We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

A Wagner Weekend: _Parzival_ in West Virginia · 4 June 06

Dear Anne,

The Admiral and I returned from Cacapon Resort State Park, a large beautiful green area of lawn, wood, lake, beach, mountain view, plus golf course, picnic, boating, and rock-and-roll area in the which may be found a large hotel-inn which hosts package weekends for groups of people. The park is just on the edge of West Virginia. From our room’s window in the lodge, we could see part of a golf course, and on Saturday afternoon we took a walk into the park to the beach.

The Wagner package included all meals (with wine if you wanted to pay for it) in a large airy (many windowed) dining room looking out over a sweeping green landscape (lots of differently hued blue in the moving skies), and a party in a large corridor on Saturday night after the Wagner society group did a dramatic reading of this year’s Wagner opera under consideration: Parzival. The food was mostly fine, and the members of the society friendly people who love opera, particularly Wagnerian opera. I much enjoyed talking to the different people at breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. Jim and I met quite a number of people like-minded to ourselves in ways beyond a love of music: play-goers, readers, people interested in politics (I had the most leftist conversations with anyone face-to-face that I’ve had in years), people in middle management jobs, teachers too. Most were part of middle-aged couples. Caroline had teased most of the people would be gays: there weren’t any visible at this conference. There were some parent-child pairs, where the parent was in his or her 70s and the child in her or her 50s. Lots of single older people (in their fifties mostly). One interesting friendly man had spent years in Africa as a US ambassador for the State Department in Kenya. He told me this upon noticing my carrying around John LeCarre’s The Constant Gardener.

The highpoints of the weekend were the lectures, the dramatic reading aloud of the script, and the Saturday night party talkfest afterwards. Simon Williams, Chairman of the Drama Department at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Jeffrey Swain, an articulate knowledgeble pianist from New York City, gave 3 each and most of them lasted well over an hour and one half. I didn’t understand Jeffrey’s (everyone was on first-name basis immediately) all that well so will leave aany detailed description to Jim—who this evening took down from our shelves amd read some of Wagner’s essays on music in three volumes of prose by Wagner I didn’t know we had.

I’d like to remember something of what Simon spoke about. He may have lived in the US for many years, but he retains an articulate clipped English accent—only the sounds come from deeper and lower in his throat than once they did. His lectures were thoroughly analytical and thoughtful, brilliantly insightful, yet delivered in a lucid natural easy English style that was engaging and stimulating. So here is a transcription of my notes.

Simon’s first lecture was on the thematic archetypes in Parzival. He argued sexuality and spirituality were at the core of the opera. By the time he finished it seemed that the opera was a kind of enactment of Freud’s Civilization and Its Discontents, with male abstinence from sexual intercourse with women the central necessary repression. Yes this was an interpretation where the control and extinguishing of women’s sexuality, power, presence, was the necessary step for male bonding and some minimal peace, joy, stability. More than once he referred to how Kundrie longs for just an hour of Parzival’s fucking. Of course he did not use that frank a word. Parzival bravely rejects her as she is promiscuous. He did not put it so that we would hear too explicit ly that a bad woman and bad mother is the heart of evil in this play.

We happened to be reading Carlyle’s Past and Present on Trollope-l, and, lo and behold, Simon suggested that the most influential texts on Wagner for this opera were by Schoepenhauer and Thomas Carlyle (particularly the essays on heroes and hero worship, and Past and Present). After these writers’ texts, Freud’s could be used to explicate it.

He explained Schopenhauer thus: the world is created by our will, and much that we claim as a rationale for doing things is not at all. People are strong in vain, much that they seek is vain and does not bring happiness. The relief is gotten through aesthetic experience. Wagner’s music is an unmediated expression of the will to power and to retreat. Art saves and consoles us.

Carlyle comes in since he tried to hail and use hero worship and he assailed the modern world which he is said to have disliked. It seems to be a play where the mesmeric heroes are saved by acts of compassion (except of course Kundrie who is harshly judged—the professor did not say that, I did, Anne). You might say Parzival is a course in Abstinence I.

