Discussion:
Eisenstein's Wagner
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Bert Coules
2017-10-03 15:21:38 UTC
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I've been reading Oswald Georg Bauer's hefty "Richard Wagner: the stage
designs and productions from the premieres to the present" (uncredited
English translation, USA, 1983). Fascinating stuff, though it's a pity that
so many of the illustrations are in black and white.

It had somehow passed me by (or perhaps I had simply forgotten) that the
great Russian film pioneer Sergei Eisenstein directed a stage production of
Die Walküre at the Bolshoi in 1940. In his own words it would be "in its
essence realistic, in its structure mythological, in its generalised forms
epic, and in the changing variety of its musical and visual depiction
emotional" - I'm not entirely sure how that would have translated into
practical stagecraft though it apparently involved incorporating "everything
which is discussed or even mentioned in the course of the action".

And more, evidently, since he added what he termed "mimed choruses": silent
actors who illustrated the work's various monologues and came on as extras
at other moments: a photo of Sieglinde's Der Männe Sippe shows an enactment
of Wotan's visit to her wedding, bafflingly accompanied by what seems to be
a dozen or so onlookers all beseechingly holding out bowls like the orphans
in Oliver!. And after all, why restrict yourself to eight Valkyries when
you can have a whole crowd of them? They "hovered around their eight vocal
sisters" and "formed a funeral procession at the end of Wotan's Farewell"
Bauer tells us.

My thanks to Michael Casse for drawing my attention to the book. I was
looking for some idea of how Fafner was depicted in the first Bayreuth Ring
and as Michael said, Bauer includes Joseph Hoffmann's set-design painting
for the act two fight; I tend to agree though that the draconic actuality
almost certainly didn't come too close to the illustration.

Bauer was, as Mike Scott Rohan pointed out, chief of the Bayreuth press
office and there is a certain bias in that direction both in the text and
the choice of pictures, but the book ranges more widely than I was expecting
and is worth a look if you can find it: to my surprise (because I didn't
know they lent out their stock) my local library obtained a copy from the
British Library.

Bert
REP
2017-10-03 18:31:40 UTC
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Post by Bert Coules
And more, evidently, since he added what he termed "mimed choruses": silent
actors who illustrated the work's various monologues and came on as extras
at other moments: a photo of Sieglinde's Der Männe Sippe shows an enactment
of Wotan's visit to her wedding, bafflingly accompanied by what seems to be
a dozen or so onlookers all beseechingly holding out bowls like the orphans
in Oliver!. And after all, why restrict yourself to eight Valkyries when
you can have a whole crowd of them? They "hovered around their eight vocal
sisters" and "formed a funeral procession at the end of Wotan's Farewell"
Bauer tells us.
Bert
One of the few things I liked about the Lepage Ring was the way that Siegmund's recollections were accompanied by silhouettes pantomiming the action. That seems like an altogether better approach than using live actors, which I don't think I'd like. It helps that Lepage's silhouettes were actually well-done. They had the indistinct characteristic of thoughts, amplifying Siegmund's narrative rather than stifling it (as I think live actors would do).

I've seen this effect put to good use in films, too. The Bakshi Lord of the Rings, for example, begins by recounting the history of the Ring through actors in silhouette. The shadow-play, like the rest of the movie, is rather poorly done, but I like it as a storytelling device in general*.

REP

* Whether the audience should know the Ring's history before Frodo does is another matter.
Bert Coules
2017-10-04 08:37:04 UTC
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That's interesting. The live action flashback with present-day narration is
of course an essentially filmic technique so perhaps it's not surprising to
find Eisenstein using it on stage, though it does suggest that he found the
straightforward telling of the tale to be less than gripping and in need of
some added interest. The *real* innovation would have been to cut the vocal
line and rely on the orchestra and the mimed action alone to tell the story.
Mike Scott Rohan
2017-10-05 16:29:59 UTC
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Post by Bert Coules
That's interesting. The live action flashback with present-day narration is
of course an essentially filmic technique so perhaps it's not surprising to
find Eisenstein using it on stage, though it does suggest that he found the
straightforward telling of the tale to be less than gripping and in need of
some added interest. The *real* innovation would have been to cut the vocal
line and rely on the orchestra and the mimed action alone to tell the story.
Bejart reduced the Ring to a ballet, but I don't think that's what you mean! It's an interesting idea, but would it convey the story clearly enough? Not sure. And of course, even in such straightforward narrative passages the vocal line is as much part of the musical texture as any instrument or class of them; it would probably have to be replaced with an instrumental obbligato. Eisenstein's idea seems to have been part of his concept of unity, seeing the Ring as primeval drama in which even the scenery participates, so presumably the shadowplay is supposed to be the fire acting out the story -- brilliant, even if it doesn't entirely work. In Coppola's Dracula, similarly, the Count influences the scenery when he's around -- the harmless early movies changing to erotic, for example; again, not a total success, but intriguing. One can imagine a Ring narrated by the singers and acted out by performers, perhaps in the style of tribal or folk theatre; however, I think it would still need the principals, ay least.

