Discussion:
Thoughts on a posting
(too old to reply)
Jay Kauffman
2016-05-24 09:35:02 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
This was sent to me by a friend who just saw the Washington Gotterdammerung - would love to have other thoughts and ideas

Who is the main character of the Ring, and how would do we define ‘main character”?

There is no truly reliable answer to such a question, and in fact the ‘answer’ to any such question changes over time and with culture expectations.

The main character is often said to be the character that appears the most frequently, or who carries the most significant dramatic ‘valence’, but even with such a criterion, the attribution is not stable.

In Don Giovanni, until the 20th century, Zerlina was thought of as the main female character.

Is it possible that the main character in the Ring in not Brunnhilde, or Wotan, each of whom only appear in various parts of three of the operas?

Perhaps the major character is whom “reason” might suggest it is: the title character, the Ring itself, and more generally the gold.
Isn’t the Ring itself the silent but ever-present protagonist?
It is not merely an object to be acted upon – it is a subject which transforms its objects.

Or perhaps it is one half of a subject: is that subject the Nibelungs, or the Rhinemaidens, or the Rhine?

I ask this because at the moment of the appearance of the Gibichungs, the opera makes a very strange turn.

Who are these people, and what are they doing in an opera of gods and demi-gods and anti-gods?

There are precedents for the Gibichungs in the Prose Saga, for example, and even in earlier sources, but their appearance in the Wagner narrative, so late, is essentially discontinuous; a major plot, setting, and character elements come from ‘nowhere’ after perhaps 14 hours of music and intermission.

I think that that they represent the Germany of Wagner’s time.

They are all in fact various kinds of half-breeds.

Hagan, who is the only character with a direct connection to the earlier story is, I believe, the assimilated foreigner who should not have been assimilated. He is half brother to Gunther, but his blood is not sufficiently noble for him to take an oath. He is cunning and crafty and vengeful.

Gunther espouses occasionally more lofty sentiments, but he is pusillanimous and perhaps unintelligent.

Gutrune and Gunther are desperate to refresh their blood lines, but they cannot. In a sense, they are like the Gods with the apples of youth. For them, Siegfried and then Brunnhilde, descendants of a god-like and imperial past, are the keys to that regeneration.

Siegfried and Gunther become blood brothers, but this degrades Siegfried; it does not elevate Gunther.

At this point, Siegfried can now ‘assume’ the guise of Gunther through the Tarnhelm. A demi-god has agreed to become a half-brother to a half-breed.

But what is the Tarnhelm?

Without the Rheingold, this would be the first moment in perhaps 11 hours in which we would have heard of it. And there is very little in the way of precedent in the sources for such an element.

In Rheingold we see it as a magical element to explain the ability of Alberich to be captured, but despite it impressive powers of transformation of place and identity, it is otherwise ignored. Will it be thrown back into the Rhine at the end, or simply forgotten about again?

At this point (that is, the blood-brotherhood of Siegfried and Gunther) its significance may itself be transformed – it is the embodiment of the notion of the ‘shape-shifter’: it is thus precisely the embodiment of the accusations which Wagner made against Jews – they had no identity of their own, and no place of their own, and destroyed societies of genuine peoples with their infiltration and adaptation of their ‘hosts, not simply by their/our presence, but most seriously by polluting the standards of the host people.

And yet it is in this context that Siegfried assumes the appearance of Gunther, or tries to. Even the ideals of the German society have been seduced by the Tarnhelm of the hated foreigner.

The infiltration proceeds ever upward, to Brunnhilde, who is herself is contaminated by her abduction from the Fire; she is now as vengeful and cunning in her own way as Hagan and Alberich ever were.

And so the world must be destroyed, according to Wagner, not just the world of the Gods, but the entire world, because all has become degraded.

Watching this Ring, I wondered about other glosses directors might give to the story. For example, perhaps a Kennedy Ring: Joseph Kennedy as Wotan/Wanderer, Rose as Fricka, Joseph Jr. as Siegmund (and of course Rosemary as Sieglinde), with JFK as Siegfried (as this not what the Germans called him when he told them he was, indeed, a German pastry?) and Jacqueline as our Brunnhilde. Ted and Robert as Hagan and Gunther (you can take your choice). I will let you work out the Texas contingent for yourself.

But ultimately I do not think The Ring Cycle is about ‘mercantilism’ or capitalism or power - it is the story of the need to restore the primitive and pure German spirit, a prefiguration, in a sense, of a Heigdeggerian spirit of the German people, to the 'natural' German people.

“My” Ring does not suggest that Wagner was merely an anti-Semite. He was a savior too good for his own people, and if Jewish and other foreign cultures in all of their various guises and disguises were the problem, they were a problem which had been fully and fatally absorbed by the German people and society itself, iredeemably, other than through the salvation of destruction and purification.

In this way, I wonder indeed how thoroughly the ethos of Wagner, who mediated the cultural beliefs of his time, and in particular that of Schopenhauer, really did infiltrate the spirit of the Germany of the Reich. Perhaps far more than we admit.
One question: after World War I, with the catastrophic loss, the Right created the idea that Germany had been ‘stabbed in the back’. I wonder where such a phrase came from in this context. Was it merely a figure of speech, meant to incite hatred and deflect responsibility, or was it a deliberate attempt by those who propagated this accusation to link by association the fate of Germany to the fate of Siegfried? I would be curious to know.
Bert Coules
2016-05-24 12:08:39 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
It is perhaps possible to argue that Wotan is the central character for the
simple reason that he's the only individual who appears in all four parts.

It's also possible to suggest that The Ring doesn't have a central
character.

Bert
Jay Kauffman
2016-05-24 12:17:37 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Bert Coules
It is perhaps possible to argue that Wotan is the central character for the
simple reason that he's the only individual who appears in all four parts.
It's also possible to suggest that The Ring doesn't have a central
character.
Bert
Wotan does not appear in Gotterdammerung - do you mean the image of him and the other Gods at the very end (which I don't think I have ever seen) I have sometimes thought of Alberich as the central character since not appears quite a bit but starts the whole thing by his theft
Bert Coules
2016-05-24 12:25:54 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Jay,

Wotan most certainly does appear in Götterdämmerung. The fact that he
doesn't sing is neither here nor there. That directors ignore Wagner's
perfectly straightforward and extremely explicit stage direction doesn't
change the fact that the character is meant to be seen.

Bert
Peter
2016-05-24 22:44:39 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Where in Götterdämmerung is Wotan supposed to be seen according to Wagner's
stage directions?

"Bert Coules" wrote in message news:***@brightview.co.uk...

Jay,

Wotan most certainly does appear in Götterdämmerung. The fact that he
doesn't sing is neither here nor there. That directors ignore Wagner's
perfectly straightforward and extremely explicit stage direction doesn't
change the fact that the character is meant to be seen.

Bert
REP
2016-05-24 23:18:30 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Peter
Where in Götterdämmerung is Wotan supposed to be seen according to Wagner's
stage directions?
At the very end, before the curtain falls. Here is the last stage direction:

Aus den Trümmern der zusammengestürzten Halle sehen die Männer und Frauen in höchster Ergriffenheit dem wachsenden Feuerschein am Himmel zu. Als dieser endlich in lichtester Helligkeit leuchtet, erblickt man darin den Saal Walhalls, in welchem die Götter und Helden, ganz nach der Schilderung Waltrautes im ersten Aufzuge, versammelt sitzen. Helle Flammen scheinen in dem Saal der Götter aufzuschlagen. Als die Götter von den Flammen gänzlich verhüllt sind, fällt der Vorhang.

English:
From the ruins of the place, which has collapsed, the men and women, in the utmost apprehension, watch the growing firelight in the sky. When this finally reaches its brightest there becomes visible the palace of Valhalla, in which the gods and heroes sit assembled, exactly as Waltraute described them in Act One. Bright flames seem to set fire to the hall of the gods. As the gods become completely hidden from view by flames, the curtain falls.

REP
Peter
2016-05-25 06:32:49 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Yes, you are certainly correct about Wagner's directions, but I wonder if
this was actually achieved during Götterdämmerung's premiere in Bayreuth,
and if so how?

Coming back to the question of who is the most important character in the
Ring, IMHO I think that it is Alberich, since after all it is "His Ring"
that the entire 16 hour Ring is all about.
Post by Peter
Where in Götterdämmerung is Wotan supposed to be seen according to Wagner's
stage directions?
At the very end, before the curtain falls. Here is the last stage direction:

Aus den Trümmern der zusammengestürzten Halle sehen die Männer und Frauen in
höchster Ergriffenheit dem wachsenden Feuerschein am Himmel zu. Als dieser
endlich in lichtester Helligkeit leuchtet, erblickt man darin den Saal
Walhalls, in welchem die Götter und Helden, ganz nach der Schilderung
Waltrautes im ersten Aufzuge, versammelt sitzen. Helle Flammen scheinen in
dem Saal der Götter aufzuschlagen. Als die Götter von den Flammen gänzlich
verhüllt sind, fällt der Vorhang.

English:
From the ruins of the place, which has collapsed, the men and women, in the
utmost apprehension, watch the growing firelight in the sky. When this
finally reaches its brightest there becomes visible the palace of Valhalla,
in which the gods and heroes sit assembled, exactly as Waltraute described
them in Act One. Bright flames seem to set fire to the hall of the gods. As
the gods become completely hidden from view by flames, the curtain falls.

REP
Mike Scott Rohan
2016-05-25 23:11:22 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Peter
Yes, you are certainly correct about Wagner's directions, but I wonder if
this was actually achieved during Götterdämmerung's premiere in Bayreuth,
and if so how?
I believe it was, from what I remember seeing of the very few illustrations based on the original stage designs, and those still strongly under Wagner's influence, in particular Max Bruckner's of (I think) 1894. This very clearly shows the interior of Walhalla, with the gods including Wotan, wreathed in flame. But it shows it so far downstage that it almost certainly must have been a painted drop or projection (such things were already in use in Wagner's day, to a limited extent). So Wotan was shown, but it seems not physically present.

This explicit vision seems to have fallen out of use around the 1920s, in favour of a simple image of Valhalla's exterior in flames. Why? As with many "innovations" in stage production, because it was easier for the producer, and cheaper. It's this that became the norm at New Bayreuth, and which we've grown used to. But when it's done more imaginatively, the effect is electrifying. There's just a glimpse of it at the end of this Seattle trailer:



As I've mentioned here before, the year they introduced this my wife was talking to the technical director in our hotel bar afterwards -- amazing martinis! -- and he said he'd told Speight Jenkins that he could either have this few seconds, or a whole new Boheme. Jenkins chose this.

Cheers,

Mike
Richard Partridge
2016-05-25 19:09:59 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by REP
Post by Peter
Where in Götterdämmerung is Wotan supposed to be seen according to Wagner's
stage directions?
Aus den Trümmern der zusammengestürzten Halle sehen die Männer und Frauen in
höchster Ergriffenheit dem wachsenden Feuerschein am Himmel zu. Als dieser
endlich in lichtester Helligkeit leuchtet, erblickt man darin den Saal
Walhalls, in welchem die Götter und Helden, ganz nach der Schilderung
Waltrautes im ersten Aufzuge, versammelt sitzen. Helle Flammen scheinen in dem
Saal der Götter aufzuschlagen. Als die Götter von den Flammen gänzlich
verhüllt sind, fällt der Vorhang.
From the ruins of the place, which has collapsed, the men and women, in the
utmost apprehension, watch the growing firelight in the sky. When this finally
reaches its brightest there becomes visible the palace of Valhalla, in which
the gods and heroes sit assembled, exactly as Waltraute described them in Act
One. Bright flames seem to set fire to the hall of the gods. As the gods
become completely hidden from view by flames, the curtain falls.
REP
I have always thought Wotan is the central character in the Ring. He is the
one who commits the fatal moral error that dooms the gods. He is the one
who strives mightily against his fate, but then resigns himself to the fact
that his power must pass to another, and, seeing that that is the best
outcome, actually helps to bring that about.


Dick Partridge
REP
2016-05-24 17:59:29 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Jay Kauffman
This was sent to me by a friend who just saw the Washington Gotterdammerung - would love to have other thoughts and ideas
Who is the main character of the Ring, and how would do we define ‘main character”?
"Main character" is almost completely meaningless. As you suggest, it has no agreed-upon definition. Why not use "protagonist" instead? Then we at least have a well-defined term to work with.

Either way, I'd say that there isn't one protagonist or main character in Der Ring. There are multiple protagonists. Wotan in Das Rheingold and Siegfried in Siegfried and Gotterdammerung. Die Walkure is a little different because it makes you think that Siegmund is the protagonist at first, but we learn in Act II that Die Walkure is really a conflict of manners and responsibilities, with all the characters struggling against their place in the world. You could say that it has multiple protagonists as well: Wotan, Siegmund, and Brunnhilde. Which is one reason why it succeeds so well. Those are three very different characters who appeal to people in different ways. It covers all the bases.

Now who is the main _antagonist_ of Der Ring?

REP
Bert Coules
2016-05-25 19:59:13 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
As I think I said, it's possible to argue that the cycle doesn't have (and
doesn't need) a "main" character at all, but having said that...

One of the standard screenplay writing techniques for determining who is the
central character is to imagine yourself telling the plot in the briefest
manner possible to a stranger who has never heard of it. "Well, it's a
story about..."

The Ring? Well, it's a story about this ambitious god...

The Ring? Well, it's a story about this ambitious dwarf...

