Report from the Front: How Al Gore Is Ruining Opera

The Atlas Society's picture
Submitted by The Atlas Society on Wed, 2007-04-11 20:33

How Al Gore is Ruining Opera

By Edward Hudgins

[A longer version of this piece will appear in The New Individualist.]

I love opera! Thus recently at the Kennedy Center I saw Die Walküre, the second installment of Richard Wagner's monumental four-part cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, about gods and goddesses, giants and dwarfs, and mortal human heroes. The music, singing and acting were superb. But the program notes seemed like Al Gore channeling Karl Marx.

Consider "dramaturg" Cori Ellison's description (bold in the original) of the opera's themes. First, nature:

"The despoiling of nature through greed and ambition begins even before the stage action does, with Wotan sacrificing his own eye to drink from the Well of Wisdom and then mutilate the World Ash tree to create his spear. The destruction of our nation's environment also began early in our history, with the violation of our rich natural resources and the pollution and disfigurement of our landscape, which will surely lead to our demise if left unchecked."

How terrible that someone had the wisdom to rip metals from the guts of Sacred Earth for the orchestra's horns, trumpets, trombones and tuba; to murder World Ash trees for violins, violas, cellos, basses and stage settings; and to extract marble--the torn-out teeth of Mother Nature--to build the Kennedy Center itself!

Next, love:

"Alberich's renunciation of love in order obtain riches is startlingly familiar; it is but the Ring's first visible example of the sacrifice of love and ethics on the altars of capitalism and temporal power. One need only read the newspapers . . . to see this theme played out daily in America."

Gee, not even a "Thank you" to all those capitalists whose money built the Kennedy Center, either through charitable donations because they love music or, unfortunately, through their taxes for government grants to the arts. Oh, and the staging was a stale stereotype; king-of-the-gods Wotan was portrayed as-- everyone in unison now--an evil businessman, in pinstriped suit and all! How unoriginal!

Finally, feminism:

"More subtly embedded in the Ring, but perhaps most personally important to our team, is the theme of woman's nature and role in society. The Ring portrays men as the world's destroyers, while women are its sustainers, sages--and sometimes passive victims."

But this opera was actually composed by Richard Wagner, a male. Plácido Domingo, America's greatest tenor, the Washington National Opera's director and a male did an outstanding job in the role of Siegmund, a male heroic character, whose son in the next two Ring operas was Siegfried, a hero and--you guessed it--a male!

Wagner does treat greed and power-lust in the Ring. But the dramaturg's political bromides aren't so much an analysis of what Wagner really meant as a case-study of "post-modernism." This is the notion that things can mean whatever observers want them to mean. In fact, it is an abrogation of standards in order to damn all things Western, while pushing a leftist world view to be taken not as interpretation but, rather, as gospel.

It's remarkable that such nonsense is flung into the faces of opera audience members who, for the most part, represent those universal, Western values and that they aren't appalled enough to call Plácido and explain that, as creators of the wealth that supports the opera, they could take their money elsewhere if they're considered such exploiters.

In one scene in Die Walküre Wotan explains that "I can create only slaves; a free man must create himself." To be human is to create wealth, as we Americans do when we employ the material and energy resources of the physical world for our survival and our spiritual well-being, for example, for opera houses, orchestras and performances of great beautiful. Let's hope that in the future those who benefit from the beneficence of creators will thank them rather than spit in their faces.

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Hudgins is executive director of The Atlas Society, an Objectivist organization that celebrates human achievement.
The Atlas Society : Your Center for Objectivism

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Thanks for the review!

Ed Hudgins's picture

Thanks for posting that very appropriate review! It highlights the underlying similarity among all religions that look to a heavens and what our reaction should be. I quoted Nietzsche in a recent article as he urged us to “remain true to the Earth, and believe not those who advise a hope above the world.”

(Secular Spirituality: http://www.objectivistcenter.o... )

"Wagner truly has the power to surprise us."