Cheers,

Mike



+
Mike Scott Rohan
2017-10-04 12:17:19 UTC
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Post by REP
One of the few things I liked about the Lepage Ring was the way that Siegmund's recollections were accompanied by silhouettes pantomiming the action. That seems like an altogether better approach than using live actors, which I don't think I'd like. It helps that Lepage's silhouettes were actually well-done. They had the indistinct characteristic of thoughts, amplifying Siegmund's narrative rather than stifling it (as I think live actors would do).
I've seen this effect put to good use in films, too. The Bakshi Lord of the Rings, for example, begins by recounting the history of the Ring through actors in silhouette. The shadow-play, like the rest of the movie, is rather poorly done, but I like it as a storytelling device in general*.
REP
* Whether the audience should know the Ring's history before Frodo does is another matter.
Not sure I see the need to illustrate the narratives at all. If those, then why not also Wotan's narration in Act II? Or the Riddle Game in Siegfried I? Or Waltraute's narration? It could get very distracting. These are subjective accounts, after all, illustrating the narrator's viewpoint. The argument about the music being sufficient illustration, often used to justify no or ireelevant setting, does, I think, apply here.

I agree about the Bakshi intro -- interesting visually, although the actual narration was inane. A terrible mish-mash of a film, although it has some nostalgic appeal; Bakshi was given the project because studio bosses saw LOTR as a "hippie" fad. I have a soft spot for it also because some of the backgrounds are by Iain Miller, who later became my main cover artist. Another contender for LOTR was John Boorman, some of whose ideas later became the Wagner-soaked Excalibur; he might have done a better job with the Ring itself.

Cheers,

Mike
REP
2017-10-05 19:13:13 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by REP
One of the few things I liked about the Lepage Ring was the way that Siegmund's recollections were accompanied by silhouettes pantomiming the action. That seems like an altogether better approach than using live actors, which I don't think I'd like. It helps that Lepage's silhouettes were actually well-done. They had the indistinct characteristic of thoughts, amplifying Siegmund's narrative rather than stifling it (as I think live actors would do).
I've seen this effect put to good use in films, too. The Bakshi Lord of the Rings, for example, begins by recounting the history of the Ring through actors in silhouette. The shadow-play, like the rest of the movie, is rather poorly done, but I like it as a storytelling device in general*.
REP
* Whether the audience should know the Ring's history before Frodo does is another matter.
Not sure I see the need to illustrate the narratives at all. If those, then why not also Wotan's narration in Act II? Or the Riddle Game in Siegfried I? Or Waltraute's narration? It could get very distracting. These are subjective accounts, after all, illustrating the narrator's viewpoint. The argument about the music being sufficient illustration, often used to justify no or ireelevant setting, does, I think, apply here.
True, but that's where artistic discretion comes into play. The shadow-play during Siegmund's narrative works for me because Siegmund is engaging in storytelling. He isn't, as in the other examples, confiding his secret thoughts or playing a game. He has an audience, and that audience is sitting around a fire (well, a hearth) at night and listening to a story.
Post by Mike Scott Rohan
I agree about the Bakshi intro -- interesting visually, although the actual narration was inane. A terrible mish-mash of a film, although it has some nostalgic appeal; Bakshi was given the project because studio bosses saw LOTR as a "hippie" fad. I have a soft spot for it also because some of the backgrounds are by Iain Miller, who later became my main cover artist. Another contender for LOTR was John Boorman, some of whose ideas later became the Wagner-soaked Excalibur; he might have done a better job with the Ring itself.
I have a soft spot for the Bakshi film too. Parts of it are very well done and show a real understanding and respect for the material. I confess to liking the Rankin & Bass adaptations too, although, like the Bakshi, they're a real mixed bag in quality. The hobbit character designs, for example, are decidedly awful, whereas Gollum is a real masterpiece of character design and animation. And it helps that Brother Theodore's performance is so great -- in fact, it ruined me on all future interpretations of Gollum, which tend to be too timorous and sniveling for my tastes.