They both sound fairly convincing, for the work as a whole. But, for me at
least, neither "...this warrior maiden" or "...this naive youngster" cuts
it. If I were that stranger and didn't know the work at all but then went
to see it on the basis of either of those two thumbnail descriptions I'd
spend a good few hours and one or two entire nights asking myself "Well,
where the hell are they?".
REP
2016-05-25 22:33:39 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Bert Coules
One of the standard screenplay writing techniques for determining who is the
central character is to imagine yourself telling the plot in the briefest
manner possible to a stranger who has never heard of it. "Well, it's a
story about..."
The Ring? Well, it's a story about this ambitious god...
The Ring? Well, it's a story about this ambitious dwarf...
They both sound fairly convincing, for the work as a whole. But, for me at
least, neither "...this warrior maiden" or "...this naive youngster" cuts
it. If I were that stranger and didn't know the work at all but then went
to see it on the basis of either of those two thumbnail descriptions I'd
spend a good few hours and one or two entire nights asking myself "Well,
where the hell are they?".
But surely that stranger would know that the first day of the Ring actually begins with Die Walkure, and Das Rheingold is just a "preliminary evening," yes? And that same stranger, properly informed about the work's history, would know that Die Walkure itself was a prologue to Young Siegfried, which in turn was a prologue to Gotterdammerung, whose protagonist is clearly Siegfried.

I'm being somewhat facetious, but I do think Siegfried is a likely candidate. It might seem odd -- given that Siegfried doesn't appear until three operas into the cycle -- but only if we're looking at it through the lens of modern conventions of narrative. It wasn't unusual for a saga to begin two or three generations before the birth of its eponymous hero. Egil's Saga, for example, begins with Egil's grandfather, but that doesn't make the story any less about Egil. And Der Ring beginning where it does -- with Siegfried's grandfather -- doesn't make Der Ring any less about Siegfried. It just enriches the tragedy.

REP
Bert Coules
2016-05-26 09:19:59 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by REP
But surely that stranger would know that
the first day of the Ring actually begins
with Die Walküre, and Das Rheingold is
just a "preliminary evening," yes?
No. How could they - a complete stranger to the work - possibly know such
esoterica?
Post by REP
And that same stranger, properly informed
about the work's history...
But if so informed they wouldn't be a stranger any more, would they? I was
talking about someone coming entirely new to the work and seeing it in the
theatre with no prior knowledge whatsoever beyond the hypothetical "who's
the main character?" answers.
REP
2016-05-26 16:36:51 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Bert Coules
Post by REP
But surely that stranger would know that
the first day of the Ring actually begins
with Die Walküre, and Das Rheingold is
just a "preliminary evening," yes?
No. How could they - a complete stranger to the work - possibly know such
esoterica?
I wouldn't consider it esoteric if it's included in the program, which it should be. And even if producers and audiences have stopped thinking about the Ring as a festival taking place over "three days with a preliminary evening," I would still consider that structure integral to the work, and thus integral to understanding it.
Post by Bert Coules
Post by REP
And that same stranger, properly informed
about the work's history...
But if so informed they wouldn't be a stranger any more, would they? I was
talking about someone coming entirely new to the work and seeing it in the
theatre with no prior knowledge whatsoever beyond the hypothetical "who's
the main character?" answers.
But is that hypothetical stranger really the intended audience, either by Wagner's standards or our own? They sound awfully disadvantaged to me, going into Der Ring without the benefit of so much as a program. I would liken them to a reader who is reading a botched printing of a novel that lacks chapter breaks and headings -- someone who doesn't even know where the prologue ends and the novel begins. Such a person might have a unique perspective on things, but they hardly represent the ideal audience.

REP
Bert Coules
2016-05-27 09:40:47 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by REP
But is that hypothetical stranger really the
intended audience, either by Wagner's
standards or our own?
I don't understand the concept of "the intended audience".
Post by REP
They sound awfully disadvantaged to me...
Because they have no prior knowledge of the piece? That's an entirely
legitimate and valuable way for any work of art to be experienced.
Mike Scott Rohan
2016-05-28 18:22:53 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Bert Coules
Post by REP
But is that hypothetical stranger really the
intended audience, either by Wagner's
standards or our own?
I don't understand the concept of "the intended audience".
I see what he means, I think, and broadly speaking I agree. Wagner was not addressing complete "tabula rasa" audiences, if such things could be. He expected his audience to consist largely of educated people of his own era. He would expect such an audience to have at least some knowledge of his mythological sources, in particular Germanic mythology -- rightly so, in Germany certainly but also in most European countries at the time. And if some didn't, it was up to them to find out; he certainly wasn't going to spoonfeed them.
Post by Bert Coules
Post by REP
They sound awfully disadvantaged to me...
Because they have no prior knowledge of the piece? That's an entirely
legitimate and valuable way for any work of art to be experienced.
There's a lot to be said for the innocent eye (or ear) in art of all kinds; but a truly innocent eye is quite rare. Influences, jokes, remarks, reviews, received ideas all help to shape our response to something before we actually experience it, And there is as much or more to be said for the informed eye. You may not have heard the music before, but if you know even a little about what Norse gods were, valkyries, giants (in the Norse sense), and so on, you will get that much more out of the Ring. With opera you can be innocent on one level, and still informed on another.

Cheers,

Mike
REP
2016-05-28 20:46:38 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Bert Coules
Post by REP
But is that hypothetical stranger really the
intended audience, either by Wagner's
standards or our own?
I don't understand the concept of "the intended audience".
I see what he means, I think, and broadly speaking I agree. Wagner was not addressing complete "tabula rasa" audiences, if such things could be. He expected his audience to consist largely of educated people of his own era. He would expect such an audience to have at least some knowledge of his mythological sources, in particular Germanic mythology -- rightly so, in Germany certainly but also in most European countries at the time. And if some didn't, it was up to them to find out; he certainly wasn't going to spoonfeed them.
That level of understanding is more involved than what I was thinking. The question I would pose to Bert is: Is a work's title and subtitle part of the work itself? In other words, do you need to know that you're watching "The Bicycle Thieves" in order to fully experience that movie? I would argue that you do, and that the Ring's structure as "a three-day festival preceded by a preliminary evening" is just as integral to experiencing that work.

It might seem jarring to our 21st-century brains, but all 19th-century art tended to be presented with its structure prominently featured alongside the title. Look at the title page of any 19th-century opera score, for example, and you'll see "An opera in three acts," or some-such, right below the title. The only reason we don't think of the Ring as "a three-day festival preceded by a preliminary evening" is because we're living in an age that has largely dispensed with form and structure.
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Bert Coules
Post by REP
They sound awfully disadvantaged to me...
Because they have no prior knowledge of the piece? That's an entirely
legitimate and valuable way for any work of art to be experienced.
There's a lot to be said for the innocent eye (or ear) in art of all kinds; but a truly innocent eye is quite rare. Influences, jokes, remarks, reviews, received ideas all help to shape our response to something before we actually experience it, And there is as much or more to be said for the informed eye. You may not have heard the music before, but if you know even a little about what Norse gods were, valkyries, giants (in the Norse sense), and so on, you will get that much more out of the Ring. With opera you can be innocent on one level, and still informed on another.
Indeed. The average audience brings more assumptions to a work of art than I can possibly list here. If you don't believe me, then try going to a performance of Der Ring and having a conversation about it afterwards with a 1-year-old. Start listing off all the reasons why that's not possible and you begin to understand that art is experienced through a lens of experiences gathered over a lifetime. There is no "uninformed" and "informed" audience, just a spectrum along those hypothetical poles. And everyone draws their own lines along that spectrum, whether they are aware of it or not.

REP
Mike Scott Rohan
2016-05-25 23:58:36 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Jay Kauffman
This was sent to me by a friend who just saw the Washington Gotterdammerung - would love to have other thoughts and ideas
Who is the main character of the Ring, and how would do we define ‘main character”?
There is no truly reliable answer to such a question, and in fact the ‘answer’ to any such question changes over time and with culture expectations.
The main character is often said to be the character that appears the most frequently, or who carries the most significant dramatic ‘valence’, but even with such a criterion, the attribution is not stable.
In Don Giovanni, until the 20th century, Zerlina was thought of as the main female character.
Is it possible that the main character in the Ring in not Brunnhilde, or Wotan, each of whom only appear in various parts of three of the operas?
Perhaps the major character is whom “reason” might suggest it is: the title character, the Ring itself, and more generally the gold.
Isn’t the Ring itself the silent but ever-present protagonist?
It is not merely an object to be acted upon – it is a subject which transforms its objects.
Or perhaps it is one half of a subject: is that subject the Nibelungs, or the Rhinemaidens, or the Rhine?
I ask this because at the moment of the appearance of the Gibichungs, the opera makes a very strange turn.
Who are these people, and what are they doing in an opera of gods and demi-gods and anti-gods?
There are precedents for the Gibichungs in the Prose Saga, for example, and even in earlier sources, but their appearance in the Wagner narrative, so late, is essentially discontinuous; a major plot, setting, and character elements come from ‘nowhere’ after perhaps 14 hours of music and intermission.
I think that that they represent the Germany of Wagner’s time.
They are all in fact various kinds of half-breeds.
Hagan, who is the only character with a direct connection to the earlier story is, I believe, the assimilated foreigner who should not have been assimilated. He is half brother to Gunther, but his blood is not sufficiently noble for him to take an oath. He is cunning and crafty and vengeful.
Gunther espouses occasionally more lofty sentiments, but he is pusillanimous and perhaps unintelligent.
Gutrune and Gunther are desperate to refresh their blood lines, but they cannot. In a sense, they are like the Gods with the apples of youth. For them, Siegfried and then Brunnhilde, descendants of a god-like and imperial past, are the keys to that regeneration.
Siegfried and Gunther become blood brothers, but this degrades Siegfried; it does not elevate Gunther.
At this point, Siegfried can now ‘assume’ the guise of Gunther through the Tarnhelm. A demi-god has agreed to become a half-brother to a half-breed.
But what is the Tarnhelm?
Without the Rheingold, this would be the first moment in perhaps 11 hours in which we would have heard of it. And there is very little in the way of precedent in the sources for such an element.
In Rheingold we see it as a magical element to explain the ability of Alberich to be captured, but despite it impressive powers of transformation of place and identity, it is otherwise ignored. Will it be thrown back into the Rhine at the end, or simply forgotten about again?
At this point (that is, the blood-brotherhood of Siegfried and Gunther) its significance may itself be transformed – it is the embodiment of the notion of the ‘shape-shifter’: it is thus precisely the embodiment of the accusations which Wagner made against Jews – they had no identity of their own, and no place of their own, and destroyed societies of genuine peoples with their infiltration and adaptation of their ‘hosts, not simply by their/our presence, but most seriously by polluting the standards of the host people.
And yet it is in this context that Siegfried assumes the appearance of Gunther, or tries to. Even the ideals of the German society have been seduced by the Tarnhelm of the hated foreigner.
The infiltration proceeds ever upward, to Brunnhilde, who is herself is contaminated by her abduction from the Fire; she is now as vengeful and cunning in her own way as Hagan and Alberich ever were.
And so the world must be destroyed, according to Wagner, not just the world of the Gods, but the entire world, because all has become degraded.
Watching this Ring, I wondered about other glosses directors might give to the story. For example, perhaps a Kennedy Ring: Joseph Kennedy as Wotan/Wanderer, Rose as Fricka, Joseph Jr. as Siegmund (and of course Rosemary as Sieglinde), with JFK as Siegfried (as this not what the Germans called him when he told them he was, indeed, a German pastry?) and Jacqueline as our Brunnhilde. Ted and Robert as Hagan and Gunther (you can take your choice). I will let you work out the Texas contingent for yourself.
But ultimately I do not think The Ring Cycle is about ‘mercantilism’ or capitalism or power - it is the story of the need to restore the primitive and pure German spirit, a prefiguration, in a sense, of a Heigdeggerian spirit of the German people, to the 'natural' German people.
“My” Ring does not suggest that Wagner was merely an anti-Semite. He was a savior too good for his own people, and if Jewish and other foreign cultures in all of their various guises and disguises were the problem, they were a problem which had been fully and fatally absorbed by the German people and society itself, iredeemably, other than through the salvation of destruction and purification.
In this way, I wonder indeed how thoroughly the ethos of Wagner, who mediated the cultural beliefs of his time, and in particular that of Schopenhauer, really did infiltrate the spirit of the Germany of the Reich. Perhaps far more than we admit.
One question: after World War I, with the catastrophic loss, the Right created the idea that Germany had been ‘stabbed in the back’. I wonder where such a phrase came from in this context. Was it merely a figure of speech, meant to incite hatred and deflect responsibility, or was it a deliberate attempt by those who propagated this accusation to link by association the fate of Germany to the fate of Siegfried? I would be curious to know.
Whew! There's a lot here, Jay, and as an argument it's both imaginative and coherent. I'm rather glad I didn't come up against you in court. Which is not to say that I agree with most of it, 'cos I don't. So there. But it has a lot going for it, and I don't think I can refute it all in one post, especially after midnight. For the moment I'll just slip in one subversive thought, and then turn to the main question about the central character. Subversive thought:

The Gibichungs are not "introduced". It's everything else that is. They were there from the beginning, because that's the order in which Wagner created the Ring narrative. "Siegfried's Tod" is essentially hero meets Gibichungs, and for all the stories about Siegfried's youth, that is also the core of Wagner's sources. In a sense, that's their role. The perfect hero meets the imperfect everyday men, generating tragedy? Perhaps.

