Wystan Waxes Waggish on Wagner
January 06, 2009
Los Angeles Opera will launch Achim Freyer's staging of Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen
in May next month, and this weblog can be expected to turn sporadically and spontaneously Wagnerian as the day approaches. Let's begin with a bit of affectionate jeering at the Meister, shall we?
When I hunted up W. H. Auden's "New Year Letter" for incorporation in my recent New Year's post, I was only able to turn up an excerpt or two online. Wanting to take a look at the whole thing, I swung by my local bibliotheque and checked out the Collected Poems.
The "Letter" is a lengthy contraption in Swiftian couplets, written in the wake of the German aggressions of 1939. While it begins naturally enough with a focus on the pall that has fallen over Europe, later segments of the poem focus on American concerns, and particularly on the self-absorbed brand of individualism that was and is an American hallmark, and for which Auden had little patience. Near the end of the poem, we find this Tristan-inspired jab:
The genius of the loud Steam Age,
Loud Wagner, put it on the stage:
The mental hero who has swooned
With sensual pleasure at his wound,
His intellectual life fulfilled
In knowing that his doom is willed,
Exists to suffer; borne along
Upon a timeless tide of song,
The huge doll roars for death or mother,
Synonymous with one another;
And Woman, passive as in dreams,
Redeems, redeems, redeems, redeems.
All together: "It's funny because it's true."
At least he likes the music.
To return to the LA Opera Ring: some intriguing hints of what this production will look like in performance can be seen in this video in which Placido Domingo, who will be singing Siegmund in Walküre, expresses his enthusiasm for what Herr Freyer has in store for we unsuspecting Angelenos.