In Parzival sex is a destructive force. Parzival is threatened by the bad mother figure whom he must throw over. The lecture was closed with an exegesis of the play paradigm which came out of Oedipus Rex. The problem again is the professor never thinks of Jocasta. I would’ve liked to turn what he said on its head, and suggest we can read Parzival as a woman’s nightmare. (I didn’t have the nerve to do more than ask a question on the third day: has film at all influenced the stagings of opera—the answer was no?) I felt better the third day when I saw the modern productions Simon describe took the ending as pessmistic, with the final landscape of one having a railway track to Auschwitz.
In one production of La Traviata, the heroine turns around, pulls out a pistol, and shoots her male tormenters (father and son) before expiring herself. None of the Parzival productions go that far. Alas.

I was dismayed at how no other woman semeed to make any protest against this reading of Parzival as uplifting. Later on Saturday night talking to some of them I discovered that indeed they were not keen on the way Kundry is condemned and dismissed. Some men too made fun of the sexual hang-ups of the opera. Still this was a work centered in hegemonic masculinity, where the phallus was supreme, and the notion that female sexuality is real power was never questioned, all the while the interest of the thematic talk was in the top numinous male: Parzival and his quest.

Parzival has a number of marks of last or late works: abstraction, figures who are larger than life, sparse dialogue, long speeches, less sense of communication between characters, reliance on symbols, and an address to what is beyond life; little story, static action (little sense of an unfolding story), an unknowable universe. Tragic heroes tend not to end in suffering in such works.

He did describe the music eloquently: strongly and strangely evocative, echoing a sense of far distant places, sad, about resignation, anxiety and an urge for triumph, with a continual touch of the neurotic. The listener must allow it to seep in. The story of the play is non-existent, and there is a (how shall we put it) soporific tendency in the very static quality of the non-action on stage. It seems Parzival was a long-time coming: from the time of Tannhauser, and a reading of Wolfram’s Parzival in 1845, Wagner wanted to write an opera about Parzival. Some inner private traumatic experience in 1857 was hinted at as giving rise to this and other of Wagner’s late mythic operas. It was performed 37 years after Wagner originally conceived it.

In Simon’s second lecture, "To clap or not to clap," he argued that Parzival is more ritual than drama. He really seemed to feel the audience should not applaud at its close. He distinguished ritual from drama. Ritual is an act of worship. The people who attend are participants. They must act in apparent agreement. Repetition, a connection to the past, a assertion everyone is enacting a timeless set of acts, that some eternal truth is revealed, that the past is of immense value and must not be marginalized from our consciousness in any way. It assumes human nature should not betray what is asserted about the people and their relationship through the ritual.

By contrast, drama is about change, ephemeralness, individual lives, the moment, chance, with the audience the watchers and the actors the illusionists.

He tried to distinguish spirituality from religion: spirituality is the state of mind that religions based their dogmas and specific rituals on. His idea was that in our era we are so much in danger from how religion may be exploited for brutal political ends, that we may wish to avoid all religious rituals and doctrines. He was candid and honest, for after the dramatic reading of the Parzival libretto he fully admitted that the words of the text were so saturated in and so many of them came directly from Catholic rituals, that it is hard to deny the opera is not enacting the Christian religion. Nonetheless, it’s clear that’s just what he wanted to do so as to make the opera’s beauty and meaning humanely available to us today.

What struck me forcibly is he offered me an explanation for why I so dislike most rituals. He said rituals when imposed and enforced from outside and felt by the individuals participating to be assertions of what is not true feel like violations. Yes. So that’s why I dislike weddings and am so charmed by the Sondheim song, "I’m not getting married today."

He had some intriguing ideas on why people clap at the end of live plays and operas. He seemed to feel that we are not applauding the actors so much as ourselves. I’m not sure. If this were so, would we not also applaud a movie? We don’t applaud at the end of most movies because there are no actors on the stage, only a screen.

The last day he gave a lecture on the production history of Parzival. I was expecting a slide show chock-a-block with photographs for an hour straight. Instead he produced something more interesting: the pictures came only in the last half-hour of his presentation, and they were selected to represent his argument. He presented a strong case for unconventional productions of not only Parzival but all operas in the classic opera repertory still done because since we have so few operas we do, if we stayed with a single conventional staging, soon no one would go to an opera.

Again he tried to think out the kind of thoughts which underlie in this case human taste. First he conceded that those people who do not like innovative productions do so because they don’t understand them, have invested much of their ego or identity with particular agenda embodied in the conventional staging. He defended the impulse to reject the new and radical. People go to opera for its rituals, and are seeking to put back into their lives their pasts. A new staging violates their sense of self. Music is a powerful, primary language, and where music occurs loudly or strongly, the words become relatively much less important; directors provide images to go with the music; blocking comes well before words in importance. Since music is so important, we require the director to justify an unusual treatment.