REP
Mike Scott Rohan
2017-10-04 11:30:27 UTC
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Post by Bert Coules
I've been reading Oswald Georg Bauer's hefty "Richard Wagner: the stage
designs and productions from the premieres to the present" (uncredited
English translation, USA, 1983). Fascinating stuff, though it's a pity that
so many of the illustrations are in black and white.
It had somehow passed me by (or perhaps I had simply forgotten) that the
great Russian film pioneer Sergei Eisenstein directed a stage production of
Die Walküre at the Bolshoi in 1940. In his own words it would be "in its
essence realistic, in its structure mythological, in its generalised forms
epic, and in the changing variety of its musical and visual depiction
emotional" - I'm not entirely sure how that would have translated into
practical stagecraft though it apparently involved incorporating "everything
which is discussed or even mentioned in the course of the action".
And more, evidently, since he added what he termed "mimed choruses": silent
actors who illustrated the work's various monologues and came on as extras
at other moments: a photo of Sieglinde's Der Männe Sippe shows an enactment
of Wotan's visit to her wedding, bafflingly accompanied by what seems to be
a dozen or so onlookers all beseechingly holding out bowls like the orphans
in Oliver!. And after all, why restrict yourself to eight Valkyries when
you can have a whole crowd of them? They "hovered around their eight vocal
sisters" and "formed a funeral procession at the end of Wotan's Farewell"
Bauer tells us.
My thanks to Michael Casse for drawing my attention to the book. I was
looking for some idea of how Fafner was depicted in the first Bayreuth Ring
and as Michael said, Bauer includes Joseph Hoffmann's set-design painting
for the act two fight; I tend to agree though that the draconic actuality
almost certainly didn't come too close to the illustration.
Bauer was, as Mike Scott Rohan pointed out, chief of the Bayreuth press
office and there is a certain bias in that direction both in the text and
the choice of pictures, but the book ranges more widely than I was expecting
and is worth a look if you can find it: to my surprise (because I didn't
know they lent out their stock) my local library obtained a copy from the
British Library.
Bert
There's a good bit about it in Rosamund Bartlett's Wagner in Russia, including its political background -- to flatter German visitors during the Nazi-Soviet pact. When that broke up it was dumped, and little or no Wagner produced again.
I have to say what they show of it seems over-stylized and self-conscious to me -- for example, Hunding and Siegmund fighting over an arch formed by huge rostra rocking up and down. It's not a million miles form the current New York extravaganza, and that's not praise. The Nazis, of course, applauded politely but made little secret of despising it as a Slav travesty.

But it might not have ended there; I first came across Eisenstein's Wagner connection from a list of his post-war film projects, which included Die Walkure. One wonders what his cinema version would have been like?

Cheers,

Mike
Herman van der Woude
2017-10-04 17:25:58 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Bert Coules
I've been reading Oswald Georg Bauer's hefty "Richard Wagner: the stage
designs and productions from the premieres to the present" (uncredited
English translation, USA, 1983). Fascinating stuff, though it's a pity that
so many of the illustrations are in black and white.
It had somehow passed me by (or perhaps I had simply forgotten) that the
great Russian film pioneer Sergei Eisenstein directed a stage production of
Die Walküre at the Bolshoi in 1940. In his own words it would be "in its
essence realistic, in its structure mythological, in its generalised forms
epic, and in the changing variety of its musical and visual depiction
emotional" - I'm not entirely sure how that would have translated into
practical stagecraft though it apparently involved incorporating "everything
which is discussed or even mentioned in the course of the action".
And more, evidently, since he added what he termed "mimed choruses": silent
actors who illustrated the work's various monologues and came on as extras
at other moments: a photo of Sieglinde's Der Männe Sippe shows an enactment
of Wotan's visit to her wedding, bafflingly accompanied by what seems to be
a dozen or so onlookers all beseechingly holding out bowls like the orphans
in Oliver!. And after all, why restrict yourself to eight Valkyries when
you can have a whole crowd of them? They "hovered around their eight vocal
sisters" and "formed a funeral procession at the end of Wotan's Farewell"
Bauer tells us.
My thanks to Michael Casse for drawing my attention to the book. I was
looking for some idea of how Fafner was depicted in the first Bayreuth Ring
and as Michael said, Bauer includes Joseph Hoffmann's set-design painting
for the act two fight; I tend to agree though that the draconic actuality
almost certainly didn't come too close to the illustration.
Bauer was, as Mike Scott Rohan pointed out, chief of the Bayreuth press
office and there is a certain bias in that direction both in the text and
the choice of pictures, but the book ranges more widely than I was expecting
and is worth a look if you can find it: to my surprise (because I didn't
know they lent out their stock) my local library obtained a copy from the
British Library.
Bert
There's a good bit about it in Rosamund Bartlett's Wagner in Russia,
including its political background -- to flatter German visitors during the
Nazi-Soviet pact. When that broke up it was dumped, and little or no Wagner
produced again. I have to say what they show of it seems over-stylized and
self-conscious to me -- for example, Hunding and Siegmund fighting over an
arch formed by huge rostra rocking up and down. It's not a million miles form
the current New York extravaganza, and that's not praise. The Nazis, of
course, applauded politely but made little secret of despising it as a Slav
travesty.
But it might not have ended there; I first came across Eisenstein's Wagner
connection from a list of his post-war film projects, which included Die
Walkure. One wonders what his cinema version would have been like?
Cheers,
Mike
There's quite a lot to read about Eisenstein's connection with Wagner
(as commanded by the Soviets - Stalin!- in 'Testimony', the
recollections of Shostakovitch, as edited by Solomon Volkov - New York,
1979). A rather bitter story.
--
Met vriendelijke groet,
Cheers,
Herman van der Woude
Mike Scott Rohan
2017-10-05 15:54:16 UTC
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Post by Herman van der Woude
There's quite a lot to read about Eisenstein's connection with Wagner
(as commanded by the Soviets - Stalin!- in 'Testimony', the
recollections of Shostakovitch, as edited by Solomon Volkov - New York,
1979). A rather bitter story.
--
Met vriendelijke groet,
Cheers,
Herman van der Woude
Really? hanks for that. It's a while since I've read it, though it's on my shelves. I'll have to have another look. One thinks of those enigmatic Wagner quotations in the 15th.

