This Is A Big Load Off My Mind
Sunday Night Journal — December 3, 2006

More Fun With Wagner

Notwithstanding my experience with Siegfried, I've continued to get further acquainted with Wagner. I've decided that, in general, opera on video is a bad idea (more about that in another post). I still plan to see the video project through but Gotterdamerung is on hold until the Christmas break, when my youngest daughter will be home from college. She got as far as Die Walkure with us and wants to see the others.

My approach now is to focus on the music, totally ignoring the visual aspect and putting the text in the background. I check out an opera from the local library and play each disc several times running (over the space of several days or a week). I look at the booklet to determine what part of the action the disc covers, then set it aside. I find that this, along with the faint memories of high school and college German that enable me to recognize words and phrases here and there, is enough to give me a rough idea of what's happening, and it eliminates the distraction of trying to follow every word. (It also allows me to do this while commuting.)

I've also been listening to Speight Jenkins' recorded guide to the Ring, which is fascinating. It's not quite what I wanted--I was looking for a full guide to the musical motifs, whereas Jenkins focuses more on character and drama, but it's still worthwhile.

The result is that I'm coming to like the music more and more, and Wagner as a visionary artist/prophet less and less. The Ring is clearly a stupendous achievement, but there's something rotten at the core of it.

A side effect of this expedition is that I'm even less receptive than I was, which was not very, to the argument that there is something fundamentally noble about classical music, and fundamentally degrading about popular music. Classical music is, obviously, richer and more complex, but it is not necessarily any healthier spiritually.

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