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Castration in Wagner: A Catholic girl tries to handle it

Our indefatigable Met-explorers, Elizabeth Frayer and Shawn E Milnes, have seen their first Parsifal.

Excited? Is the Pope a Catholic? Well, you never know what the next one’s going to be, but Elizabeth certainly is and she got quite worked up by all the pseudo-christian imagery and the rivers of blood. Up to their knees in it, they were. Wash your hands, girl, and tell us all about it. right here.


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  1. Frank Feldman says:

    Parsifal without rivers of blood misses the filthy pure blood, racist heart of the opera, which Hitler so admired.

    • Graf Nugent says:

      One comment in and we’ve already got a completely brainless, spurious reference to the Third Reich. That has to be some sort of record, even with all the competition Godwin’s Law has regaled us with.

      Mr. Lebrecht: Could we please encourage people to try to discuss Wagner without immediately referring to Hitler? It’s getting soooooooooooo boring…

      • ‘Out of Parsifal I make a religion’ (Adolf Hitler)
        You might not like it but it is inescapable that this opera was adored by the Third Reich. It may be uncomfortable to you to be reminded of it but it certainly is not brainless to refer to it.. Howard Goodall made reference to it in his superb series on the history of music the other day. This doesn’t effect the greatness of the music (or otherwise, depending on your view) but the message of the opera intended by the composer is something Wagner’s admirers have to come to terms with.

        • Graf Nugent says:

          Hitler also loathed smoking, alcohol, and was a vegetarian. Should we invoke those preferences every time healthy lifestyle articles appear in the press? Is the food range ‘Fit for Fun’ just a Nazi infiltration exercise? Give us all a break with this facile amalgam and let’s discuss Wagner’s works on their own merits.

        • Is there some confusion here with Die Meistersinger, an opera that clearly resonated with the 3rd Reich? See here some interesting material on Parsifal and the Third Reich from which I find it difficult to come to terms with “the filthy pure blood, racist heart of [Parsifal], which Hitler so admired” –

        • Howard Goodall spent around twenty minutes telling us what Wagner didn’t achieve. I’m not aware of any other composer getting this treatment in his series.

          And Wagner’s admirers don’t “have” to come to terms with anything.

          • Graf Nugent says:

            Well said, Alison. And while we’re about it, let’s spend twenty minutes talking about what Howard Goodall might have achieved had he not had the good fortune to cross Rowan Atkinson’s path at university. On reflection, it might not take that long.

        • Michael Hurshell says:

          It is distressing to realize how many people view Wagner solely through the lens of the Nazis. As curator of the new Wagner museum in Graupa, I’d like to say that IMO there is far too much emphasis on the Nazis’ view (really the misuse) of Wagner, on today’s operatic stages, which leads to more and more audience members believing in the concept of Wagner the artist as a proto-fascist force leading the way to the horrors of the Holocaust. Yes, the Nazis misused him for their own purposes; yes, he was an anti-Semite (albeit one of an unusual color, having a great number of Jewish friends); yes, his disgusting pamphlet “Das Judenthum in der Musik” is an embarrassment to all lovers of his music; but the almost histrionic invocation, in many productions of his works, of barbed wire, “Springerstiefel” etc. tends to obscure the reality, that 1. his anti-Semitic rhetoric was usually the result of deep jealousy of some successful Jewish colleagues (Meyerbeer & Mendelssohn), and 2. most of the contents of “Judenthum” were plagiarized from publications dating back as far as the beginning of the 19th century, and therefore neither epochal nor new. What remains is his music – and as long as stage directors emphasize the Nazi interpretation, many opera goers will remain confused about the morality of admiring Wagner’s music. A pity.

  2. Michael Hurshell says:

    I suppose one should be used to such blog entries as Ms. Frayer’s. But I am saddened that a visit to the opera leaves audience members with such a, for lack of a better word, “brief” impression of the *music* they heard. 8 paragraphs on scenery and staging. Musical review: “The music was transporting.” Is opera going to wind up being understood as a primarily visual art? Wagner might have said: “Wehe.”

    • Graf Nugent says:

      It’s been like that for decades, now. I think the truth of the matter is that many people are just incapable of judging the merits and demerits of a musical performance whereas it requires no particular skill to try to interpret the stencil a stage director lays down on a score.

      Christian Thielemann raged against this a while back in an interview. He used words to the effect of: “It’s all got out of control: the significance of every upturned flowerpot on stage is discussed at length whereas the conductor and orchestra are just treated to a generalisation like ‘So-and-so led the orchestra with subtlety and finesse’. He wasn’t wrong.

