The Mets new season begins with a uniquely potent four-hour hymn to love, sexuality and death at the end of which the audience may feel as if they have witnessed something revelatory, even life-changing
In my experience, Wagner gets a different sort of audience from most opu. More humen; more people who come along on their own. Verdians, Mozartians come to be enriched and entertained. Perfect Wagnerites come to find the meaning of life.
I was once sitting behind the late Bernard Levin, a noted British journalist and essayist, during a performance of Wagners Gtterdmmerung, the final the members of the Ring cycle, at Covent Garden. At the end of the marathon performance all of the later Wagner operas are marathons an excited American woman came up to Levin. Mr Levin, she told, was it significant that Siegfried and Hagen[ the rogue of the opu] were both wearing green dress? She supposed she had found the key to the Ring.
Levin meditated for a moment, then gave what I thought was a wonderfully deadpan respond. No, I dont think so, he told. Probably just some material left over from Don Giovanni. He was gently trying to tell his interlocutor that the Ring was a work of art , not a puzzle which, if it could be unravelled, would explain everything.
He had a point, of course, but to the acolytes Wagner does feel as if he offers something different a treatise on life rather than a musical experience. At the end of Tristan und Isolde, which opens at New Yorks Metropolitan Opera on Monday, you really do feel as if you have witnessed something revelatory, perhaps even life-changing.
The remarkable Swedish soprano Nina Stemme is singing Isolde, which has become her signature role. I assured Stemme in the part three years ago in Houston and believe me, this will be worth skipping Clinton v Trump for. When Stemme sings the concluding Liebestod( literally love-death ), you are able to carried along on the waves of voice and feeling believe what she is telling you. How gently and softly he smiles, she sings over the body of the dead Tristan. How lovingly he opens his eyes. Do you find, friends? Do you not find? You will see.
This is the climax of a four-hour journey in which Tristan and Isolde find their love for one another thwarted Isolde is promised in wedding to boring old King Marke. Merely in death can they be truly unified. The Liebestod and this is a horribly blokeish and archetypally Wagnerian idea is a hymn to love and sexuality, and to the notion that you will never find them perfectly realised in the here and now. Love, sexuality, death: a holy or unholy trinity.
Tristan und Isolde marked a new beginning for Wagner and indeed for opu. Written in the 1850 s, at the same time as he was beginning the Ring, he was moving away from plot-driven romantic operas to meditations on the nature of existence itself. Under the influence of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer( who taught him that mans life on Earth was dominated by unfulfilled longing) and sexual yearning for the married Mathilde Wesendonck( which taught him much the same thing ), he had gone all metaphysical, and his run would never be the same again.
Life and death, the whole import and existence of the outer world, here hang on nothing but the inner movements of the soul, wrote Wagner. Barry Millington, in The Sorcerer of Bayreuth, wonders at the way he takes a simple love affair the standard fare of opu for centuries and turns it into a philosophical disquisition. Wagners opera transcends its scenario of a conventional love story to offer a profound meditation on the nature of the material world, on the metaphysics of subjectivity and on the mysteries of human existence itself, writes Millington.
Following Schopenhauer, Wagner watches the exterior world as of no consequence. All that are important is the bond spiritual and( meta) physical between the two lovers. You could see this as hopelessly, destructively self-indulgent Tristan and Isolde are the most solipsistic characters in opu or as profound and moving.
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