Likewise, the Tarnhelm, mutatis mutandis, belongs to this part of the tale; Rheingold is merely Wagner's version of its origin. And it does appear throughout the two intervening operas, as much as Wotan is present in Gotterdammerung -- as an influence, because it allows Fafner to guard the hoard against any normal attempt to regain it. But it also takes it out of use, because otherwise there wouldn't be much plot --someone could simply sneak up invisible and stab the dragon in the back (as Tolkien originally imagined Bilbo doing in The Hobbit).

Okay, central character. I'd suggest strongly that it's Wotan, for two main reasons; but it isn't *only* Wotan, for the same reasons. First, the Ring is his tragedy more than any other, he is literally the protagonist, the tragic hero in the Greek sense (by which Wagner was of course influenced). He is pulled down from his innate greatness -- his idealism -- by his faults, but also by his finest quality, his ability to love. Alberich is the force of darkness and lovelessness, the villain, so not tragic. Siegfried is a blithely unknowing pawn, blinded by his innate heroic qualities, so while his fall is tragic, it's also external. Brunnhilde is almost equally unknowing, driven blindly at first by love, reckless of consequences, and then by hate, ditto; only afterwards does she come to understand, and only fully at the end.

So why not *only* Wotan? Because like everything else in the Ring, he reflects and evolves. Wotan is indeed central, but Alberich is his dark reflection, the dark mirror of his ambition and love; hence Wotan referring to himself antithetically as "Licht-Alberich", for example, and Hagen invoking him in the Revenge Trio as Gunther and Brunnhilde invoke Wotan.

Brunnhilde is Wotan's finest, nost sensitive and loving nature, arguably his feminine side, split off from him, and Siegfried, as the eye-reference in Act III Siegfried suggests, is his finer "masculine" side, powerful, heroic, whose instinctive morality is untroubled by raisons d'etat and similar worldly considerations, and hence appears somewhat ruthless. Brunnhilde and Siegfried are at least partially Wotan's avatars, as Hagen is of Alberich; in each case the original character's life has flowed into them, and in Gotterdammerung Alberich appears only in Hagen's vision, and Wotan in the instant of his destruction.

Thus, while there are four principal characters, and the other three are independent, they are also, often quite explicitly, aspects of the protagonist. Again, it may pay to look back at Greek tragedies like the Oresteia. This cycle has many protagonists, but they all revolve to a greater or lesser extent around Agamemnon, of whom Orestes and Elektra are something like avatars. And it's been remarked by Newman among others that the end of the first play Agamemnon, in which Clytemnaestra and Aegisthus stride proudly into the palace above the warning chanting of the Chorus, strongly anticipates the end of Rheingold.

OK, that's my ten cents worth -- bedtime.

Cheers,

Mike
Jay Kauffman
2016-05-26 02:55:08 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Jay Kauffman
This was sent to me by a friend who just saw the Washington Gotterdammerung - would love to have other thoughts and ideas
Who is the main character of the Ring, and how would do we define ‘main character”?
There is no truly reliable answer to such a question, and in fact the ‘answer’ to any such question changes over time and with culture expectations.
The main character is often said to be the character that appears the most frequently, or who carries the most significant dramatic ‘valence’, but even with such a criterion, the attribution is not stable.
In Don Giovanni, until the 20th century, Zerlina was thought of as the main female character.
Is it possible that the main character in the Ring in not Brunnhilde, or Wotan, each of whom only appear in various parts of three of the operas?
Perhaps the major character is whom “reason” might suggest it is: the title character, the Ring itself, and more generally the gold.
Isn’t the Ring itself the silent but ever-present protagonist?
It is not merely an object to be acted upon – it is a subject which transforms its objects.
Or perhaps it is one half of a subject: is that subject the Nibelungs, or the Rhinemaidens, or the Rhine?
I ask this because at the moment of the appearance of the Gibichungs, the opera makes a very strange turn.
Who are these people, and what are they doing in an opera of gods and demi-gods and anti-gods?
There are precedents for the Gibichungs in the Prose Saga, for example, and even in earlier sources, but their appearance in the Wagner narrative, so late, is essentially discontinuous; a major plot, setting, and character elements come from ‘nowhere’ after perhaps 14 hours of music and intermission.
I think that that they represent the Germany of Wagner’s time.
They are all in fact various kinds of half-breeds.
Hagan, who is the only character with a direct connection to the earlier story is, I believe, the assimilated foreigner who should not have been assimilated. He is half brother to Gunther, but his blood is not sufficiently noble for him to take an oath. He is cunning and crafty and vengeful.
Gunther espouses occasionally more lofty sentiments, but he is pusillanimous and perhaps unintelligent.
Gutrune and Gunther are desperate to refresh their blood lines, but they cannot. In a sense, they are like the Gods with the apples of youth. For them, Siegfried and then Brunnhilde, descendants of a god-like and imperial past, are the keys to that regeneration.
Siegfried and Gunther become blood brothers, but this degrades Siegfried; it does not elevate Gunther.
At this point, Siegfried can now ‘assume’ the guise of Gunther through the Tarnhelm. A demi-god has agreed to become a half-brother to a half-breed.
But what is the Tarnhelm?
Without the Rheingold, this would be the first moment in perhaps 11 hours in which we would have heard of it. And there is very little in the way of precedent in the sources for such an element.
In Rheingold we see it as a magical element to explain the ability of Alberich to be captured, but despite it impressive powers of transformation of place and identity, it is otherwise ignored. Will it be thrown back into the Rhine at the end, or simply forgotten about again?
At this point (that is, the blood-brotherhood of Siegfried and Gunther) its significance may itself be transformed – it is the embodiment of the notion of the ‘shape-shifter’: it is thus precisely the embodiment of the accusations which Wagner made against Jews – they had no identity of their own, and no place of their own, and destroyed societies of genuine peoples with their infiltration and adaptation of their ‘hosts, not simply by their/our presence, but most seriously by polluting the standards of the host people.
And yet it is in this context that Siegfried assumes the appearance of Gunther, or tries to. Even the ideals of the German society have been seduced by the Tarnhelm of the hated foreigner.
The infiltration proceeds ever upward, to Brunnhilde, who is herself is contaminated by her abduction from the Fire; she is now as vengeful and cunning in her own way as Hagan and Alberich ever were.
And so the world must be destroyed, according to Wagner, not just the world of the Gods, but the entire world, because all has become degraded.
Watching this Ring, I wondered about other glosses directors might give to the story. For example, perhaps a Kennedy Ring: Joseph Kennedy as Wotan/Wanderer, Rose as Fricka, Joseph Jr. as Siegmund (and of course Rosemary as Sieglinde), with JFK as Siegfried (as this not what the Germans called him when he told them he was, indeed, a German pastry?) and Jacqueline as our Brunnhilde. Ted and Robert as Hagan and Gunther (you can take your choice). I will let you work out the Texas contingent for yourself.
But ultimately I do not think The Ring Cycle is about ‘mercantilism’ or capitalism or power - it is the story of the need to restore the primitive and pure German spirit, a prefiguration, in a sense, of a Heigdeggerian spirit of the German people, to the 'natural' German people.
“My” Ring does not suggest that Wagner was merely an anti-Semite. He was a savior too good for his own people, and if Jewish and other foreign cultures in all of their various guises and disguises were the problem, they were a problem which had been fully and fatally absorbed by the German people and society itself, iredeemably, other than through the salvation of destruction and purification.
In this way, I wonder indeed how thoroughly the ethos of Wagner, who mediated the cultural beliefs of his time, and in particular that of Schopenhauer, really did infiltrate the spirit of the Germany of the Reich. Perhaps far more than we admit.
One question: after World War I, with the catastrophic loss, the Right created the idea that Germany had been ‘stabbed in the back’. I wonder where such a phrase came from in this context. Was it merely a figure of speech, meant to incite hatred and deflect responsibility, or was it a deliberate attempt by those who propagated this accusation to link by association the fate of Germany to the fate of Siegfried? I would be curious to know.
The Gibichungs are not "introduced". It's everything else that is. They were there from the beginning, because that's the order in which Wagner created the Ring narrative. "Siegfried's Tod" is essentially hero meets Gibichungs, and for all the stories about Siegfried's youth, that is also the core of Wagner's sources. In a sense, that's their role. The perfect hero meets the imperfect everyday men, generating tragedy? Perhaps.
Likewise, the Tarnhelm, mutatis mutandis, belongs to this part of the tale; Rheingold is merely Wagner's version of its origin. And it does appear throughout the two intervening operas, as much as Wotan is present in Gotterdammerung -- as an influence, because it allows Fafner to guard the hoard against any normal attempt to regain it. But it also takes it out of use, because otherwise there wouldn't be much plot --someone could simply sneak up invisible and stab the dragon in the back (as Tolkien originally imagined Bilbo doing in The Hobbit).
Okay, central character. I'd suggest strongly that it's Wotan, for two main reasons; but it isn't *only* Wotan, for the same reasons. First, the Ring is his tragedy more than any other, he is literally the protagonist, the tragic hero in the Greek sense (by which Wagner was of course influenced). He is pulled down from his innate greatness -- his idealism -- by his faults, but also by his finest quality, his ability to love. Alberich is the force of darkness and lovelessness, the villain, so not tragic. Siegfried is a blithely unknowing pawn, blinded by his innate heroic qualities, so while his fall is tragic, it's also external. Brunnhilde is almost equally unknowing, driven blindly at first by love, reckless of consequences, and then by hate, ditto; only afterwards does she come to understand, and only fully at the end.
So why not *only* Wotan? Because like everything else in the Ring, he reflects and evolves. Wotan is indeed central, but Alberich is his dark reflection, the dark mirror of his ambition and love; hence Wotan referring to himself antithetically as "Licht-Alberich", for example, and Hagen invoking him in the Revenge Trio as Gunther and Brunnhilde invoke Wotan.
Brunnhilde is Wotan's finest, nost sensitive and loving nature, arguably his feminine side, split off from him, and Siegfried, as the eye-reference in Act III Siegfried suggests, is his finer "masculine" side, powerful, heroic, whose instinctive morality is untroubled by raisons d'etat and similar worldly considerations, and hence appears somewhat ruthless. Brunnhilde and Siegfried are at least partially Wotan's avatars, as Hagen is of Alberich; in each case the original character's life has flowed into them, and in Gotterdammerung Alberich appears only in Hagen's vision, and Wotan in the instant of his destruction.
Thus, while there are four principal characters, and the other three are independent, they are also, often quite explicitly, aspects of the protagonist. Again, it may pay to look back at Greek tragedies like the Oresteia. This cycle has many protagonists, but they all revolve to a greater or lesser extent around Agamemnon, of whom Orestes and Elektra are something like avatars. And it's been remarked by Newman among others that the end of the first play Agamemnon, in which Clytemnaestra and Aegisthus stride proudly into the palace above the warning chanting of the Chorus, strongly anticipates the end of Rheingold.
OK, that's my ten cents worth -- bedtime.
Cheers,
Mike
Mike actually it was sent to me by a friend and I wanted your expertise. best Jay
Mike Scott Rohan
2016-05-26 20:45:27 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Jay Kauffman
Mike actually it was sent to me by a friend and I wanted your expertise. best Jay
Ah, right, that explains it. I thought you might be planting a few squibs to stimulate discussion. Your friend, as I said, has constructed a pretty clever vision of the Ring, but despite its consistency, I feel it's very wrong -- because, principally, it's based on a view of Wagner which the Nazis themselves propagated, and which was, understandably, turned against him after the war and the Holocaust. The shock and evil of that was so great that anything which carried the slightest association was inevitably tainted by it, especially in the popular eye, whether or not the evidence in fact supported it. To deal with this for your friend, I'll have to retrace ground we've already gone over in much greater detail here, and not so much refute every individual point he makes, as to suggest that he's starting from just those basic post-war misapprehensions -- accepting, in fact, what the Nazis wanted him to believe. He's not alone in that, but I think most of us here -- where there's no shortage of expert opinions beyond mine -- would agree it's wrong.

The idea that the Gibichungs "represent" the German people or anything else, or that Gunther and Gutrune "are desperate to refresh bloodlines", or that the whole thing's about half-breeds, all sounded decidely a bit Guttmannesque for you -- or Barry Millingtonesque. Their fundamental error is to assume that Wagner's anti-semitic beliefs were as primary or central to him as they were to many others, the Nazis in particular,and that in the Ring he was primarily writing some kind of allegory to embody them, so that there has to be some kind of meaning to the story he tells. In fact his racial beliefs were neither consistent to his character nor central to his thought. Millington in particular chooses to take Wagner's prose writings as part of a consistent and profoundly calculated thought pattern equal to his operas, but this is hard to support -- from the amount to which Wagner changed his mind about issues, for example, or the lack of consistency between his words and his behaviour, the one bigoted, the other quite the opposite, or the simple fact that he's a great composer and a lousy writer.

In truth he was not particularly concerned with things like pure blood or racial purity -- as has been established here, he was well aware the German people were a racial mix, for example, and he did not regard blacks as inferiors, opposing slavery and hoping for a Northern victory in the US Civil War. His anti-semitism, while unquestionably nasty bigotry, was more cultural than racial, and it was not important enough to shape the works most crucial to him. his music dramas, in any central way. Attempts have been made to "decode" it, as we know, but Wagner, who published and republished an outspoken rant like Judaism in Music, was neither inclined to encode things nor saw the need to; and the decodings are mostly of the level that "prove" Bacon or the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare, or revelations like the Da Vinci Code.

