Smackdown or touchdown?

Smackdown or touchdown?


norman lebrecht

March 24, 2009

I’ve just come off a WNYC Smackdown head-to-head with Anne Midgette on the never-ending question of my Wagner right or wrong. You can hear the debate here, I think, and I’m not going to use this space to have the last word on her.

What is extraordinary, though, is how every time one attempts to balance the monstrosity of Wagner’s ego and his cult against the musical genius of the work, you run up against a brick wall – not Anne, I hastily add – of people who pretend that it is possible to isolate a creator from the things he creates.

It isn’t. No Wagner, no Ring – as Bob Marley might have put it. The man’s odious ideology is part and parcel of the work. Eliminate it, and the Ring becomes a teddy bears’ tea party.


  • A.C. Douglas says:

    [Wagner’s] odious ideology is part and parcel of the work [the Ring]. Eliminate it, and the Ring becomes a teddy bears’ tea party.
    I suggest you reconsider your above remark. As Eliot has pointed out, “[The mind of an artist] may partly or exclusively operate upon the experience of the man himself; but, the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material.”
    And so it was with Wagner — in spades.

  • FK says:

    While it may not be possible to separate creator from creation, it is possible to listen to the music of Wagner (or Liszt, whom I believe held even more distasteful views) without dwelling on the more unsavoury elements of his character and thinking. I do this all the time, and I don’t feel either wrong for doing so, or like I’m missing something essential.

  • Rainer Mockert says:

    Fasolt: What you are, you are only through contracts. Could be also said by a hedge fund or insurance manager.
    I agree to a lot what was said in the radio broadcast. As a German I have to say the Wagner libretto is also for me very difficult to understand. Chereau opened for me a lot of doors, but since then only the Weimar RING made for me most of it clear. None of the probably 16 different RING productions I saw live, on tv or dvd reflected the story line of the saga. Lines, which never made sense for me were suddenly clear. Only a good team out of dramaturgy and stage director is able to do this. They have to be also very brave, because the Wagner audience or community is sometimes very agressive. The concept of the Weimar team worked out, it became believable that the story runs over min 40 years, the development of the three families, the main characters and what happened to them, was not only supported by a very clean stage decoration also by the casting and by the idea of the cliff hanger scenes between the operas.