Cheers,

Mike
Herman van der Woude
2017-10-06 00:18:16 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
Post by Herman van der Woude
There's quite a lot to read about Eisenstein's connection with Wagner
(as commanded by the Soviets - Stalin!- in 'Testimony', the
recollections of Shostakovitch, as edited by Solomon Volkov - New York,
1979). A rather bitter story.
--
Met vriendelijke groet,
Cheers,
Herman van der Woude
Really? hanks for that. It's a while since I've read it, though it's on my
shelves. I'll have to have another look. One thinks of those enigmatic Wagner
quotations in the 15th.
Cheers,
Mike
I just read the pages again myself (in a Dutch translation, so I cannot
quote them here). The 1940 staging of Die Walkurie in Moscow was meant
as a tribute of the Soviet-German 'friendship'. What better idea was
there than to stage a Wagner opera! And having it staged by a renowned
Soviet director, who made his name by several major movies -
Eisenstein. Eisenstein, though he himself was a real Russian, Soviet
citizen, was the descendant of German immigrants and he was not a Jew
(but even baptised). Eisenstein had already longed to stage a dramatic
opera and he was planning to do one by Prokofiev. It sounded as a fair
connection between Germany and the USSR and nothing could go wrong, or
could there? Eisenstein called for the help of a well known set
designer, someone called Tyshler, who was a Jew. Tyshler understood
immediately that he was not 'wanted', which was confirmed only a few
days later. You can't let your 'German' friends from Berlin down with a
Jew. In short, Eisentein directed Wagner's Walkure and everybody was
happy, the Soviet officials (Stalin in the first place), the
German(Nazi) ambassador. And Eisenstein stayed in line of the party
rules. Wagner suited all, especially Soviet-Russian friendship. Only a
few months later, June 1941, Wagner became this German, Nazi composer
again, after Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Exit Wagner, exit
Eisenstein's staging and Eisenstein himself in peril of prosecution by
the Soviet authorities of staging such an opera...
I don't know if his staging of Die Walkure was worthwhile watching.
Nothing remained of it, as far as I know (perhaps in an NKVD-KGB
file?). I do think that potentially Eisenstein was capable of properly
staging an opera, any opera, including one of Wagner's, knowing his
Ivan The Terrible movies. But that is speculation as he never again had
the opportunity to do one.
--
Met vriendelijke groet,
Cheers,
Herman van der Woude
Mike Scott Rohan
2017-10-05 16:49:35 UTC
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Post by Mike Scott Rohan
But it might not have ended there; I first came across Eisenstein's Wagner connection from a list of his post-war film projects, which included Die Walkure. One wonders what his cinema version would have been like?
Cheers,
Mike
Interested to note that the next Walkure staging at the Bolshoi, and possibly the next Wagner of any kind, appears to have been a visiting Swedish production in 1975, with Brilioth and Lindholm. Melodiya recorded and released this, though I've never come across a copy. After that, apparently, nothing much to this day, although I seem to remember reading about a Rheingold in the 1970s, and possibly some Kirov visits. Problem was the Wagner/Nazi identification, of course; and in Soviet times it didn't matter whether it was true or not, because it could be used against you. Visiting productions didn't matter, but homegrown was too risky. The Kirov, then away from the centre of things, had it a little easier.

Cheers,

Mike
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