So, what he was chiefly concerned with was not point-by-point allegory, like the Pilgrim's Progress, but the archetypal power of myths, which he synthesized and retold with touches of philosophy, moral and political, and with a nationalist flavour which referred chiefly to a desire to see Germany re-united. Consequently you will have to resort to Dan Brown techniques to find anything anti-semitic in Fliegende Hollander, Tannhauser, Lohengrin, or Tristan. Their villains and other evil powers stem from within the same worlds as their protagonists, and are often just as Germanic. Orteud in Lohengrin is a pagan, but couldn't possibly be interpreted as an outside; in fact she's about as "ur-Germanic" as they come (far more so than the hero) a worshipper of the gods of the Ring, Wotan and Freia. In Tannhauser Venus, apart from being divine, has been misinterpreted as representing exotic foreignness as opposed to the pure heroine, but this is rubbish; as in the original myth, she's quite explicitly a Latinized name for the old Germanic love-goddess Holda -- also called Freia. In fact, in Tannhauser Wagner chose to write out the magician Klingsor of the original myth, who would have been a perfect outlandish "Jewish" villain opposed to the Germanic knights; but instead he made Tannhauser's opponents those very knights themselves. In fact, if anyone resembles the rootless, wandering, emotionally and artistically conflicted stereotype of the Jew, it's Tannhauser himself, who is very much the tragic hero. But dogmatic Wagner-as-proto-Nazi interpreters conveniently ignore or gloss over all of these which don't support their assertions, to concentrate on the few that just might. Not always much more successfully, mind you; you can only get "evidence" of anti-semitism into Meistersinger by assuming that an audience will automatically and without the slightest hint interpret a 16th-century German town clerk as a Jew -- a historical impossibility they would have been well aware of. In fact Beckmesser is as German as Meistersinger's hero -- just a pure-blooded German twit.

So it's chiefly the Ring that comes in for this kind of stick -- partly because many of these hostile interpreters are neither very well informed nor care to become so, and it's the easiest one to get to know -- and of course Parsifal, of which more later. But there is absolutely nothing fundamentally anti-semitic about the Ring, either; if you didn't already know it was created by an anti-semite, you would never detect anything. That's not to say there may not be touches of it here and there, but again you have to be careful; appearances can be misleading. To pre-primed minds the Nibelungs can suggest Jewish caricatures, and there is some mention of Wagner suggesting "Jewish" gestures for Mime. QED? Not so simple. The Nibelungs, with their dark characters and love of gold, are not Wagner's creations, but straight representations of Norse mythical creatures, amplified but undistorted; and Wagner on more than one occasion, with his small stature and large head, wryly identified himself with Mime. Not what he would have done with a Jewish stereotype. In one point your friend is unquestionably right; the example of Hagen with his sluggish mixed blood etc, does reflect some prejudice against misegenation -- but is it anti-semetic? Hagen's father isn't human, after all, and in his evil Hagen hardly fits the devious, weak anti-Jewish stereotype. We're told he's strong, if not quite as strong as Siegfried, he's undoubtedly bold and commanding -- a lot more like the brutal Germanic stereotype, in fact, as is the ruthless Hagen of Wagner's sources.

Parsifal, though, is a special case. Undoubtedly Wagner's concept of the rootless Jew is an aspect of his heroine Kundry, deeply wishing to be good and redeemed, compelled to evil against her will and frantically striving to atone for it. But Parsifal is, not a Christian opera, but an opera *about* medieval Christianity, and this image of Jews derives as much from that as from Wagner's own prejudices; no doubt he found it congenial, but equally he softened the medieval stereotype. Even among the rantings of Judenthum his ideal for the Jews is not persecution but assimilation, and this is reflected in Kundry's acceptance by Gurnemanz and Parsifal, and final "easeful death". Which isn't terribly flattering to Jews, but no worse than most early 19th-century Christians would have come up with, and certainly a lot better than you-know-who.

The moral's simple, therefore. Armed with preconceptions one can sniff out antisemitism under every stone in Wagner's music-dramas, but the actual evidence for it, as opposed to assumptions, doesn't amount to a hill of beans-- unless, that is, you view it through Nazi-coloured goggles. But that's to swallow self-serving Nazi inclusivism whole, and ignore, as they did, all the contrary evidence. Nowhere did Wagner say, explicitly or implicitly, that he was creating works that were supposed to be interpreted in this way, and everything he did --working with Jewish assistants, conductors and impresarios, many of whom were close friends, for example -- suggests otherwise. His anti-semitism was a nasty scum on the surface of a much more profound pool.

If you knew nothing of Wagner's occasional bilious outbursts, you'd think the Ring, along with all the other operas, had been written by a great humanitarian, for whom love was the highest value. Wagner actually did have much of that in him, and without that his music-dramas could not possibly have the stature they do. He had worse as well, but it wasn't so bad as it can be made to look, through those goggles. As has been said before, if the Nazis had genuinely been influenced by Wagner, nobody Jewish would have suffered worse than a mild insult, if that.

Best to your friend!

Cheers,

Mike
Jay Kauffman
2016-05-27 02:59:14 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Jay Kauffman
Mike actually it was sent to me by a friend and I wanted your expertise. best Jay
Ah, right, that explains it. I thought you might be planting a few squibs to stimulate discussion. Your friend, as I said, has constructed a pretty clever vision of the Ring, but despite its consistency, I feel it's very wrong -- because, principally, it's based on a view of Wagner which the Nazis themselves propagated, and which was, understandably, turned against him after the war and the Holocaust. The shock and evil of that was so great that anything which carried the slightest association was inevitably tainted by it, especially in the popular eye, whether or not the evidence in fact supported it. To deal with this for your friend, I'll have to retrace ground we've already gone over in much greater detail here, and not so much refute every individual point he makes, as to suggest that he's starting from just those basic post-war misapprehensions -- accepting, in fact, what the Nazis wanted him to believe. He's not alone in that, but I think most of us here -- where there's no shortage of expert opinions beyond mine -- would agree it's wrong.
The idea that the Gibichungs "represent" the German people or anything else, or that Gunther and Gutrune "are desperate to refresh bloodlines", or that the whole thing's about half-breeds, all sounded decidely a bit Guttmannesque for you -- or Barry Millingtonesque. Their fundamental error is to assume that Wagner's anti-semitic beliefs were as primary or central to him as they were to many others, the Nazis in particular,and that in the Ring he was primarily writing some kind of allegory to embody them, so that there has to be some kind of meaning to the story he tells. In fact his racial beliefs were neither consistent to his character nor central to his thought. Millington in particular chooses to take Wagner's prose writings as part of a consistent and profoundly calculated thought pattern equal to his operas, but this is hard to support -- from the amount to which Wagner changed his mind about issues, for example, or the lack of consistency between his words and his behaviour, the one bigoted, the other quite the opposite, or the simple fact that he's a great composer and a lousy writer.
In truth he was not particularly concerned with things like pure blood or racial purity -- as has been established here, he was well aware the German people were a racial mix, for example, and he did not regard blacks as inferiors, opposing slavery and hoping for a Northern victory in the US Civil War. His anti-semitism, while unquestionably nasty bigotry, was more cultural than racial, and it was not important enough to shape the works most crucial to him. his music dramas, in any central way. Attempts have been made to "decode" it, as we know, but Wagner, who published and republished an outspoken rant like Judaism in Music, was neither inclined to encode things nor saw the need to; and the decodings are mostly of the level that "prove" Bacon or the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare, or revelations like the Da Vinci Code.
So, what he was chiefly concerned with was not point-by-point allegory, like the Pilgrim's Progress, but the archetypal power of myths, which he synthesized and retold with touches of philosophy, moral and political, and with a nationalist flavour which referred chiefly to a desire to see Germany re-united. Consequently you will have to resort to Dan Brown techniques to find anything anti-semitic in Fliegende Hollander, Tannhauser, Lohengrin, or Tristan. Their villains and other evil powers stem from within the same worlds as their protagonists, and are often just as Germanic. Orteud in Lohengrin is a pagan, but couldn't possibly be interpreted as an outside; in fact she's about as "ur-Germanic" as they come (far more so than the hero) a worshipper of the gods of the Ring, Wotan and Freia. In Tannhauser Venus, apart from being divine, has been misinterpreted as representing exotic foreignness as opposed to the pure heroine, but this is rubbish; as in the original myth, she's quite explicitly a Latinized name for the old Germanic love-goddess Holda -- also called Freia. In fact, in Tannhauser Wagner chose to write out the magician Klingsor of the original myth, who would have been a perfect outlandish "Jewish" villain opposed to the Germanic knights; but instead he made Tannhauser's opponents those very knights themselves. In fact, if anyone resembles the rootless, wandering, emotionally and artistically conflicted stereotype of the Jew, it's Tannhauser himself, who is very much the tragic hero. But dogmatic Wagner-as-proto-Nazi interpreters conveniently ignore or gloss over all of these which don't support their assertions, to concentrate on the few that just might. Not always much more successfully, mind you; you can only get "evidence" of anti-semitism into Meistersinger by assuming that an audience will automatically and without the slightest hint interpret a 16th-century German town clerk as a Jew -- a historical impossibility they would have been well aware of. In fact Beckmesser is as German as Meistersinger's hero -- just a pure-blooded German twit.
So it's chiefly the Ring that comes in for this kind of stick -- partly because many of these hostile interpreters are neither very well informed nor care to become so, and it's the easiest one to get to know -- and of course Parsifal, of which more later. But there is absolutely nothing fundamentally anti-semitic about the Ring, either; if you didn't already know it was created by an anti-semite, you would never detect anything. That's not to say there may not be touches of it here and there, but again you have to be careful; appearances can be misleading. To pre-primed minds the Nibelungs can suggest Jewish caricatures, and there is some mention of Wagner suggesting "Jewish" gestures for Mime. QED? Not so simple. The Nibelungs, with their dark characters and love of gold, are not Wagner's creations, but straight representations of Norse mythical creatures, amplified but undistorted; and Wagner on more than one occasion, with his small stature and large head, wryly identified himself with Mime. Not what he would have done with a Jewish stereotype. In one point your friend is unquestionably right; the example of Hagen with his sluggish mixed blood etc, does reflect some prejudice against misegenation -- but is it anti-semetic? Hagen's father isn't human, after all, and in his evil Hagen hardly fits the devious, weak anti-Jewish stereotype. We're told he's strong, if not quite as strong as Siegfried, he's undoubtedly bold and commanding -- a lot more like the brutal Germanic stereotype, in fact, as is the ruthless Hagen of Wagner's sources.
Parsifal, though, is a special case. Undoubtedly Wagner's concept of the rootless Jew is an aspect of his heroine Kundry, deeply wishing to be good and redeemed, compelled to evil against her will and frantically striving to atone for it. But Parsifal is, not a Christian opera, but an opera *about* medieval Christianity, and this image of Jews derives as much from that as from Wagner's own prejudices; no doubt he found it congenial, but equally he softened the medieval stereotype. Even among the rantings of Judenthum his ideal for the Jews is not persecution but assimilation, and this is reflected in Kundry's acceptance by Gurnemanz and Parsifal, and final "easeful death". Which isn't terribly flattering to Jews, but no worse than most early 19th-century Christians would have come up with, and certainly a lot better than you-know-who.
The moral's simple, therefore. Armed with preconceptions one can sniff out antisemitism under every stone in Wagner's music-dramas, but the actual evidence for it, as opposed to assumptions, doesn't amount to a hill of beans-- unless, that is, you view it through Nazi-coloured goggles. But that's to swallow self-serving Nazi inclusivism whole, and ignore, as they did, all the contrary evidence. Nowhere did Wagner say, explicitly or implicitly, that he was creating works that were supposed to be interpreted in this way, and everything he did --working with Jewish assistants, conductors and impresarios, many of whom were close friends, for example -- suggests otherwise. His anti-semitism was a nasty scum on the surface of a much more profound pool.
If you knew nothing of Wagner's occasional bilious outbursts, you'd think the Ring, along with all the other operas, had been written by a great humanitarian, for whom love was the highest value. Wagner actually did have much of that in him, and without that his music-dramas could not possibly have the stature they do. He had worse as well, but it wasn't so bad as it can be made to look, through those goggles. As has been said before, if the Nazis had genuinely been influenced by Wagner, nobody Jewish would have suffered worse than a mild insult, if that.
Best to your friend!
Cheers,
Mike
Thanks so much - as I have said myself re: the alleged Jewish depictions in the Ring as part of a "coded" message to the audience from Wagner---if you knew nothing about Wagners writings or thoughts regarding Jews and came upon the Ring - I would defy anyone to think they were hearing anything regarding Jews an any way - not in Mime - not in Alberich not anywhere. Unfortuantely some famous writers have latched onto that idea and will not let go,. best as akways jay
Richard Partridge
2016-05-27 20:06:39 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Jay Kauffman
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Jay Kauffman
Mike actually it was sent to me by a friend and I wanted your expertise.
best Jay
Ah, right, that explains it. I thought you might be planting a few squibs to
stimulate discussion. Your friend, as I said, has constructed a pretty clever
vision of the Ring, but despite its consistency, I feel it's very wrong --
because, principally, it's based on a view of Wagner which the Nazis
themselves propagated, and which was, understandably, turned against him
after the war and the Holocaust. The shock and evil of that was so great that
anything which carried the slightest association was inevitably tainted by
it, especially in the popular eye, whether or not the evidence in fact
supported it. To deal with this for your friend, I'll have to retrace ground
we've already gone over in much greater detail here, and not so much refute
every individual point he makes, as to suggest that he's starting from just
those basic post-war misapprehensions -- accepting, in fact, what the Nazis
wanted him to believe. He's not alone in that, but I think most of us here --
where there's no shortage of expert opinions beyond mine -- would agree it's
wrong.
The idea that the Gibichungs "represent" the German people or anything else,
or that Gunther and Gutrune "are desperate to refresh bloodlines", or that
the whole thing's about half-breeds, all sounded decidely a bit Guttmannesque
for you -- or Barry Millingtonesque. Their fundamental error is to assume
that Wagner's anti-semitic beliefs were as primary or central to him as they
were to many others, the Nazis in particular,and that in the Ring he was
primarily writing some kind of allegory to embody them, so that there has to
be some kind of meaning to the story he tells. In fact his racial beliefs
were neither consistent to his character nor central to his thought.
Millington in particular chooses to take Wagner's prose writings as part of a
consistent and profoundly calculated thought pattern equal to his operas,
but this is hard to support -- from the amount to which Wagner changed his
mind about issues, for example, or the lack of consistency between his words
and his behaviour, the one bigoted, the other quite the opposite, or the
simple fact that he's a great composer and a lousy writer.
In truth he was not particularly concerned with things like pure blood or
racial purity -- as has been established here, he was well aware the German
people were a racial mix, for example, and he did not regard blacks as
inferiors, opposing slavery and hoping for a Northern victory in the US Civil
War. His anti-semitism, while unquestionably nasty bigotry, was more cultural
than racial, and it was not important enough to shape the works most crucial
to him. his music dramas, in any central way. Attempts have been made to
"decode" it, as we know, but Wagner, who published and republished an
outspoken rant like Judaism in Music, was neither inclined to encode things
nor saw the need to; and the decodings are mostly of the level that "prove"
Bacon or the Earl of Oxford wrote Shakespeare, or revelations like the Da
Vinci Code.
So, what he was chiefly concerned with was not point-by-point allegory, like
the Pilgrim's Progress, but the archetypal power of myths, which he
synthesized and retold with touches of philosophy, moral and political, and
with a nationalist flavour which referred chiefly to a desire to see Germany
re-united. Consequently you will have to resort to Dan Brown techniques to
find anything anti-semitic in Fliegende Hollander, Tannhauser, Lohengrin, or
Tristan. Their villains and other evil powers stem from within the same
worlds as their protagonists, and are often just as Germanic. Orteud in
Lohengrin is a pagan, but couldn't possibly be interpreted as an outside; in
fact she's about as "ur-Germanic" as they come (far more so than the hero) a
worshipper of the gods of the Ring, Wotan and Freia. In Tannhauser Venus,
apart from being divine, has been misinterpreted as representing exotic
foreignness as opposed to the pure heroine, but this is rubbish; as in the
original myth, she's quite explicitly a Latinized name for the old Germanic
love-goddess Holda -- also called Freia. In fact, in Tannhauser Wagner chose
to write out the magician Klingsor of the original myth, who would have been
a perfect outlandish "Jewish" villain opposed to the Germanic knights; but
instead he made Tannhauser's opponents those very knights themselves. In
fact, if anyone resembles the rootless, wandering, emotionally and
artistically conflicted stereotype of the Jew, it's Tannhauser himself, who
is very much the tragic hero. But dogmatic Wagner-as-proto-Nazi interpreters
conveniently ignore or gloss over all of these which don't support their
assertions, to concentrate on the few that just might. Not always much more
successfully, mind you; you can only get "evidence" of anti-semitism into
Meistersinger by assuming that an audience will automatically and without the
slightest hint interpret a 16th-century German town clerk as a Jew -- a
historical impossibility they would have been well aware of. In fact
Beckmesser is as German as Meistersinger's hero -- just a pure-blooded German
twit.
So it's chiefly the Ring that comes in for this kind of stick -- partly
because many of these hostile interpreters are neither very well informed nor
care to become so, and it's the easiest one to get to know -- and of course
Parsifal, of which more later. But there is absolutely nothing fundamentally
anti-semitic about the Ring, either; if you didn't already know it was
created by an anti-semite, you would never detect anything. That's not to say
there may not be touches of it here and there, but again you have to be
careful; appearances can be misleading. To pre-primed minds the Nibelungs can
suggest Jewish caricatures, and there is some mention of Wagner suggesting
"Jewish" gestures for Mime. QED? Not so simple. The Nibelungs, with their
dark characters and love of gold, are not Wagner's creations, but straight
representations of Norse mythical creatures, amplified but undistorted; and
Wagner on more than one occasion, with his small stature and large head,
wryly identified himself with Mime. Not what he would have done with a Jewish
stereotype. In one point your friend is unquestionably right; the example of
Hagen with his sluggish mixed blood etc, does reflect some prejudice against
misegenation -- but is it anti-semetic? Hagen's father isn't human, after
all, and in his evil Hagen hardly fits the devious, weak anti-Jewish
stereotype. We're told he's strong, if not quite as strong as Siegfried, he's
undoubtedly bold and commanding -- a lot more like the brutal Germanic
stereotype, in fact, as is the ruthless Hagen of Wagner's sources.
Parsifal, though, is a special case. Undoubtedly Wagner's concept of the
rootless Jew is an aspect of his heroine Kundry, deeply wishing to be good
and redeemed, compelled to evil against her will and frantically striving to
atone for it. But Parsifal is, not a Christian opera, but an opera *about*
medieval Christianity, and this image of Jews derives as much from that as
from Wagner's own prejudices; no doubt he found it congenial, but equally he
softened the medieval stereotype. Even among the rantings of Judenthum his
ideal for the Jews is not persecution but assimilation, and this is reflected
in Kundry's acceptance by Gurnemanz and Parsifal, and final "easeful death".
Which isn't terribly flattering to Jews, but no worse than most early
19th-century Christians would have come up with, and certainly a lot better
than you-know-who.
The moral's simple, therefore. Armed with preconceptions one can sniff out
antisemitism under every stone in Wagner's music-dramas, but the actual
evidence for it, as opposed to assumptions, doesn't amount to a hill of
beans-- unless, that is, you view it through Nazi-coloured goggles. But
that's to swallow self-serving Nazi inclusivism whole, and ignore, as they
did, all the contrary evidence. Nowhere did Wagner say, explicitly or
implicitly, that he was creating works that were supposed to be interpreted
in this way, and everything he did --working with Jewish assistants,
conductors and impresarios, many of whom were close friends, for example --
suggests otherwise. His anti-semitism was a nasty scum on the surface of a
much more profound pool.
If you knew nothing of Wagner's occasional bilious outbursts, you'd think the
Ring, along with all the other operas, had been written by a great
humanitarian, for whom love was the highest value. Wagner actually did have
much of that in him, and without that his music-dramas could not possibly
have the stature they do. He had worse as well, but it wasn't so bad as it
can be made to look, through those goggles. As has been said before, if the
Nazis had genuinely been influenced by Wagner, nobody Jewish would have
suffered worse than a mild insult, if that.
Best to your friend!
Cheers,
Mike
Thanks so much - as I have said myself re: the alleged Jewish depictions in
the Ring as part of a "coded" message to the audience from Wagner---if you
knew nothing about Wagners writings or thoughts regarding Jews and came upon
the Ring - I would defy anyone to think they were hearing anything regarding
Jews an any way - not in Mime - not in Alberich not anywhere. Unfortuantely
some famous writers have latched onto that idea and will not let go,. best as
akways jay
I think I've mentioned here before that my grandson took a music course at
Harvard that included study of Wagner's operas. He told me his ability to
enjoy Wagner's music was badly impaired by his knowledge of what a nasty,
prejudiced man Wagner had been, so brimming over with hatred of Jews.
That's what his instructor at Harvard taught him. I tried to disabuse him
of that wrong idea, but I don't know if I entirely succeeded.