Peter Cresswell's picture

Vis a vis my own comments below on that wonderful scene in Die Walküre, I remembered a Guardian review of a Covent Garden Walküre performed immediately after the Islamofascist bombing of the London tube stations that points out the contemporaneity of the drama. Says the reviewer:
The third time I went to see Die Walküre, it was the performance at the Royal Opera House on July 8 2005, the day after the London tube bombings. London's streets seemed empty but the opera house was packed. At that moment, it was particularly wonderful to be engrossed in this tale of a man who says: I don't want maidens in paradise - I want love here on earth, and a woman who responds by saying: I won't carry out the orders of the god my father - I will go over to the side of the human.

Wonderful! As the previewer says, "If we allow him to, Wagner truly has the power to surprise us."

[Read here of the 16-hour non-stop Wagner marathon embarked on by one enthusiast in front of a radio show to mark the Covent Garden performance.]

LINKS: Wagner's women - Guardian
'Make the nasty music go away' - Guardian

TAGS: Music, Religion

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

* * * *

Peter...

Marcus's picture

...I will try to see the Ring one day, but only a live performance.

However, Wagner's political views at the time of writing the Ring are well-documented. They were starkly left-wing and anti-industrialisation. If you have evidence to contrary, then please share it.

For yourself

Peter Cresswell's picture

"But that is exactly what Wagner was trying to do in the ring."

You know, Marcus, you really do need to experience The Ring for yourself, instead of simply taking the opinions of others for your own.

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

Give Gore Time!

Ed Hudgins's picture

Aaron and Wm, give Gore time. After he's finished putting our economy on a faster track to oblivion, he'll get around to ruining other things.

Rand would have hated it.

Marcus's picture

"....pushing a leftist world view to be taken not as interpretation but, rather, as gospel."

But that is exactly what Wagner was trying to do in the ring.

"I don't know if Rand liked Wagner..."

If Wagner really did include some noble sentiments of individualism and heroism in there Rand would have hated it all the more for pushing such a disgusting "package deal".

Doesn't matter to me though whether Ayn Rand would have liked it or not because Wagner sends me to sleep.

Not a computer nerd...

JoeM's picture

But I will be geeked out when the Transformers comes out this summer!

****************************************************************************

Spaceplayer Sight and Sound

New SOLO policy?

User hidden's picture

Computer nerds should be banned! Smiling

Wait, that would only leave about 4 members. Never mind. Me, Joe Maurone, Jennifer Iannolo, and Lindsay would have a great time, though!

Kelly

In all honesty I did the

In all honesty I did the same thing. Algore is on the board of Apple so I thought maybe he had taken over.

Wm

Islam insofar as it is directed by governments, and as a measure enforced from above by any government, is to be done away with.

I opened this thread,

Aaron's picture

I opened this thread, expecting to learn how the man who created the Internet could be ruining a fine standards-compliant, cross-platform browser! I feel a tad silly now.

Trust you, Ed!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Sono mezzo Italiano!

Everything by halves. Typical! Smiling

For the Wagner-lovers, Anja

Ed Hudgins's picture

For the Wagner-lovers, Anja Kempe as Sieglinde and Placido Domingo as Siegmund in the wonderfully-acted and sung Washington National Opera performance of Die Walküre:

 

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

And for Linz and the Italian opera lovers (myself included) the best Italian-language soprano aria, "Un Bel Di" from Madama Butterfly, probably Puccini's best opera from a dramatic perspective, sung by perhaps the best soprano ever: Maria Callas.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dY2yLBHejQ

 

 

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"The total passion for the total height." Si? È vero?

Viva gli italiani!

Ed Hudgins's picture

Io amo l'opera Italiana anche, sopratutto Puccini e Verdi! Ricorda: La mia madre se ciama DiCamillo. Sono mezzo Italiano!

Ciao!

Goodness, Ed!