He talked about the impulse to de-heroize in modern productions. Modern productions are also symbolic, simple, and have moved away from literal representations of fragments of realism in our lives. Modern day productions use lighting to paint the stage and to convey the emotional experience the particular scene involves.

The one thing he cannot abide in productions is trivialization of the great work. I agree.

He then moved on to discuss theatre as such as opposed to opera (or film). He alluded to Peter Brooks’s Empty Space, which he said is the best book on productions ever written. Brook said theatre is perishable experience whose productions should not be permitted to continue past 5 years. Theatre is perishable experience, and the stage has to be treated symbolically. Even living rooms decked out to look like a TV show are symbolic. This perishability and quick obsolescence of costumes and clothes and gestures is true of film too. I know screening films for my students is sometimes an eye-opener for me, because through their eyes and presences while we watch films, I began to gauge the distance between the manners and surface behaviors and repertory of social selves of their age and mine. Simon said that one generation’s naturalism becomes the next generation’s artificiality.

Finally, he got to Wagner and romantic realism, the basic mode of the 19th century: this may be defined as literal so-called probability or the usual we see and much detail from such concoctions in our minds put on stages and written up in books.On the stage this earlier style of presentation increasingly lacks credibility. In particular, Parzival and Tristan and Isolde quickly revealed the inadequacies of romantic realism. The problem in staging these two operas is, how does one represent spiritual experience in physical terms? Now the power-point presentation (slide show) began.

He suggested that a particular Swiss artist, Adolphe Appia (1862-1928) was central in the transformation of staging in theatre. Appia was a visionary who drew remarkable pictures of what he imagined the theatre could project if only the expressionist capacities of its square space were liberated. He dreamed idyllic natural and abstract designs.

Adolphe Appia, design for Parzival

It seems that Cosima Wagner rejected Appia’s designs, but since that time, as the earlier style of representation increasingly lacked credibility and for Wagner especially was all wrong, the mainstream of staging has become symbolic. Wagner is done in Brechtian terms, which skirt near absurdism. Parzival’s circularity becomes the idea at the heart of modern staging.

To the clutter, stodginess and detailed ornate luxury (=oppression) of the Christianized production we saw of Parzival with Klingsor dressed like a spaceman from Star Trek, at the Kennedy center, and symbolic phallic points,spears, and plases, I certainly prefer Appia:

As to Jeffrey’s lectures on the music itself, the first night he suggested that the music of Parzival is made up of highly disparate kinds of music historically and thematically. On the second day in the afternoon he showed the way leitmotifs are discussed is misleading. No piece of tune stands for a specific idea, thing, or event in Wagner. Rather Wagner uses leitmotifs as a way of structuring his music as a story unfolds: he is trying to write music for operas in the structured or patterned way composers write symphonies or forms that come in specific pre-set patterns. On the last afternoon (today), he showed how the music written for Parzival was influenced by the physical plant of the Bayreuth building, and how it anticipates modern music of the atonal type, of the later 19th century French opera and symphonic composers (Debussy) and also resembles French impressionism, e.g., Claude Monet’s Sunrise:

Intermittently during all three lectures, Jeffrey would play snatches of the opera to illustrate what he meant. The music often substituted for words. He had a way of changing his mind, of ever qualifying and altering what he had just said, so sometimes he came round to saying the opposite of what he had first set out to say.

Jim was enjoying these lectures and the atmosphere of the weekend so, he was as reluctant to leave as Jeffrey was to end any of his lectures. Simon also appeared to enjoy intensely, indeed relish speaking. As we walked out, some people bid us adieu and waved. I said to one man I hoped we would meet again soon. There is a Wagner concert for "Emergent Singers" in McLean in less than 2 weeks, and the Wagner Society is going, so we have bought tickets; next year they will be another weekend meeting at Cacapon: the opera will be Lohengrin. If we went again, we’d begin to solidify some friendships and probably learn a good deal in this very pleasant way.


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. Quite coincidentally Nick wrote a brilliant commentary on Carlyle’s Past and Present which connects to Simon’s talk about spirituality in Parzival and the connection of the work to Carlyle:

    Thanks to Ellen and Leslie for the illuminating posts. Also to Wayne to the passage from and commentary
    on Ruskin.