Dick Partridge
Richard Partridge
2016-05-26 18:49:26 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
On 5/25/16 7:58 PM, Mike Scott Rohan, at
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Jay Kauffman
This was sent to me by a friend who just saw the Washington Gotterdammerung -
would love to have other thoughts and ideas
Who is the main character of the Ring, and how would do we define Œmain
character²?
There is no truly reliable answer to such a question, and in fact the
Œanswer¹ to any such question changes over time and with culture
expectations.
The main character is often said to be the character that appears the most
frequently, or who carries the most significant dramatic Œvalence¹, but even
with such a criterion, the attribution is not stable.
In Don Giovanni, until the 20th century, Zerlina was thought of as the main
female character.
Is it possible that the main character in the Ring in not Brunnhilde, or
Wotan, each of whom only appear in various parts of three of the operas?
Perhaps the major character is whom ³reason² might suggest it is: the title
character, the Ring itself, and more generally the gold.
Isn¹t the Ring itself the silent but ever-present protagonist?
It is not merely an object to be acted upon ­ it is a subject which
transforms its objects.
Or perhaps it is one half of a subject: is that subject the Nibelungs, or the
Rhinemaidens, or the Rhine?
I ask this because at the moment of the appearance of the Gibichungs, the
opera makes a very strange turn.
Who are these people, and what are they doing in an opera of gods and
demi-gods and anti-gods?
There are precedents for the Gibichungs in the Prose Saga, for example, and
even in earlier sources, but their appearance in the Wagner narrative, so
late, is essentially discontinuous; a major plot, setting, and character
elements come from Œnowhere¹ after perhaps 14 hours of music and
intermission.
I think that that they represent the Germany of Wagner¹s time.
They are all in fact various kinds of half-breeds.
Hagan, who is the only character with a direct connection to the earlier
story is, I believe, the assimilated foreigner who should not have been
assimilated. He is half brother to Gunther, but his blood is not sufficiently
noble for him to take an oath. He is cunning and crafty and vengeful.
Gunther espouses occasionally more lofty sentiments, but he is pusillanimous
and perhaps unintelligent.
Gutrune and Gunther are desperate to refresh their blood lines, but they
cannot. In a sense, they are like the Gods with the apples of youth. For
them, Siegfried and then Brunnhilde, descendants of a god-like and imperial
past, are the keys to that regeneration.
Siegfried and Gunther become blood brothers, but this degrades Siegfried; it
does not elevate Gunther.
At this point, Siegfried can now Œassume¹ the guise of Gunther through the
Tarnhelm. A demi-god has agreed to become a half-brother to a half-breed.
But what is the Tarnhelm?
Without the Rheingold, this would be the first moment in perhaps 11 hours in
which we would have heard of it. And there is very little in the way of
precedent in the sources for such an element.
In Rheingold we see it as a magical element to explain the ability of
Alberich to be captured, but despite it impressive powers of transformation
of place and identity, it is otherwise ignored. Will it be thrown back into
the Rhine at the end, or simply forgotten about again?
At this point (that is, the blood-brotherhood of Siegfried and Gunther) its
significance may itself be transformed ­ it is the embodiment of the notion
of the Œshape-shifter¹: it is thus precisely the embodiment of the
accusations which Wagner made against Jews ­ they had no identity of their
own, and no place of their own, and destroyed societies of genuine peoples
with their infiltration and adaptation of their Œhosts, not simply by
their/our presence, but most seriously by polluting the standards of the host
people.
And yet it is in this context that Siegfried assumes the appearance of
Gunther, or tries to. Even the ideals of the German society have been seduced
by the Tarnhelm of the hated foreigner.
The infiltration proceeds ever upward, to Brunnhilde, who is herself is
contaminated by her abduction from the Fire; she is now as vengeful and
cunning in her own way as Hagan and Alberich ever were.
And so the world must be destroyed, according to Wagner, not just the world
of the Gods, but the entire world, because all has become degraded.
Watching this Ring, I wondered about other glosses directors might give to
the story. For example, perhaps a Kennedy Ring: Joseph Kennedy as
Wotan/Wanderer, Rose as Fricka, Joseph Jr. as Siegmund (and of course
Rosemary as Sieglinde), with JFK as Siegfried (as this not what the Germans
called him when he told them he was, indeed, a German pastry?) and Jacqueline
as our Brunnhilde. Ted and Robert as Hagan and Gunther (you can take your
choice). I will let you work out the Texas contingent for yourself.
But ultimately I do not think The Ring Cycle is about Œmercantilism¹ or
capitalism or power - it is the story of the need to restore the primitive
and pure German spirit, a prefiguration, in a sense, of a Heigdeggerian
spirit of the German people, to the 'natural' German people.
³My² Ring does not suggest that Wagner was merely an anti-Semite. He was a
savior too good for his own people, and if Jewish and other foreign cultures
in all of their various guises and disguises were the problem, they were a
problem which had been fully and fatally absorbed by the German people and
society itself, iredeemably, other than through the salvation of destruction
and purification.
In this way, I wonder indeed how thoroughly the ethos of Wagner, who mediated
the cultural beliefs of his time, and in particular that of Schopenhauer,
really did infiltrate the spirit of the Germany of the Reich. Perhaps far
more than we admit.
One question: after World War I, with the catastrophic loss, the Right
created the idea that Germany had been Œstabbed in the back¹. I wonder where
such a phrase came from in this context. Was it merely a figure of speech,
meant to incite hatred and deflect responsibility, or was it a deliberate
attempt by those who propagated this accusation to link by association the
fate of Germany to the fate of Siegfried? I would be curious to know.
Whew! There's a lot here, Jay, and as an argument it's both imaginative and
coherent. I'm rather glad I didn't come up against you in court. Which is not
to say that I agree with most of it, 'cos I don't. So there. But it has a lot
going for it, and I don't think I can refute it all in one post, especially
after midnight. For the moment I'll just slip in one subversive thought, and
then turn to the main question about the central character. Subversive
The Gibichungs are not "introduced". It's everything else that is. They were
there from the beginning, because that's the order in which Wagner created the
Ring narrative. "Siegfried's Tod" is essentially hero meets Gibichungs, and
for all the stories about Siegfried's youth, that is also the core of Wagner's
sources. In a sense, that's their role. The perfect hero meets the imperfect
everyday men, generating tragedy? Perhaps.
Likewise, the Tarnhelm, mutatis mutandis, belongs to this part of the tale;
Rheingold is merely Wagner's version of its origin. And it does appear
throughout the two intervening operas, as much as Wotan is present in
Gotterdammerung -- as an influence, because it allows Fafner to guard the
hoard against any normal attempt to regain it. But it also takes it out of
use, because otherwise there wouldn't be much plot --someone could simply
sneak up invisible and stab the dragon in the back (as Tolkien originally
imagined Bilbo doing in The Hobbit).
Okay, central character. I'd suggest strongly that it's Wotan, for two main
reasons; but it isn't *only* Wotan, for the same reasons. First, the Ring is
his tragedy more than any other, he is literally the protagonist, the tragic
hero in the Greek sense (by which Wagner was of course influenced). He is
pulled down from his innate greatness -- his idealism -- by his faults, but
also by his finest quality, his ability to love. Alberich is the force of
darkness and lovelessness, the villain, so not tragic. Siegfried is a blithely
unknowing pawn, blinded by his innate heroic qualities, so while his fall is
tragic, it's also external. Brunnhilde is almost equally unknowing, driven
blindly at first by love, reckless of consequences, and then by hate, ditto;
only afterwards does she come to understand, and only fully at the end.
So why not *only* Wotan? Because like everything else in the Ring, he reflects
and evolves. Wotan is indeed central, but Alberich is his dark reflection, the
dark mirror of his ambition and love; hence Wotan referring to himself
antithetically as "Licht-Alberich", for example, and Hagen invoking him in the
Revenge Trio as Gunther and Brunnhilde invoke Wotan.
Brunnhilde is Wotan's finest, nost sensitive and loving nature, arguably his
feminine side, split off from him, and Siegfried, as the eye-reference in Act
III Siegfried suggests, is his finer "masculine" side, powerful, heroic, whose
instinctive morality is untroubled by raisons d'etat and similar worldly
considerations, and hence appears somewhat ruthless. Brunnhilde and Siegfried
are at least partially Wotan's avatars, as Hagen is of Alberich; in each case
the original character's life has flowed into them, and in Gotterdammerung
Alberich appears only in Hagen's vision, and Wotan in the instant of his
destruction.
Thus, while there are four principal characters, and the other three are
independent, they are also, often quite explicitly, aspects of the
protagonist. Again, it may pay to look back at Greek tragedies like the
Oresteia. This cycle has many protagonists, but they all revolve to a greater
or lesser extent around Agamemnon, of whom Orestes and Elektra are something
like avatars. And it's been remarked by Newman among others that the end of
the first play Agamemnon, in which Clytemnaestra and Aegisthus stride proudly
into the palace above the warning chanting of the Chorus, strongly anticipates
the end of Rheingold.
OK, that's my ten cents worth -- bedtime.
Cheers,
Mike
I agree with REP that a respectable argument can be made in favor of
Siegfried being the main character, but I think Mike's argument here makes
an overwhelming case in favor of Wotan. (It's worth a lot more than 10
cents. No one will improve on it.)