Lindsay Perigo's picture

For me that music and story represent the greatest passion for the greatest high!

Remember it's "total passion for the total height." But if it takes Wagner to make you a SOLOist, then I'm a Wagnerian! Though you must forgive me if I continue to prefer the Italians. Smiling

Linz

A great scene indeed!

Ed Hudgins's picture

That was a great scene indeed! I first saw Walkure in 1980 in Munich. I remember Ingrid Bjoner as Brunnhilde started that scene as a cold, mechanical harold of death. But when faced with Siegmund's rejection of Valhalla and deep love for Sieglinde, her own emotions poured out.

And then, when Sieglinde, having fled with Brunnhinde after Siegmund's death, is in despair and Brunnhilde tells her she carries Siegmund's son, the greatest of all heroes, Sieglinde lets forth with with that glorious redemption-through-love theme.

What a marvellous theme -- we need no gods or heaven, only our own love on earth.

For me that music and story represent the greatest passion for the greatest high!

Shaw

JoeM's picture

Peter: "You overstate this enormously, Joe, just as you do the anti-industrialism. Shaw's one-dimensional reading of The Ring is entertaining, for sure, but he leaves out too much to make it in any way a genuinely rewarding reading of The Ring. What began with Wagner as, perhaps, a political statement of revolution, morphed over the twenty years or so of its creation into a fully fldged Creation Myth, one far more entertaining and infinitely more powerful (and valuable) than the creation myth that you usualy hear peddled from the world's various pulpits."

True, I was influenced by Shaw's reading, and don't know for sure that Wagner himself had any anti-industrial intent (though I wouldn't be surprised if, as Ed mentions, the seeds weren't planted by Schopenhauer. (And let's not forget the relation of Wagner to Nietzsche in BIRTH OF TRAGEDY.) But I wil withdraw the specific claim, but still maintain my designation of B.G. and A.G. Smiling

A completely superior Creation Myth

Peter Cresswell's picture

"And the corrupt world of the gods, which suppresses love, ultimately must give way to human love, not a fuzzy "love for mankind" but of individuals for one another, of Siegfried for Brunnhilde. After Valhalla comes crashing down, those free men stand before the only thing left in the new, clean world without gods: Wagner's moving and marvelous redemption-through-love leitmotif."

It's true!

Take that marvellous scene in which that redemption-through-love leitmotif first appears, and which foreshadows the dramatic end of the Gods: when Brunnhilde promises Siegmund (on behalf of Wotan) all the delights of an eternal afterlife in Valhalla if he'll just go along quietly with the mysterious ways of Wotan, and shuffle off this earth in which he has just found love.

Siegmund asks her if he'll see his father, Volsung, there in Valhalla. Answer: yes!

"Shall I in Valhall' welcome a wife?" Answer: yes --"wish maidens will wait on thee," and with much drink to boot!

Boy, what a temptation! But, asks Siegmund, shall I find Sieglinde, my lover there? Comes the answer from the Valkyrie: No.

"Then," responds Siegmund, "greet for me Valhall', greet for me Wotan! Greet for me Volsung and all the heroes; Greet too the highborn wishing maidens. To them I'll follow thee not!"

Magnificent! A complete rejection of all that the gods can offer, in favour of life and love ON THIS EARTH! This truly is splendid drama, and beautifully set.

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

Thanks Peter!

Ed Hudgins's picture

Thanks Peter!

(By the way, I hope readers have noticed that most recent issues of The New Individualist have contained items explicitly taking on religion or, the positive side, upholding the correctness and superiority of a secular world view.)

Also, when Wotan puts Brunnhilde into a magic sleep on a rock surrounded by fire, he says she can be awakened only by someone "freier als ich, der Gott," or "freer than I, the God." We know that someone will be Siegfried. (I don't know if Rand liked Wagner but she did like the Fritz Lang's movie treatment of the Siegfried story.)