    Oddly I found one passage in this week’s reading which struck me as very Ruskinian…

    >>The Hatter in the Strand of London, instead of making better felt hats than another, mounts a huge lath-and-plaster Hat, seven-feet high, upon wheels; sends a man to drive it through the streets; hoping to be saved thereby. He has not attempted to make better hats, as he was appointed by the Universe to do, and as with this ingenuity of his he could very probably have done; but his whole industry is turned to persuade us that he has made such! He too knows that the Quack has become God. For there is one Reality among so many Phantasms; about one thing we are entirely in earnest: The making of money. Working Mammonism does divide the world with idle game-preserving dilettantism:—thank Heaven that there is even a Mammonism, anything we are in earnest about! Idleness is worst, Idleness alone is without hope: work earnestly at anything, you will by degrees learn to work at almost all things. There is endless hope in work, were it even work at making money.All work, even cotton-spinning, is noble; work is alone noble: be that here said and asserted once more. And in like manner too all dignity is painful; a life of ease is not for any man, nor for any god…........

    Does not the whole wretchedness, the whole Atheism as I callit, of man’s ways, in these generations, shadow itself for us inthat unspeakable Life-philosophy of his: The pretension to be what he calls ‘happy?’ Every pitifulest whipster that walks within a skin has his head filled with the notion that he is, shall be, or by all human and divine laws ought to be, ‘happy.’ His wishes, the pitifulest whipster’s, are to be fulfilled for him; his days, the pitifulest whipster’s, are to flow on in ever-gentle current of enjoyment, impossible even for the gods. The prophets preach to us, Thou shalt be happy; thou shalt love pleasant things, and find them. The people clamour, Why have we not found pleasant things?>‘Happy,’ my brother?

    First of all, what difference is it whetherthou art happy or not! Today becomes Yesterday so fast, all Tomorrows become Yesterdays; and then there is no question whatever of the ‘happiness,’ but quite another question.>‘Happiness our being’s end and aim’ is at bottom, if we will count well, not yet two centuries old in the world.Behold, the day is passing swiftly over, our life is passing swiftly over; and the night cometh, wherein no man can work. The night once come, our happiness, our unhappiness,—it is all abolished; vanished, clean gone; a thing that has been: ‘not of the slightest consequence’ whether we were happy as eupeptic Curtis, as the fattest pig of Epicurus, or unhappy as job with potsherds, as musical Byron with Giaours and sensibilities of the heart; as the unmusical Meat-jack with hard labour and rust! But our work,—behold that is not abolished, that has not vanished: our work, behold, it remains, or the want of it remains;—for endless Times and Eternities, remains; and that is now the sole question with us forevermore!

    I would have to say that I regard all this as pernicious nonsense. My own belief is that the search for happiness is the point, indeed the only point, of human existence. Whether it is achievable at all, let alone how any individual is to achieve it are very different, difficult and probably impossible questions. I start with a personal belief because I think that is important in an argument like this. And I must be clear that I am not contesting that work may be a route to happiness. It is also important to disentangle Carlyle's attack on selfishness from his attack on happiness. The idea that one can, or should, make oneself happy without regard for others is rightly attacked. But this is not the same as attacking the search for happiness itself.

    The context in which Carlyle makes his attack on happiness is of course a religious one ; religious in the sense that it devalues human existence in comparison to 'the night', 'endless Time and Eternities' and so on. It all reads very oddly because the normal context in which we read this sort of thing is within a conventionally monotheistic religious tradition; so life on earth is a preparation for eternity, and what matters is how we behave in order that we may be 'judged' right. Carlyle takes this conventional religion out of the question (because he had rejected it) but still wants to retain the view of human life and existence as of little importance. It all makes for a very peculiar and unconvincing mish-mash.

    Having said all this I remain utterly at odds with his viewpoint. Once one starts to dismiss the importance of human life and human happiness then all sorts of terrible evils can start to let themselves in. Because the measurement becomes in-human.