Dick Partridge
REP
2016-05-26 21:48:37 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Richard Partridge
I agree with REP that a respectable argument can be made in favor of
Siegfried being the main character, but I think Mike's argument here makes
an overwhelming case in favor of Wotan. (It's worth a lot more than 10
cents. No one will improve on it.)
Wotan was my first thought as well, and I would probably give the same answer on occasion. I'm not married to any one answer, honestly, because I'm not sure there is one. It's to the Ring's credit that it has enough well-drawn characters to inspire so much thought and discussion.

But I think our perspective is slightly skewed because I suspect, very strongly, that Wotan is the one character whom we all identify with the most. He is the thinker and the leader of the bunch -- the one character we can imagine contributing insightful posts to Usenet. Whereas Siegfried is the brash young newbie who breaks all the rules and bridles at any form of polite correction.

(And you thought this discussion was silly enough already.)

But am I wrong? I do believe that most of the people posting here identify with Wotan the most, and I'd be very surprised if that weren't the case. (It's certainly true of me.) Coincidentally, I also suspect that, out of all the Ring's characters, Wotan is the one Wagner identified with the most. Now there's something I've never seen discussed.

REP
Richard Partridge
2016-05-27 19:58:31 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by REP
Post by Richard Partridge
I agree with REP that a respectable argument can be made in favor of
Siegfried being the main character, but I think Mike's argument here makes
an overwhelming case in favor of Wotan. (It's worth a lot more than 10
cents. No one will improve on it.)
Wotan was my first thought as well, and I would probably give the same answer
on occasion. I'm not married to any one answer, honestly, because I'm not sure
there is one. It's to the Ring's credit that it has enough well-drawn
characters to inspire so much thought and discussion.
But I think our perspective is slightly skewed because I suspect, very
strongly, that Wotan is the one character whom we all identify with the most.
He is the thinker and the leader of the bunch -- the one character we can
imagine contributing insightful posts to Usenet. Whereas Siegfried is the
brash young newbie who breaks all the rules and bridles at any form of polite
correction.
(And you thought this discussion was silly enough already.)
But am I wrong? I do believe that most of the people posting here identify
with Wotan the most, and I'd be very surprised if that weren't the case. (It's
certainly true of me.) Coincidentally, I also suspect that, out of all the
Ring's characters, Wotan is the one Wagner identified with the most. Now
there's something I've never seen discussed.
REP
I agree with you. It's true of me also.

I wonder if one can take it a long step further: is Wotan the character
Hitler identified with most? As far as I know, he never said so -- but as a
good politician he wouldn't say such a thing. I think he said Die
Meistersinger was his favorite Wagner opera, but I never believed that.


Dick Partridge
Mike Scott Rohan
2016-05-26 21:30:51 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Apologies for all the mis-typings in the above, I was racing to finish it before my dinner went cold, or was poured down my neck.

And I missed out two points -- one, that in Parsifal the continual blood-imagery has been interpreted, by Millington among others, in terms of "pure Aryan blood". But there's no sound evidence to establish that this is actually the case, and such imagery is inevitably a part of the Grail legend. One might as well say the same of Marlowe's reference to Christ's blood streaming in the firmament.

The other harks back to Gunther. It's worth remembering that, far from being out of place, the tragedy was originally his. The Nibelungen-not was born in the entirely historical ballads of the Burgundian people deported from the Rhineland after the destruction of their increasingly powerful kingdom along the banks of the Rhine, by Hunnish mercenaries sent by the Roman commander Flavius Aetius. Their entire ruling class was wiped out, including their king
Gundaharius, a very real historical personage. He was originally the hero of the story -- along with his grimly loyal retainer Hagen, who may also have been real for all we know; but it gradually grew to include other legendary figures like Attila -- alive at the time, but probably not directly involved -- and Siegfried, from another region's saga cycle altogether. His semi-supernatural heroism tended to eclipse the original hero, and in the later epic Waltharius, with a different story, Gunther and Hagen appear chiefly as foils to Siegfried and the hero Walther. Thus, originally, it was Gunther who was diminished by association with Siegfried, though he rises again to towering stature in the second half of the tale.

Incidentally, I may have mentioned before that in Waltharius Gunther's leg is cut off in a climactic fight with Walther. Could this be referred to in the curiously halting rhythm of the motif Wagner gives him? But he doesn't depict Gunther as pusillanimous. Gunther hesitates to agree to Siegfried's murder because of the oath, which he isn't absolutely sure Siegfried has really violated. But look at what changes his mind -- when Hagen reminds him about the Ring. He is an ambitious, aggrandizing lord already, and he's allured by this supreme power, and hence as much a victim of the curse as the others. Then, rather like Telramund, he's quick to accept the doubtful pretext for his own benefit. Nevertheless, he's not at all happy about it during the hunt, and he isn't taken in by Hagen's little memory stunt. He sees through it at once -- hence his ominously repeated questions "Hagen -- what are you doing? What *have* you done?" and his evident fury with Hagen back at the hall. Which doesn't stop him making a legalistic play for the Ring... Not pusillanimous, bt an ambitious, calculating politician, hiding moral elasticity and expedience under a cloak of law. Rather as Hunding does; it seems to be a characteristic of the human societies Wotan rules.

How unlike our own....

Cheers,

Mike
A.C. Douglas
2016-05-28 00:09:07 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
From my first encounter with the _Ring_ and ever after it never occurred to me that anyone but Wotan was the music-drama's protagonist. He is central to the drama even when he's not a visible part of the action (as in _Götterdämmerung_) and the only one whose fall could be viewed as a genuinely tragic event in the deepest sense of the word. He became that behind Wagner's back, so to speak, as W began by thinking of Siegfried as the _Ring_'s protagonist but ended with S being little more than an arrogant, boisterous, simpleminded dupe and hardly a genuinely tragic figure, never mind his overwhelming funeral music which has more to do with the fate of the Wälsung _Stamm_ rather than with S as an individual and Brünnhilde's final peroration eulogizing S as a matchless hero.

ACD
Jay Kauffman
2016-05-28 07:29:56 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by A.C. Douglas
From my first encounter with the _Ring_ and ever after it never occurred to me that anyone but Wotan was the music-drama's protagonist. He is central to the drama even when he's not a visible part of the action (as in _Götterdämmerung_) and the only one whose fall could be viewed as a genuinely tragic event in the deepest sense of the word. He became that behind Wagner's back, so to speak, as W began by thinking of Siegfried as the _Ring_'s protagonist but ended with S being little more than an arrogant, boisterous, simpleminded dupe and hardly a genuinely tragic figure, never mind his overwhelming funeral music which has more to do with the fate of the Wälsung _Stamm_ rather than with S as an individual and Brünnhilde's final peroration eulogizing S as a matchless hero.
ACD
That's what you think of Siegfried - I assume you never comprehended the wealth of feeling he experiences in the Waldweben esp after the abnormal childhood he had which deprived him of the normal human relationships a child has had. I am happy to see there are constants in this world since you remain, Sir, an idiot.
Richard Partridge
2016-05-28 18:05:55 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Jay Kauffman
Post by A.C. Douglas
From my first encounter with the _Ring_ and ever after it never occurred to
me that anyone but Wotan was the music-drama's protagonist. He is central to
the drama even when he's not a visible part of the action (as in
_Götterdämmerung_) and the only one whose fall could be viewed as a genuinely
tragic event in the deepest sense of the word. He became that behind Wagner's
back, so to speak, as W began by thinking of Siegfried as the _Ring_'s
protagonist but ended with S being little more than an arrogant, boisterous,
simpleminded dupe and hardly a genuinely tragic figure, never mind his
overwhelming funeral music which has more to do with the fate of the Wälsung
_Stamm_ rather than with S as an individual and Brünnhilde's final peroration
eulogizing S as a matchless hero.
ACD
That's what you think of Siegfried - I assume you never comprehended the
wealth of feeling he experiences in the Waldweben esp after the abnormal
childhood he had which deprived him of the normal human relationships a child
has had. I am happy to see there are constants in this world since you
remain, Sir, an idiot.
I think Mr. Douglas's description of Siegfried is on target. Siegfried is
insufferable. If he were in my circle of acquaintances I would go out of my
way to avoid him.

Whatever he felt during the Waldweben, it left him a stupid lout.


Dick Partridge
Jay Kauffman
2016-05-28 18:32:33 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Richard Partridge
Post by Jay Kauffman
Post by A.C. Douglas
From my first encounter with the _Ring_ and ever after it never occurred to
me that anyone but Wotan was the music-drama's protagonist. He is central to
the drama even when he's not a visible part of the action (as in
_Götterdämmerung_) and the only one whose fall could be viewed as a genuinely
tragic event in the deepest sense of the word. He became that behind Wagner's
back, so to speak, as W began by thinking of Siegfried as the _Ring_'s
protagonist but ended with S being little more than an arrogant, boisterous,
simpleminded dupe and hardly a genuinely tragic figure, never mind his
overwhelming funeral music which has more to do with the fate of the Wälsung
_Stamm_ rather than with S as an individual and Brünnhilde's final peroration
eulogizing S as a matchless hero.
ACD
That's what you think of Siegfried - I assume you never comprehended the
wealth of feeling he experiences in the Waldweben esp after the abnormal
childhood he had which deprived him of the normal human relationships a child
has had. I am happy to see there are constants in this world since you
remain, Sir, an idiot.
I think Mr. Douglas's description of Siegfried is on target. Siegfried is
insufferable. If he were in my circle of acquaintances I would go out of my
way to avoid him.
Whatever he felt during the Waldweben, it left him a stupid lout.
Dick Partridge
Then you don't understand the character at all - that's OK you're hardly alone - its a common misconception
Mike Scott Rohan
2016-05-29 23:18:01 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Richard Partridge
Post by Jay Kauffman
Post by A.C. Douglas
From my first encounter with the _Ring_ and ever after it never occurred to
me that anyone but Wotan was the music-drama's protagonist. He is central to
the drama even when he's not a visible part of the action (as in
_Götterdämmerung_) and the only one whose fall could be viewed as a genuinely
tragic event in the deepest sense of the word. He became that behind Wagner's
back, so to speak, as W began by thinking of Siegfried as the _Ring_'s
protagonist but ended with S being little more than an arrogant, boisterous,
simpleminded dupe and hardly a genuinely tragic figure, never mind his
overwhelming funeral music which has more to do with the fate of the Wälsung
_Stamm_ rather than with S as an individual and Brünnhilde's final peroration
eulogizing S as a matchless hero.
ACD
That's what you think of Siegfried - I assume you never comprehended the
wealth of feeling he experiences in the Waldweben esp after the abnormal
childhood he had which deprived him of the normal human relationships a child
has had. I am happy to see there are constants in this world since you
remain, Sir, an idiot.
I think Mr. Douglas's description of Siegfried is on target. Siegfried is
insufferable. If he were in my circle of acquaintances I would go out of my
way to avoid him.
Whatever he felt during the Waldweben, it left him a stupid lout.
Dick Partridge
No, I'm afraid I don't agree at all. As Ernest Newman remarked, the reason this view is so common is the failure of the average "amphora heldentenor" to embody the role. Add to this directors determined to depict him as a Hitlerjugend, and what chance does Siegfried have? But if you separate yourself from the stereotypes and look at what is written, you see a different picture. What he's intended to be is a hero, and a totally natural one. But to be that, he has to be almost entirely ignorant-- which doesn't mean stupid or insensitive. OK, he's no intellectual, but he's never had the chance to be one -- and it might have spoilt him if he had, made him more like Wotan. The only other intelligent being he's ever known is inhuman, duplicitous and evil, but he can see through this, and resists being duped or inveigled. He's literally had to throttle even the slightest knowledge out of Mime -- although evidently doing no great harm, because Mime goes on lying to him, as he almost immediately demonstrates to the Wanderer. But despite this he's observant and logical, drawing conclusions from nature, and reflective enough to wonder about himself and his parents.