There are mixed messages in Wagner; after all, he got a lot of his philosophy from Schopenhauer and was anti-Semitic. But in the Ring the message about the gods versus humans is clear. The gods, especially Wotan, are deceitful. (Fred Smith of CEI wrote a piece in the Washington Post in the late '80s on how Das Rheingold was the story of breaking contracts and violating property rights.) Fricka, his wife, puts convention ahead of the love between Siegmund and Sieglinde. And while Wagner portrayed a romantic, innocent "Nature" a la Rousseau, the scene in Siegfried where our hero re-forges his sword, singing about cutting a great tree in the forest for the fire, he seems more like Hank Rearden than a Gia-worshipper.

And the corrupt world of the gods, which suppresses love, ultimately must give way to human love, not a fuzzy "love for mankind" but of individuals for one another, of Siegfried for Brunnhilde. After Valhalla comes crashing down, those free men stand before the only thing left in the new, clean world without gods: Wagner's moving and marvelous redemption-through-love leitmotif.

What a superior Creation Myth to the Adam-and-Eve/We're-all-sinners nonsense!

Fantastic piece, Ed. This

Peter Cresswell's picture

Fantastic piece, Ed. This to me is both the lesson and the essence of The Ring: "I can create only slaves; a free man must create himself." At the end of the fourth night, the Gods themselves have finally realised the powerful truth that in the face of free men, there is nothing left for them to do. All they can do is vanish from the scene, leaving in their wake (in Chereau's production at least) a stage full of free men to find their way in a world cleansed of godly nonsense.

What a great message!

Whatever the faults of the Chereau production, that finish saves it for me as a fine piece of theatre, and one worthy of Wagner's cycle.

JOE: "...the Ring ALREADY had elements of environmentalism inherent in the story." You overstate this enormously, Joe, just as you do the anti-industrialism. Shaw's one-dimensional reading of The Ring is entertaining, for sure, but he leaves out too much to make it in any way a genuinely rewarding reading of The Ring. What began with Wagner as, perhaps, a political statement of revolution, morphed over the twenty years or so of its creation into a fully fldged Creation Myth, one far more entertaining and infinitely more powerful (and valuable) than the creation myth that you usualy hear peddled from the world's various pulpits.

Cheers, Peter Cresswell

* * * *

'NOT PC.'
**Setting Brushfires In People's Minds**

ORGANON ARCHITECTURE
**Integrating Architecture With Your Site**

It usually begins BEFORE Gore (B.G.)

JoeM's picture

Ah...the Ring ALREADY had elements of environmentalism inherent in the story, no surprise that it's being used by the Green machine today. It's also why the Nazi's were found of it, what with their pagan sun-worship and all...The Ring is also the source of much of the anti-industrialism in its spawn LORD OF THE RINGS. Anyway, maybe we should look at Gore as the "Jesus" of the Greens and mark events accordingly: B.G. (Before Gore) and A.G. (After Gore.)

Of note (from Wiki, but I've read about this elsewhere):

Perhaps the most famous modern production was the centennial production of 1976 directed by Patrice Chéreau and conducted by Pierre Boulez. Set in the industrial revolution, it replaced the depths of the Rhine with a hydroelectric power dam and featured grimy sets populated by men and gods in business suits. This drew heavily on the reading of the Ring as a revolutionary drama and critique of the modern world, famously described by George Bernard Shaw in 'The Perfect Wagnerite'. Early performances were booed, but the production is now often regarded as revolutionary. Ring productions tend to fall into two camps: those which try to remain fairly close to Wagner's original stage design and direction, and those which seek to re-interpret the Ring for modern audiences, often inserting stage pictures and action which Wagner himself might not recognise. The production by Peter Hall, conducted by Georg Solti at Bayreuth in 1983 is an example of the former, while the production by Richard Jones at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in 1994–1996, conducted by Bernard Haitink, is an example of the latter.

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