    I have been reading Robert Fisk's >The Great War for Civilisation He talks about a meeting with a young Iranian soldier, Hassan Qasqari, during the Iran-Iraq war. They talked of martyrdom. ''If we could not understand this, Qasqari explained, it was because the European Renaissance had done away with religion, no longer paying attention to morality and ethics, concentrating only on materialism..........'Europe and the West have confined these issues to the cover of churches', Qasqari said. 'Western people are like fish in the water; they can only understand their immediate surrounding. They don't care about spirituality.' ''
    There was something so Carlylean about this that it immediately struck me ; partly the insistence on a historical point for the start of the decline (even if they are hundred or so years apart - but perhaps Qasqari did not know of Cromwell :)), but also that phrase about only understanding their immediate surroundings. Perhaps this is unfair but to me it is an example of what can happen once you start to disregard human life and happiness on earth and supplant them with super-human values or entities (which is why I see atheism as far more 'moral' than any religion).

    Possibly this just a long and over-personal diversion but I do think it is important to grapple with Carlyle's ideas.

    The following Chapter (The English) is at times more than a little embarrassing, given to crude generalisation and xenophobia (the passage on the French).

    elinor    Jun 5, 1:04am    #
  2. Dear Nick,

    I’m reminded of Trollope’s justifiably harsh satire on advertising (The Struggles of Jones, Brown and Robinson), and how he was a man who centered his existence in experience. Carlyle was to him Sir Pessimist Anticant!

    I also see happiness as the point of existence (though not everyone does -- some prefer power, they want to triumph, to have excitement, and to hurt others too). The passages on "endless Time and Eternities'" are a worship of death.

    Elinor    Jun 5, 1:12am    #
  3. From Jill:

    Dearest Ellen,

    I’m reading your post on the Wagner conference and I had this sudden thought: Could the central conflict in the opera (Parsifal) be a reflection of the fact that, as a late work, Wagner couldn’t get it up anymore and he was making a virtue of necessity?

    more later from
    Elinor    Jun 5, 8:11am    #
  4. Dear Jill,

    Very funny and sceptical.

    I see you're dismissive of all the meanings discussed in said lectures and at the conference. I'm not. There was also much sub-talk (subtexts) about the politics of opera-making and the profession of composer, musician, and singer plus family bullying as seen at Bayreuth (by-the-bye and sotto voce with no names named so really a mode of showing off).

    I do like operas performed on chairs with no costumes. I’d prefer most of Wagner that way as then I wouldn’t be bothered with the words or action which is (to my mind) as pernicious as Carlyle (that’s why I put Nick’s posting on the block).

    Exceptions are operas which genuinely work as plays and have more decent meanings: Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro for example.

    I did find The Italian Girl in Algiers mostly gross and a trial of my patience. I know the music is rousing and certainly the people on stage worked very hard. I felt sorry for the male who had to make such an idiot out of himself as the sultan.

    elinor    Jun 5, 8:31am    #
  5. Aw c’mon. I was only kidding. Why would I enjoy Wagner seminars so much if I were "dismissive of all the meanings discussed in said lectures "?

    For me the visual is an essential component of opera, and much of my anticipation in seeing a new production is what the sets and costumes will look like. Ask the Admiral if he’s ever seen the Julie Taymor’s Tokyo Opera production of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex; absolutely breathtaking, turning an opera which is not very memorable into a blockbuster (for me, anyway).

    I enjoy the discussions (in seminars) of "sub-texts and meanings" and the pleasure I find in the gossipy bits does not reflect well on my character, I fear.

    My favorite operas are the Russian ones inspired by poetry and folk tales, such as Eugene Onegin, The Queen of Spades and Boris Godunov. In general, I like the literary ones (from novels and poetry) the best. And discussion of them in a seminar is a pleasure not unlike our reading lists.
    Tatyana    Jun 5, 6:03pm    #
  6. Adolph Appia’s set designs remind me of the Asian landscapes of which I’m so fond. Surreal and yet serene.
    Tatyana    Jun 5, 6:05pm    #
  7. More from me. Just who the heck do I think I am, anyway.

    This to Nick, and to you, Sophie, dear friend:

    I believe that we are only aware of being happy in retrospect. Moments of unadulterated bliss are just that, momentary. When I found out that my husband was going to be all right when he was hospitalized for the blood clots in his leg. Just after the birth of each of my daughters. When my second daughter found out that she passed the bar. When my oldest daughter found out she had been accepted for the doctoral program she wanted so much.

    I think it’s a mistake to gear your whole life to the "pursuit of happiness". For me, the pursuit of serenity is much more vital.

