More reflections on the Met’s Die Walküre…
A couple of days later… and Robert Lepage’s Metropolitan Opera House production of Die Walküre still makes little sense, utterly spectacular though it was.
Or didn’t, until I read Jessica Duchen’s hyperbolic but deeply sincere post on seeing the production in the cinema two nights ago in London. She writes the following:
“This is why we need music. This is the real thing. This is what it’s all about. Showing us what a human being can truly achieve and share with others. Talk about Nietzsche if you like, talk about man and superman and Also sprach Zarathustra, but Wagner proves that something superhuman can come from humanity. And if it can, then it should. And don’t tell me that anyone who can’t hear it or doesn’t ‘get’ it isn’t missing out. Yes, they are. Wagner wanted this music to be for everyone. He wanted to reach the widest possible audience because he knew he had something vital to give them. He’s still giving.”
Fair cop. I’m guessing here, but I imagine that yesterday’s broadcast, problems and all, reached many tens of thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands. Few of those, given what Duchen says about cinemas being sold out months in advance, will have been new to Wagner, regardless of how astonishing the production might have appeared. For that, you need television and you also need to say something with the work – because it wasn’t simply Wagner that Wagner was trying to promote (oh alright, quite a lot of it was), but a political message, a philosophical message, a message about the power of music-drama and art in general.
But the ideas Wagner was trying to promote are deeply unfashionable now (and I’m not talking about anti-semitism, just in case you were wondering)… about the impossibility of love in modern society (Siegmund and Sieglinde, Brünnhilde and Wotan), about the corrupting power of greed and capital (Alberich and Wotan, later Siegfried), about a love whole and complete in itself rather than adhering to social standards (the incest and adultery of Sieglinde) and that in so doing redeems (Sieglinde’s hymn of praise to Brünnhilde’s protection), and so on.
And so Lepage and the Metropolitan Opera are forced – as Chéreau and even Kupfer in Bayreuth were not – to retreat to spectacle, to convince by taking the ideas out of Wagner, and replacing them with a show predicated on the need to make Wagner merely look as good as possible. Badiou and Žižek, perhaps even Wagner himself, would have a field day. Converting people to music-drama’s cause (rather than anything else) through razzle-dazzle simply betrays the Romantic impulses that created it.
All this said, yesterday’s Wagner was musically brilliant. Eva-Maria Westbroek’s Sieglinde is seared into my memory (what a Brünnhilde she might make), as is Terfel’s Wotan, an interpretation that I think will probably grow on me with reflection. That third act… Perhaps someone might take the Met’s vast budget and give Stefan Herheim a cast of Terfel, Kaufmann, Westbroek, Blythe, any given Hunding, and Nina Stemme – throw in Barenboim and the Berliner Philharmoniker as well, why don’t you – and see what happens. Please.