Enough to make anyone sad or angry, yet he retains a remarkably sunny nature. His immediate reaction to everyone else he meets is friendly -- he's not even that hostile to the menacing presence of Fafner, when he's not being directly menaced. When he kills Fafner, he quite rightly blames it entirely on the dragon, but is otherwise almost kind. He isn't merciful to Mime, and there's no reason he should be; but he buries the two together to sternly elegiac music that suggests his strong natural sense of justice. And to the Wanderer, despite his haste, he's amiable enough, again until he senses duplicity. But again also he only becomes really violent when he's threatened himself, by his father's killer; and given that, when the threat is removed he's remarkably restrained. His reaction to Brunnhilde, even before he realises she's a woman, is again friendly and optimistic, and when he discovers the truth he becomes quite shy and courteous. The Siegfried of Gotterdammerung is less natural, enhanced by his contact with her, and also, it seems, a fair experience of the world; but even his challenge to Gunther is hardly loutish -- Gunther is a renowned warrior king, for whom this would be quite natural. And his greeting to Gutrune, pre-potion, is specifically referred to as courteous. so he has or has acquired some manners. His flirting with the Rhinemaidens is good-humoured without being crude, and if his rejection of their threats seems blind, it's a heroic blindness, part and parcel of what allowed him to survive earlier menace, and fuelled again by the sense of friendship he shows to Gunther.

Characterizing a figure of good, let alone heroism, is one of the hardest things a writer can attempt, even harder if he's a dramatist, unable to show the character's interior self. In music-drama the orchestra can do that, or at least suggest it; and for one's assessment of Siegfried one need do no more than listen to his motifs and their development. His music is bright, a touch boisterous in its indication of strength and energy, but it's sunlit energy. When he forges the sword it becomes concentrated and steely, focussing than energy with almost inhuman intensity, just as the steel is being reshaped. But in the Forest Murmurs is reflects his sense of natural beauty and his loneliness within it -- hardly a loutish reaction; a lout would be throwing stones at the birds. not trying to talk to them, and carving things on the linden trunks. In Gotterdammerung the action makes his music necessarily less introspective, but in his dealings with Gunther and Gutrune it's full of warmth and amiability. One could call him a fool, perhaps, as brave extroverts often are, but not a lout.

Cheers,

Mike
Jay Kauffman
2016-05-30 01:55:26 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Richard Partridge
Post by Jay Kauffman
Post by A.C. Douglas
From my first encounter with the _Ring_ and ever after it never occurred to
me that anyone but Wotan was the music-drama's protagonist. He is central to
the drama even when he's not a visible part of the action (as in
_Götterdämmerung_) and the only one whose fall could be viewed as a genuinely
tragic event in the deepest sense of the word. He became that behind Wagner's
back, so to speak, as W began by thinking of Siegfried as the _Ring_'s
protagonist but ended with S being little more than an arrogant, boisterous,
simpleminded dupe and hardly a genuinely tragic figure, never mind his
overwhelming funeral music which has more to do with the fate of the Wälsung
_Stamm_ rather than with S as an individual and Brünnhilde's final peroration
eulogizing S as a matchless hero.
ACD
That's what you think of Siegfried - I assume you never comprehended the
wealth of feeling he experiences in the Waldweben esp after the abnormal
childhood he had which deprived him of the normal human relationships a child
has had. I am happy to see there are constants in this world since you
remain, Sir, an idiot.
I think Mr. Douglas's description of Siegfried is on target. Siegfried is
insufferable. If he were in my circle of acquaintances I would go out of my
way to avoid him.
Whatever he felt during the Waldweben, it left him a stupid lout.
Dick Partridge
No, I'm afraid I don't agree at all. As Ernest Newman remarked, the reason this view is so common is the failure of the average "amphora heldentenor" to embody the role. Add to this directors determined to depict him as a Hitlerjugend, and what chance does Siegfried have? But if you separate yourself from the stereotypes and look at what is written, you see a different picture. What he's intended to be is a hero, and a totally natural one. But to be that, he has to be almost entirely ignorant-- which doesn't mean stupid or insensitive. OK, he's no intellectual, but he's never had the chance to be one -- and it might have spoilt him if he had, made him more like Wotan. The only other intelligent being he's ever known is inhuman, duplicitous and evil, but he can see through this, and resists being duped or inveigled. He's literally had to throttle even the slightest knowledge out of Mime -- although evidently doing no great harm, because Mime goes on lying to him, as he almost immediately demonstrates to the Wanderer. But despite this he's observant and logical, drawing conclusions from nature, and reflective enough to wonder about himself and his parents.
Enough to make anyone sad or angry, yet he retains a remarkably sunny nature. His immediate reaction to everyone else he meets is friendly -- he's not even that hostile to the menacing presence of Fafner, when he's not being directly menaced. When he kills Fafner, he quite rightly blames it entirely on the dragon, but is otherwise almost kind. He isn't merciful to Mime, and there's no reason he should be; but he buries the two together to sternly elegiac music that suggests his strong natural sense of justice. And to the Wanderer, despite his haste, he's amiable enough, again until he senses duplicity. But again also he only becomes really violent when he's threatened himself, by his father's killer; and given that, when the threat is removed he's remarkably restrained. His reaction to Brunnhilde, even before he realises she's a woman, is again friendly and optimistic, and when he discovers the truth he becomes quite shy and courteous. The Siegfried of Gotterdammerung is less natural, enhanced by his contact with her, and also, it seems, a fair experience of the world; but even his challenge to Gunther is hardly loutish -- Gunther is a renowned warrior king, for whom this would be quite natural. And his greeting to Gutrune, pre-potion, is specifically referred to as courteous. so he has or has acquired some manners. His flirting with the Rhinemaidens is good-humoured without being crude, and if his rejection of their threats seems blind, it's a heroic blindness, part and parcel of what allowed him to survive earlier menace, and fuelled again by the sense of friendship he shows to Gunther.
Characterizing a figure of good, let alone heroism, is one of the hardest things a writer can attempt, even harder if he's a dramatist, unable to show the character's interior self. In music-drama the orchestra can do that, or at least suggest it; and for one's assessment of Siegfried one need do no more than listen to his motifs and their development. His music is bright, a touch boisterous in its indication of strength and energy, but it's sunlit energy. When he forges the sword it becomes concentrated and steely, focussing than energy with almost inhuman intensity, just as the steel is being reshaped. But in the Forest Murmurs is reflects his sense of natural beauty and his loneliness within it -- hardly a loutish reaction; a lout would be throwing stones at the birds. not trying to talk to them, and carving things on the linden trunks. In Gotterdammerung the action makes his music necessarily less introspective, but in his dealings with Gunther and Gutrune it's full of warmth and amiability. One could call him a fool, perhaps, as brave extroverts often are, but not a lout.
Cheers,
Mike
You know Mike I of course agree - that was my original objection. One problem which you also clarify is that you can't judge Siegfried as you would a person raised in a normal human environment - he had none of that and had no idea how to react to others -its all instinctual. If a person actually reads the libretto and Siegfrieds thoughts one comes away with the person you describe - I also subscribe to the notion that young Siegfried is about 17 years old which explains much of his behavior in that opera. . Describing him as a bully or a lout is the easy way out - the common idea about him - an idea one cannot have if one clearly reads the text and studies exactly who Siegfried is. I recently heard the Melchior recording of the Waldweben and was incredibly moved by the nostalgia Siegfried expresses for a mother he never knew - how one can call a person with these feelings a lout is beyond me and I can only ascribe it to a failure to really understand or even want to understand the character.
Bert Coules
2016-05-30 08:32:41 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
What he's intended to be is a hero, and a
totally natural one...
Bravo, Mike. A masterly character analysis which should be sent out to
every director commissioned to stage the Ring.

You should do the same for the entire cast and publish the results as a
book.

Bert
Jay Kauffman
2016-05-30 09:15:28 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Bert Coules
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
What he's intended to be is a hero, and a
totally natural one...
Bravo, Mike. A masterly character analysis which should be sent out to
every director commissioned to stage the Ring.
You should do the same for the entire cast and publish the results as a
book.
Bert
And that's one of the things that makes Siegfried such a difficult role to perform - not only is there the usual work of remembering text and music but the singer has none of the usual relationship and character guidelines he uses to present other characters - Siegfried doesn't have those and it almost seems unfair to ALSO ask the singer to try to portray the character in a way that in a way totally different from his past practices and methods
Bert Coules
2016-05-30 11:59:40 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
One of the great delights of Alberto Remedios' Siegfried under Goodall at
the ENO (quite apart from the fact that he sang it better and more
tirelessly than any other performer I'd ever seen) was that he portrayed
exactly the sort of naive innocent, gloriously full of wonder at the world,
that Mike describes. In this he was immeasurably aided by Goodall's lyrical
approach to music usually treated as purely bombastic and overbearing: even
the act one forging song had more going for it than sheer volume and power.

Something - quite a lot, happily - of Remedios' interpretation comes across
on the live recording (and even more on the broadcast tapes, when everyone
was fresher and the whole thing was new) but the visual side is sorely
missed.

Bert
Mike Scott Rohan
2016-05-31 00:08:19 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Bert Coules
One of the great delights of Alberto Remedios' Siegfried under Goodall at
the ENO (quite apart from the fact that he sang it better and more
tirelessly than any other performer I'd ever seen) was that he portrayed
exactly the sort of naive innocent, gloriously full of wonder at the world,
that Mike describes. In this he was immeasurably aided by Goodall's lyrical
approach to music usually treated as purely bombastic and overbearing: even
the act one forging song had more going for it than sheer volume and power.
Something - quite a lot, happily - of Remedios' interpretation comes across
on the live recording (and even more on the broadcast tapes, when everyone
was fresher and the whole thing was new) but the visual side is sorely
missed.
Bert
I'd endorse this; happy memories! It also helped that Remedios looked pretty reasonable, if on the short side. Some of the other ENO tenors also caught the character very well, so we must give some credit to the producers too. Tycho Parly, the first Siegfried I saw, also had something of this joyous innocence, but he was more traditionally boisterous.

Cheers,

Mike
Bert Coules
2016-05-31 13:22:21 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
...we must give some credit
to the producers too.
Oh, certainly. It would be interesting to know how John Blatchley and Glen
Byam Shaw actually worked together, but whatever their arrangement it
certainly succeeded.
Some of the other ENO tenors also caught the
character very well...
Jon Weaving, who took the role for (I think) a couple of revivals was
particularly good. I remember him gazing round at the Gibichung Hall,
clearly in awe at a scale and a grandeur that he'd obviously never before
encountered.

I've been trying to remember any other tenors who appeared in the part.
Kenneth Woolam, I think, though it might have been on tour only - but who
else? I don't think Hugh Beresford was ever cast, though he was a fine
Siegmund, alternating with Remedios when they first did The Valkyrie. It's
a great pity that Graeme Matheson-Bruce never got a crack at the role.
Mike Scott Rohan
2016-06-01 00:23:25 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Bert Coules
...we must give some credit
to the producers too.
Oh, certainly. It would be interesting to know how John Blatchley and Glen
Byam Shaw actually worked together, but whatever their arrangement it
certainly succeeded.
Some of the other ENO tenors also caught the
character very well...
Jon Weaving, who took the role for (I think) a couple of revivals was
particularly good. I remember him gazing round at the Gibichung Hall,
clearly in awe at a scale and a grandeur that he'd obviously never before
encountered.
Yes, as I've remarked here before he was, in acting and appearance, the most credible Siegfried I've ever seen. The voice....I remember you liked it better than I did, it sounded rather small and dry to me then, but I've heard worse since! I enjoyed his performances, anyhow.
Post by Bert Coules
I've been trying to remember any other tenors who appeared in the part.
Kenneth Woolam, I think, though it might have been on tour only - but who
else? I don't think Hugh Beresford was ever cast, though he was a fine
Siegmund, alternating with Remedios when they first did The Valkyrie. It's
a great pity that Graeme Matheson-Bruce never got a crack at the role.
Yes, Beresford was good -- I first saw him when Valkyrie came on tour to Oxford, and in Scotland as Bacchus. He did well in Germany as Otello particularly, made it to Bayreuth as Tannhauser, but wasn't well received. May have strained his voice, as he was originally a heldenbariton, made his debut in the year I was born! He's still with us, I gather, at 90.