    About Nick's The Great War for Civilisation. He talks about a meeting with a young Iranian soldier, Hassan Qasqari, during the Iran-Iraq war. They talked of martyrdom. ‘’If we could not understand this, Qasqari explained, it was because the European Renaissance had done away with religion, no longer paying attention to morality and ethics, concentrating only on materialism>>

    Has anyone read John Updike’s new novel, Terrorist? Sounds like it is about just this subject. I heard about it on the Diane Rehm show this morning.
    Tatyana    Jun 5, 6:18pm    #
  8. Dear Tatyana,

    I should not have seen the quick reply as so generalizing. I apologize. I thought the way you were dealing with the misogyny and repression of life’s appetites and giving up on happiness too, was to sweep the meaning we are confronted with away. I did think the comment funny, and Jim laughed when he saw it. Scepticism does dissolve away assertions of the importance of imagined ideas. This is very much in line with Trollope’s point of view: he’d have no patience for Wagner (and except when he thinks Carlyle has a pragmatic meaning mocks Carlyle).

    In a sense that’s what Simon (the professor who did most of the speaking) did and admitted he did after we read aloud the libretto. He had wanted to erase away, dissolve the insistent Christian doctrines as embodied in all the language and symbols of the libretto; he wanted to see spirituality not Christian religion as central to Parzival. The libretto is insistent otherwise. And what bothered me intensely is he did not appear to understand how much the serenity at the end (that would be the kind of word he’d use, and indeed perhaps he did have it in there somewhere) was dependent on crushing and berating and stigmatizing the woman. He read a line where she says "oh one hour of joy" with you, when all it is is fucking, and lots about sex is not fun (in my view and that of many a stage comedienne) for the woman (e.g., fellatio), but servicing the man. When he liked the staging where the end shows us a railway to Auschwitz, that brings out the Nazism of the Wagner outlook, but he did not appear to see how the destruction of Kundrie's self should also be reversed in modern productions. He appeared to find the ending of the modern Traviata with Violetta shooting the old man and his son dead before she expires herself simply outrageous or funny. He himself got such a kick out of Wagner's love for the Flower Maidens. That appeared to be his way of seeing that Wagner wasn't so repressed about sex after all. But all this is fulfilling male sex in ways that keep women frail and clinging contingent objects.

    Your examples seem to me to be about being relieved as well as happy. Serenity can be called a word for resignation, but your examples suggest that's not what you mean as they are so forward-thrusting. In the case of births and passing an exam, now the person has much to do, or can hope to do much that might be meaningful and gain respect. so it's not happiness you are after but useful activity in the world as presented constructed. The people who seek power are actually not after happiness or meaningful activity but control and (for people like Bush) making others feel their will. They enjoy watching others squirm and obey them, but this is not happiness. It's triumph. Nick is going for the 18th century ideal, and one I like -- perhaps that's why he likes the 18th century and turns up on ECW. I'm afraid he is now ill and may be gone for quite a while. Alas. Trollope (by-the-bye) seeks happiness but a qualified one, more like contentment and resignation.

    I asked Jim and he said he had not seen the Tokyo production. I can love costumes and staging and they even make an opera for me: that was the case with Das Rheingold which I now suspect was getting me to see the opera against the grain of what Wagner might have meant. But often I really would prefer to see the people on chairs singing. The same holds true for many musicals.

    At the same time there are many operas with real intellectual content which allows for discussion and brilliant effective meaningful staging: beyond the allegories of Wagner, all of Mozart's, some of Verdi, some Handel, and more recently Benjamin Britten. I can't imagine Sondheim in chairs :). Much would be lost.

    I wish I had time to read these books. Nick’s is the book of the month for Progressive Thinkers @ Yahoo. The closest I’m getting is LeCarre’s Constant Gardener, which is about the exploitation and cruel abuse and brutality used to keep the cliques in power in the west which are smashing societies in the Middle East where they see they can make big grabs of wealth and power.

    Don’t miss Elizabeth Drew’s "Bush’s Power Grab" in the New York Review of Books where she makes a case for seeing our present constitutional government as at serious risk.

    Feel free to talk as much as you like. No hubris here is possible. People come and read this blog every two minutes, but as in a list (worse really) hardly any one ever comments. I'm grateful for all comments. Very grateful.


