MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Into the Ring


Seattle Opera’s famous “green” Ring production – celebrated for highlighting the prominent role nature plays in the cycle, but also for its psychological focus – returns this month for the fourth time since it first debuted in 2001. A particular highlight for me will be the contribution of Asher Fisch, who for the first time takes on the role of conductor of this production.

Among the things I’ve been reading to prepare, Nicholas Spice’s recent essay in the London Review of Books (“Is Wagner Bad for Us?”) is rich in food for thought:

Debussy said that it was ‘hard to imagine the state to which the strongest brain is reduced by listening for four nights to the Ring … It is worse than obsession. It is possession. You no longer belong to yourself.’ Returning from a Wagner performance in January 1917, Otto Klemperer said to his sister: ‘When I like Wagner, I do not like myself.’ I think one can go a step further and say that even disliking Wagner is not straightforward. There are many composers we may not particularly care for, but this poses no problem because we experience their music as separate from us, as other. They do not tamper with our sense of self. In possessing us, Wagner restricts our freedom to dislike him, since in disliking him, we can find that we end up disliking bits of ourselves. And this, after all is what he set out to achieve: he wanted his listener to abandon himself unresistingly to the work, so that he ‘involuntarily assimilates even what is most alien to his nature.’

(Image: Das Rheingold at Seattle Opera, Jennifer Zetlan (Woglinde), Cecelia Hall (Wellgunde),Renée Tatum (Flosshilde), Richard Paul Fink (Alberich). Photo © Elise Bakketun.)

Filed under: opera, Ring cycle, Seattle Opera, Wagner


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