Agree about Matheson-Bruce, very sad loss. Woolam I have a soft spot for, not least because I had him rehearsing in the flat under me when I moved to Yorkshire in the 1980s -- Max in Jonny Spielt Auf -- but he sounded a bit constricted and unlyrical as Siegfried IMHO; and that was on tour, I think, maybe in Oxford or Newcastle. There were others, I believe, but I don't remember who -- maybe I can find out.

Cheers,

Mike
Bert Coules
2016-06-01 07:58:39 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
There were others, I believe, but I don't remember who...
You know, thinking about it, I'm not at all sure that there were. I was a
*very* frequent ENO-goer back then, and I certainly saw at least one (and
often more than one) performance of every Ring opera revival in London. I
also followed the touring news avidly. I saw Woolam (I think in Oxford) but
apart from him and Remedios I have no recollection of anyone else in the
part.
Mike Scott Rohan
2016-06-01 12:26:25 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Bert Coules
There were others, I believe, but I don't remember who...
You know, thinking about it, I'm not at all sure that there were. I was a
*very* frequent ENO-goer back then, and I certainly saw at least one (and
often more than one) performance of every Ring opera revival in London. I
also followed the touring news avidly. I saw Woolam (I think in Oxford) but
apart from him and Remedios I have no recollection of anyone else in the
part.
It's possible. There were an awful lot of Wotans, that was certain -- Garrard, Herincx, Howell and so on -- and many other roles. Even Emile Belcourt was sometimes replaced by Terry Jenkins, and Hammond-Stroud by Malcolm Rivers. But Siegfrieds? I'll see if I can get some idea.

Cheers,

Mike
Bert Coules
2016-06-01 12:43:19 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Mike,

Thinking about it, who could they have cast or even have been grooming for
the part? Allan Woodrow, possibly, who did take the role for other
companies some years later and was clearly already a potential Siegfried,
but I really can't bring any other possibilities to mind from the tenors who
were around then. John Mitchinson maybe, but he doesn't strike me being a
candidate in any way other than vocally. Of course, the company were
renowned for developing unexpected strengths, so maybe all sorts of things
were happening behind the scenes.

Richard Partridge
2016-05-30 15:17:18 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
On 5/29/16 7:18 PM, Mike Scott Rohan, at
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Richard Partridge
Post by Jay Kauffman
Post by A.C. Douglas
From my first encounter with the _Ring_ and ever after it never occurred to
me that anyone but Wotan was the music-drama's protagonist. He is central to
the drama even when he's not a visible part of the action (as in
_Götterdämmerung_) and the only one whose fall could be viewed as a genuinely
tragic event in the deepest sense of the word. He became that behind Wagner's
back, so to speak, as W began by thinking of Siegfried as the _Ring_'s
protagonist but ended with S being little more than an arrogant, boisterous,
simpleminded dupe and hardly a genuinely tragic figure, never mind his
overwhelming funeral music which has more to do with the fate of the Wälsung
_Stamm_ rather than with S as an individual and Brünnhilde's final peroration
eulogizing S as a matchless hero.
ACD
That's what you think of Siegfried - I assume you never comprehended the
wealth of feeling he experiences in the Waldweben esp after the abnormal
childhood he had which deprived him of the normal human relationships a child
has had. I am happy to see there are constants in this world since you
remain, Sir, an idiot.
I think Mr. Douglas's description of Siegfried is on target. Siegfried is
insufferable. If he were in my circle of acquaintances I would go out of my
way to avoid him.
Whatever he felt during the Waldweben, it left him a stupid lout.
Dick Partridge
No, I'm afraid I don't agree at all. As Ernest Newman remarked, the reason
this view is so common is the failure of the average "amphora heldentenor" to
embody the role. Add to this directors determined to depict him as a
Hitlerjugend, and what chance does Siegfried have? But if you separate
yourself from the stereotypes and look at what is written, you see a different
picture. What he's intended to be is a hero, and a totally natural one. But to
be that, he has to be almost entirely ignorant-- which doesn't mean stupid or
insensitive. OK, he's no intellectual, but he's never had the chance to be one
-- and it might have spoilt him if he had, made him more like Wotan. The only
other intelligent being he's ever known is inhuman, duplicitous and evil, but
he can see through this, and resists being duped or inveigled. He's literally
had to throttle even the slightest knowledge out of Mime -- although evidently
doing no great harm, because Mime goes on lying to him, as he almost
immediately demonstrates to the Wanderer. But despite this he's observant and
logical, drawing conclusions from nature, and reflective enough to wonder
about himself and his parents.
Enough to make anyone sad or angry, yet he retains a remarkably sunny nature.
His immediate reaction to everyone else he meets is friendly -- he's not even
that hostile to the menacing presence of Fafner, when he's not being directly
menaced. When he kills Fafner, he quite rightly blames it entirely on the
dragon, but is otherwise almost kind. He isn't merciful to Mime, and there's
no reason he should be; but he buries the two together to sternly elegiac
music that suggests his strong natural sense of justice. And to the Wanderer,
despite his haste, he's amiable enough, again until he senses duplicity. But
again also he only becomes really violent when he's threatened himself, by his
father's killer; and given that, when the threat is removed he's remarkably
restrained. His reaction to Brunnhilde, even before he realises she's a woman,
is again friendly and optimistic, and when he discovers the truth he becomes
quite shy and courteous. The Siegfried of Gotterdammerung is less natural,
enhanced by his contact with her, and also, it seems, a fair experience of the
world; but even his challenge to Gunther is hardly loutish -- Gunther is a
renowned warrior king, for whom this would be quite natural. And his greeting
to Gutrune, pre-potion, is specifically referred to as courteous. so he has or
has acquired some manners. His flirting with the Rhinemaidens is good-humoured
without being crude, and if his rejection of their threats seems blind, it's a
heroic blindness, part and parcel of what allowed him to survive earlier
menace, and fuelled again by the sense of friendship he shows to Gunther.
Characterizing a figure of good, let alone heroism, is one of the hardest
things a writer can attempt, even harder if he's a dramatist, unable to show
the character's interior self. In music-drama the orchestra can do that, or at
least suggest it; and for one's assessment of Siegfried one need do no more
than listen to his motifs and their development. His music is bright, a touch
boisterous in its indication of strength and energy, but it's sunlit energy.
When he forges the sword it becomes concentrated and steely, focussing than
energy with almost inhuman intensity, just as the steel is being reshaped. But
in the Forest Murmurs is reflects his sense of natural beauty and his
loneliness within it -- hardly a loutish reaction; a lout would be throwing
stones at the birds. not trying to talk to them, and carving things on the
linden trunks. In Gotterdammerung the action makes his music necessarily less
introspective, but in his dealings with Gunther and Gutrune it's full of
warmth and amiability. One could call him a fool, perhaps, as brave extroverts
often are, but not a lout.
Cheers,
Mike
When I called him a "lout," I was thinking of Siegfried as he appeared in
the opera of that name. I wouldn't describe him that way as he appeared in
the final opera. Love on the rocks has had a wonderful effect on him. No
doubt a few years of maturity have helped, too. Most men don't appear to
their best advantage in their late 'teens.


Dick Partridge
Jay Kauffman
2016-05-30 17:27:20 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by Richard Partridge
On 5/29/16 7:18 PM, Mike Scott Rohan, at
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Richard Partridge
Post by Jay Kauffman
Post by A.C. Douglas
From my first encounter with the _Ring_ and ever after it never occurred to
me that anyone but Wotan was the music-drama's protagonist. He is central to
the drama even when he's not a visible part of the action (as in
_Götterdämmerung_) and the only one whose fall could be viewed as a genuinely
tragic event in the deepest sense of the word. He became that behind Wagner's
back, so to speak, as W began by thinking of Siegfried as the _Ring_'s
protagonist but ended with S being little more than an arrogant, boisterous,
simpleminded dupe and hardly a genuinely tragic figure, never mind his
overwhelming funeral music which has more to do with the fate of the Wälsung
_Stamm_ rather than with S as an individual and Brünnhilde's final peroration
eulogizing S as a matchless hero.
ACD
That's what you think of Siegfried - I assume you never comprehended the
wealth of feeling he experiences in the Waldweben esp after the abnormal
childhood he had which deprived him of the normal human relationships a child
has had. I am happy to see there are constants in this world since you
remain, Sir, an idiot.
I think Mr. Douglas's description of Siegfried is on target. Siegfried is
insufferable. If he were in my circle of acquaintances I would go out of my
way to avoid him.
Whatever he felt during the Waldweben, it left him a stupid lout.
Dick Partridge
No, I'm afraid I don't agree at all. As Ernest Newman remarked, the reason
this view is so common is the failure of the average "amphora heldentenor" to
embody the role. Add to this directors determined to depict him as a
Hitlerjugend, and what chance does Siegfried have? But if you separate
yourself from the stereotypes and look at what is written, you see a different
picture. What he's intended to be is a hero, and a totally natural one. But to
be that, he has to be almost entirely ignorant-- which doesn't mean stupid or
insensitive. OK, he's no intellectual, but he's never had the chance to be one
-- and it might have spoilt him if he had, made him more like Wotan. The only
other intelligent being he's ever known is inhuman, duplicitous and evil, but
he can see through this, and resists being duped or inveigled. He's literally
had to throttle even the slightest knowledge out of Mime -- although evidently
doing no great harm, because Mime goes on lying to him, as he almost
immediately demonstrates to the Wanderer. But despite this he's observant and
logical, drawing conclusions from nature, and reflective enough to wonder
about himself and his parents.
Enough to make anyone sad or angry, yet he retains a remarkably sunny nature.
His immediate reaction to everyone else he meets is friendly -- he's not even
that hostile to the menacing presence of Fafner, when he's not being directly
menaced. When he kills Fafner, he quite rightly blames it entirely on the
dragon, but is otherwise almost kind. He isn't merciful to Mime, and there's
no reason he should be; but he buries the two together to sternly elegiac
music that suggests his strong natural sense of justice. And to the Wanderer,
despite his haste, he's amiable enough, again until he senses duplicity. But
again also he only becomes really violent when he's threatened himself, by his
father's killer; and given that, when the threat is removed he's remarkably
restrained. His reaction to Brunnhilde, even before he realises she's a woman,
is again friendly and optimistic, and when he discovers the truth he becomes
quite shy and courteous. The Siegfried of Gotterdammerung is less natural,
enhanced by his contact with her, and also, it seems, a fair experience of the
world; but even his challenge to Gunther is hardly loutish -- Gunther is a
renowned warrior king, for whom this would be quite natural. And his greeting
to Gutrune, pre-potion, is specifically referred to as courteous. so he has or
has acquired some manners. His flirting with the Rhinemaidens is good-humoured
without being crude, and if his rejection of their threats seems blind, it's a
heroic blindness, part and parcel of what allowed him to survive earlier
menace, and fuelled again by the sense of friendship he shows to Gunther.
Characterizing a figure of good, let alone heroism, is one of the hardest
things a writer can attempt, even harder if he's a dramatist, unable to show
the character's interior self. In music-drama the orchestra can do that, or at
least suggest it; and for one's assessment of Siegfried one need do no more
than listen to his motifs and their development. His music is bright, a touch
boisterous in its indication of strength and energy, but it's sunlit energy.
When he forges the sword it becomes concentrated and steely, focussing than
energy with almost inhuman intensity, just as the steel is being reshaped. But
in the Forest Murmurs is reflects his sense of natural beauty and his
loneliness within it -- hardly a loutish reaction; a lout would be throwing
stones at the birds. not trying to talk to them, and carving things on the
linden trunks. In Gotterdammerung the action makes his music necessarily less
introspective, but in his dealings with Gunther and Gutrune it's full of
warmth and amiability. One could call him a fool, perhaps, as brave extroverts
often are, but not a lout.
Cheers,
Mike
When I called him a "lout," I was thinking of Siegfried as he appeared in
the opera of that name. I wouldn't describe him that way as he appeared in
the final opera. Love on the rocks has had a wonderful effect on him. No
doubt a few years of maturity have helped, too. Most men don't appear to
their best advantage in their late 'teens.
Dick Partridge
Siegfried isn't most men
A.C. Douglas
2016-05-30 05:43:35 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
I think Mr. Douglas's description of Siegfried is on target. Siegfried
is insufferable. If he were in my circle of acquaintances I would go out
of my way to avoid him. Whatever he felt during the Waldweben, it left
him a stupid lout.
If you think my description of Siegfried was "on target" then how could you find him to be "insufferable" and a "stupid lout"? I expressed no such thoughts about Siegfried. I characterized him as an "arrogant, boisterous, simpleminded dupe". None of that makes him in any way "insufferable". Much less does it make him "stupid" or a "lout". What it makes him is childlike as indeed an overgrown, inquisitive child he is.

ACD
Richard Partridge
2016-05-30 15:20:05 UTC
Permalink
Raw Message
Post by A.C. Douglas
I think Mr. Douglas's description of Siegfried is on target. Siegfried
is insufferable. If he were in my circle of acquaintances I would go out
of my way to avoid him. Whatever he felt during the Waldweben, it left
him a stupid lout.
If you think my description of Siegfried was "on target" then how could you
find him to be "insufferable" and a "stupid lout"? I expressed no such
thoughts about Siegfried. I characterized him as an "arrogant, boisterous,
simpleminded dupe". None of that makes him in any way "insufferable". Much
less does it make him "stupid" or a "lout". What it makes him is childlike as
indeed an overgrown, inquisitive child he is.
ACD
Clearly I'm in a minority of one. (Happens all the time.)


Dick Partridge
Loading...