    PS. Austen gives her Admiral Crofts no first name, so I have named him James. There is no Mr Drake in Sayers's novel.
    Elinor    Jun 6, 7:34am    #
  9. You commented, OTOH, we have the Rhine Maidens in the Ring Cycle, sexy, sassy, teasing, and of course it is their teasing that spurred Alberich to steal the Rhine Gold.
    But that, of course, is another story…
    Tatyana    Jun 6, 11:58am    #
  10. That’s a valid point. Combined with the excitement of giving birth was the relief of having the labor over. Little did I know that would be the easiest labor of raising children!

    Back to a much earlier point: clapping has become an increasingly annoying distraction in too many places. My father tells me it is increasingly common in his Protestant church. In church? In operas I am annoyed with the increasingly common of applauding after arias, even at the Met in NYC.
    Tatyana    Jun 6, 12:09pm    #
  11. Tatyana writes too:

    "With the best operas, as with Shakespeare, the art is of such a nature that it thrives with all kinds of interpretations. It is why there is such pleasure in our reading lists, too.

    I’ve seen (heard?) Wagner performed ‘in chairs’ and enjoyed it too. The set and costumes add a whole other dimension to that enjoyment. Sometimes when they are threadbare they distract and detract, but that hasn’t happened to me often."

    I agree but for myself on the Rhine Maidens: they grate or maybe the men's attitudes towards them grates.

    In the production I saw at the Kennedy Center of Parzival, they were cloying and sex objects, "emasculated" so as to be no threat whatsoever – sort of Lily Dales in costume (to make an allusion to my posting today about Trollope and women). I could see the men in the audience listening to Simon and Jeffrey and Jeffrey liked them. So I could do with them in chairs.

    Now in Zambella’s Das Rheingold the river nymphs (an analogous set of females), the women were on scaffold climbing all about and intwined with one another. Sappho nymphs—more than a hint of homoeroticism there.

    The Zambella production was not liked by conservative people at this Wagner weekend. One such person called Kundrie "a bad woman."

    elinor    Jun 6, 12:33pm    #
  12. Dear Tatyana,

    It’s startling to be told people clap in church. The professor’s idea was we should not clap for Parzival because it is not quite drama (=fiction), but ritual (=an enactment of something literally believed in).

    I felt that most of the people listening to him didn’t agree we shouldn’t clap at the end of Parzival. Probably they really didn’t take the opera seriously on the aesthetic & spiritual level he does.

    Elinor    Jun 7, 3:29pm    #
  13. Sorry I have only got just got around to reading this blog and the comments.

    I wouldn’t want to oppose serenity to happiness Tatyana. I was aware that I was taking a risk of sounding reductionist, but my main purpose was to oppose Carlyle. The last thing I wanted to suggest was a crude or simple definition of happiness ; as Ellen knows in my own case happiness is a simple by-product of not being ill (depressed), but even with this I feel guilt for the selfishness of this ambition. I do not even want to suggest that happiness (serenity, content etc.) is obtainable under the current order of society. But once you take away the pursuit of human happiness as the goal of existence (which is what Carlyle, like many other thinkers, does) the door is opened to all kinds of evil because morality then becomes inhuman and judgement is made by various religious (whether formal or personal) standards which to a greater or lesser extent discount humanity. One can argue forever about what defines human happiness and how it should be pursued and there are many definitions which I loath and despise, but with a belief system which is concerned with the super or non human there is no argument. In Carlyle’s case there is a particular difficulty because he invented (or borrowed from German thinkers) his own peculiar supra-human ideology (actually I have just discovered that Engels called it pantheism but I think he had in mind specific German thinkers as Carlyle does not strike me as pantheist in the commonly understood English sense of the word).

    Anyway all this is a long way from the topic and my clarifictaion is probably obfuscatory.

    On clapping I went to see a production of Tosca on Tuesday and was amazed when at the curtain call some people in the theatre booed the singer playing Scarpia! There was no reason for this in terms of the man’s performance so I suppose it was like booing a pantomime villain. Perhaps it was a testament to the power of the productions dramatic realism! :). I don’t know whether the professor would hold that this was taking the opera too seriously or not seriously enough?

    Personally I love the dramatic possibilities of ‘staged’ opera. This production of Tosca for instance featured a papal procession where he was born aloft by men in KKK hoods – sledgehammer perhaps but devastatingly effective.

    nick    Jun 9, 12:15pm    #

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