Monday, November 30, 2009

LA Opera to Perform The Complete Ring Cycle

I got the envelope in the mail and I didn't believe it. I read the whole thing and I didn't believe it. I looked it up online and I didn't believe it. I just wrote the title of this Blog and I don't believe it. LA Opera is going to perform the entire Ring Cycle next year. Cheapest non-obstructed tickets run a mere $350 per tutti. That's $87.50 per show to sit in the balcony for four of the longest operas in the history of western music. Der Ring Des Nibelungen is certainly not the most popular of works in the world, especially among Jewish communities including Israel where Richard Wagner's works have been unofficially banned since 1938. If you are unfamiliar then let me explain that Wagner, though dead before the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, was a relentless anti-semite and a boyhood hero of Adolf's. As a child Hitler was brought to a performance of Siegfried and the anti Jewish sentiments had a profound effect on him. Studying Wagner's Operas as well as his writings on political, dramatic, social, literary, and artistic themes reveals a man who turned against former heroes when he was criticized for copying them and then in turn denounced these men (Meyerbeer, and Carl Maria Von Weber among them) as being poor composers and lacking national roots and identity stemmed from being Jewish. His essay Das Judentum in der Musik was originally released under a pseudonym and later under his real name in the mid-nineteenth century and pushed an already existent anti-semetic sentiment among some of his contemporaries and colleagues in music as well as other prominent fields of political and social media. Hitler would eventually claim that Wagner's music was a symbol of the best of Aryan and German culture and even use Wagner's "The Flight of the Valkyrie," as the anthem of his Third Reich. Many today still have trouble separating the evil thoughts and senitments of Wagner from his works and contributions to music, art, drama, and later film. It is certainly understandable that Jewish people from all countries around the world still shun the performance of his works at weddings-where one of the most common songs to date is Wagner's wedding march from the opera Lohengrin, which you know as "Here comes the bride, all dressed in white..."- and certain locations of religious importance including synagogues and obviously the holy land. Even this very performance was fought against at the highest levels of Los Angeles' local government by appointed officials who believe strongly against some of the themes in these works and Wagner's post-mortem ties to one of the most infamous atrocities known to the western world. I, for one, believe as many musical and artistic scholars do, that the works must be judged separately from their author and that the effect Wagner's introduction of the music drama (a complete stage play in which the music serves only to push the drama and conforms to said drama and not the other way around as in earlier Italian and French Operas and more akin to the common movie score today) and the leitmotif (a short musical signature assigned to a character and/or theme of the drama made common by Wagner in works like "The Ring" and pushed to the forefront of movie scores by John Williams with his theme music for characters like Darth Vader and Indian Jones) is of utmost importance to the history of western music and makes his crowning work a must see this coming year. I also believe that any person who considers seeing this masterwork should have knowledge of the ties to Germany's National Socialist (Nazi) Movement and Adolf Hitler and the literature on this performance, work, and composer, should educate possible audience members on both the negative and positive aspects help within both the man and his work. The German Romantic Opera is a staple of Wagner's, which he developed through Lohengrin, Tannhauser, Tristan und Isolde, and then perfected in the last of the four operas within the Ring Cycle known as Gotterdamerung (The Twilight of the Gods). To see a Wagner Opera is a long and sometimes overbearing experience. To sit through all four of these works in one weekend will take an audience of a certain pedigree and I am positive that I will be among the few who sit through the entire show every night. The Ring of the Nibelungs is based on stories from Norse legends and contains a ring fashioned by a gnome out of special Rhinegold and later cursed by Wotan, king of the gods, to bring misery and death to its wearer. These Norse legends were also loosely adapted by an author you may have heard of known as J.R.R. Tolkien. LA Opera's director Placido Domingo has commissioned Achim Freyer to design and direct the stage production along with James Conlon conducting the orchestra and these three men along with the supremely top notch players from the LA Opera and the cast make this one of the most highly anticipated productions of this closing decade. All of this splendor along with the fact that LA is also hosting an entire Ring festival including literary, musical, artistic, and political discussions of the work in various contexts throughout historical and contemporary society make this author a bit anxious. The education I called for earlier will certainly be available through lectures and presentations that will take place in venues including The Walt Disney Concert Hall, American Jewish University, Mount St. Mary's College, The Museum of Contemporary Art, and many more. There is simply too much to consider, but this also makes for so much to be excited for. For more information check:   and/or  LA Opera.... This article contains paraphrased factual information from the History of Wetern Music by Donald J. Grout and Claude V. Palisca and insight derived from the author's studies of Wagner and German Mythology while both an undergraduate and graduate student of music at the University of California, Santa Barbara and San Diego State University. Thank you for reading.

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