butt and gone to carry out his designated purpose in life. I find a mocking quality to the bird's song - it's there in the music - as if the bird is cheerfully repeating a learned message. In fact I wouldn't be at all surprised if the "bird" turned out to be shape-changing Loge in bird form, doing his master's bidding with his usual touch of mischievous insolence. I am not, generally speaking, an admirer of the Kupfer production but I think he picked up on something here that others have not understood. One of Siegfried's (few) endearing characteristics is his empathy with all nature and his terrible innocence has something of the noble savage about it. Siegfried IS a force of nature all in himself and for those who like to see The Ring as an eco-parable I suppose Siegfried's loss of innocence (through Brunnhilde) and death - and the cataclysmic aftermath - can be understood as the death of nature as we experience it in the mechanistic world today. Even if you don't see it that way (and I certainly don't!), Siegfried's ability to understand the bird's song of both encouragement and warning is certainly very convenient for Wotan. But also a bit chancy. Bearing in mind the importance of Siegfried's subsequent actions to the eventual outcome, you'd think Wotan would have favoured a more direct approach. That he didn't makes me think that once again Wagner, who as you say IS both subtle and subliminal, is reminding us of the vital link between Man and Nature that should never be broken.

Perhaps today's productions SHOULD resist the temptation to hammer such points home by the kind of overt, less-than-subtle contrivance that Wagner himself eschewed. Then again, perhaps it aids us to understand what is often so impenetrable in The Ring, especially those who can appreciate the music but just can't come to grips with the story - I confess my own ignorance and must do a bit more study on just how explicit RW was in just what this Norse mishmash was meant to convey to a modern (in his time, as well as ours) audience.

I agree about the Chereau, by the way. But then when it comes to The Ring I am a passionate - even aggrressive - traditionalist.
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Re: Christian Thorau: Wagner on dvd: music-form/Regie-theate

Postby alberich00 » Fri Feb 07, 2014 7:47 am

Great to hear from you, Golden Apples of the Sun:

And thanks for your inaugural contribution. I suspect the Woodbird has a link with Bruennhilde both because they represent Wagnerian music in different ways (Wagner in his writings spoke of the heroine as representing music, the hero as representing drama/words, and also linked birdsong with music; finally, the birdsong is directly derived from Woglinde's lullabye, which is clearly linked with the very concept music, and with Wagnerian music-drama, in the allegorical scheme of the "Ring"), and because Bruennhilde is Wotan's "Will" and therefore his unconscious mind, and music is the language of the unconscious. I'm not sure of the Loge connection (there is a playful quality to the woodbird's singing, but I don't quite hear mocking).

Yes, it's damned fascinating that what Wotan thinks out conceptually, Siegfried seems to absorb and express instinctively. That's all thanks to Bruennhilde being Siegfried's self, i.e., the repository of his true identity as Wotan. Siegfried is Wotan, minus consciousness of his true identity, somewhat like the concept of reincarnation in which the individual in each new incarnation doesn't remember his past incarnations, though we the audience do. It's the musical motifs which tap into the prior incarnations, not only in respect of Siegfried's true identity in Wotan, but especially in "Parsifal," in which this concept becomes quite explicit. In any case, you're right that Siegfried represents, among other things, Wagner's concept of the natural man. But he's only a natural man because Bruennhilde, who as his lover becomes in turn Siegfried's unconscious mind, holds what would otherwise be Siegfried's conscious thoughts (those of Wotan) for him, so that Siegfried won't be paralyzed (as Wotan was) by too much consciousness.
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Re: Christian Thorau: Wagner on dvd: music-form/Regie-theate

Postby Goldenapples » Sun Feb 09, 2014 2:21 am

This matter of Brunnhilde being Wotan's will...I hear it in the music and words (in Walkure) but then I simply CANNOT help asking why he then leaves his will on a rock for years and years! Just because she does what she THINKS should be his will...what in fact she knows full well is at least his WISH. I am most interested in what you say about the heroine representing music and the hero representing drama and words. I am learning a great deal from reading the analysis, especially with the very helpful music insertions - which did the other night help me connect Woglinde's lullaby to the woodbird's song, which I had not done before.
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Re: Christian Thorau: Wagner on dvd: music-form/Regie-theate

Postby Goldenapples » Sun Feb 09, 2014 2:22 am

Meant to say - what's with this "Golden apples of the sun"?! Are you referencing Ray Bradbury now as well as Wagner?! (I think it was Bradbury - memory not as keen as it once was)
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Re: Christian Thorau: Wagner on dvd: music-form/Regie-theate

Postby alberich00 » Mon Feb 10, 2014 11:42 pm

Dear Golden Apples:

Actually, I was thinking of that song based evidently on a poem by Yeats, sung by Judy Collins: If I remember correctly, it includes the line: "The golden apples of the sun, the silver apples of the moon," or something like that.

It's too bloody complex to explain in detail here (I guess you'll have to read all my chapters which deal with Bruennhilde), but, in essence, Wotan has to separate himself from Bruennhilde (among other reasons) because in Wagner's Feuerbach-inspired allegorical reasoning, the only way the essence of religious faith (i.e., the gods of Valhalla, and Wotan in particular) can survive into the new, secular age, in which the gods must leave us, is as feeling, or music, and so, according to both Feuerbach and Wagner, religion's essence as feeling could only live on into the modern, sceptical world, if this feeling was wholly divorced from concepts, from the word, in which religious faith trapped itself into staking a claim to the truth which the facts could contradict. But no fact can contradict that I feel what I feel (or something like that). But of course, I had to write this 900 plus page book to explain this bizarre concept.
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Re: Christian Thorau: Wagner on dvd: music-form/Regie-theate

Postby alberich00 » Mon Feb 10, 2014 11:45 pm

Oops! I forgot to add that according to both Feuerbach and Wagner, secular art has the advantage over religion, that it doesn't stake a claim to represent the truth, which could be contradicted by facts or by its own logical incoherence, so it can inspire in us a feeling of religious transcendence without getting wrapped up in dogmatic assertions which tend to implode. This is why both Michael Tanner and Roger Scruton describe Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" as essentially a religious work.
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