  3. John Kelly says:

    Agree with Graf Nugent about the tedious Third Reich references appearing as if it were the first thing we should be thinking about every time someone mentions Wagner. I went to said production and actually found myself in the men’s room next to the LeatherMan referred to in the article. Since I saw someone dressed as Davy Crockett (with raccoon hat natch) at Fanciulla Del West a season or so ago, I was unsurprised by this gents version of “black tie.” Given the production, perhaps he was also attempting to dress as a cast member a la Sound of Music……………….

    Glorious singing from the principals. Splendid playing from the Met’s sumptous sounding orchestra. Slow tempi from Signor Gatti but certainly interesting nonetheless.

    The opera, however, has as much to do with Catholicism as The Exorcist or as Francis Bacon’s wonderful screaming Popes. It’s a version of Percival or the Arthurian Legend. Yes it has Christian references. So does Monty Python and the Holy Grail…………………

    Incidentally, it seemed to me that at least around my seat in the Balcony (where, as Stokowski said, you meet a “better class of listener”) there were a large number of Jewish listeners, noticeable from their Kipot. I don’t think they were thinking about the Third Reich for 6 hours……………….

  4. Interesting and very much mirrors my take on the evening. Loved the staging of Act II but I was somewhat less taken with Acts I & II, which were almost unremittingly stark. All of the leads were superb – the best thing I’ve seen at the Met in many years.

  5. As for their hope that they’ll get to experience more Wagner next year, it would appear that they are out of luck, as the leaked schedule for 2013-14 at the Met includes not a single note of Wagner. When’s the last time that happened? Kaufmann will apparently be back for Werther.

  6. I fail to understand why people rate Gatti.

    I have seen him conduct in the UK & don’t rate him.

    I would NEVER put Gatti & Maestro in the same sentance. It is an insult to many great conductors who have earned the right to be called Maestro.

    It should only ever be attached to a conductor who has earned it & in my opinion Gatti hasn’t & never will.

    ps I once heard someone say Maestro to Simon Rattle & he was very quickly put in his place. (Simon has earned it but hates to be called it)

    ‘Maestro’ is, regrettably, used far too much & tends to be thrown about like confetti – particularly by Americans – ugh!

  7. I often wonder if anyone has been to a Wagner opera production which WASN’T controversial in some way? That would surely be something worth writing about.

    • Graf Nugent says:

      There are uncontroversial productions, and they take place every year at Wels in Austria. Their ‘back to grass roots’ interpretations clearly strike a chord with performers and public alike as they’re always sold out and the casts excellent.

  8. Whatever happened to going to the Theatre …. for the magic of theatre….urrrrrrr too much psycho babble going on.

  9. David Boxwell says:

    Girl, they ain’t nuthin’ _but_ “backstory” in Wagner.

  10. The term “Maestro” may be “thrown about like confetti,” but do you know who uses it even more than Americans? ITALIANS. In their language, it is simply a respectful way of addressing a professional musician.

  11. As for those of you who find tiresome the constant allusions to Wagner’s anti-semitism, I completely agree! I am also tired of anti-semitism! Let’s just eradicate it altogether, shall we?

  12. I experienced the HD live stream today in the Twin Cities. Because of solar interference, passes were (als) given for the encore performance March 20. It was an amazing experience for me, and a welcome change from the more traditional productions. The characters came to life, the voices were mellow and golden…still basking in the glow a few hours laster…

  13. SchleppaG. says:

    I have exactly the same question.

    Btw “there were entire periods throughout the opera where we both felt as if we may have actually dozing off or drifting away from the action” – that is because Maestro Gatti took excruciatingly slow tempi and not because of the reasons listed in that rather silly review. The author did not even realize that the initial line-up of people behind the mirror-like curtain is supposed to represent the audience (in a rather vague attempt by the director to connect us to the story) , and as some of them then stood up, undressed and formed a circle – that is, yet again, a metaphor of men giving up their earthly belongings and life to become the knights of the Grail. (just a small side note)

    I was at that show on the 18th and left it puzzled – it is rather unclear what the director’s concept was or what he wanted to say with all of this. It is a very dark, static and depressing setting, of which act II is probably the most interesting one. Vocally it is uneven, with Pape and Mattei being by far the strongest cast. And as I mentioned before, Maestro Gatti’s tempi are way to slow. Overall, it is rather disappointing, especially if the last Parsifal one saw was Herheim’s production in Bayreuth

  14. Graf Nugent says:

    Gatti is dreadful in Parsifal; his Bayreuth performances were appallingly slow and unmusical. Herheim’s wonderful production deserved better and got it, finally, last summer when Philippe Jordan conducted.

  15. I was at the first and second nights and cannot understand the bandwagon everyone is climbing on complaining about Gatti’s conducting (here and elsewhere). I have attended more than 50 Parsifals and Gatti’s conducting was sublime in many parts. Although the tempi may be slow in real terms, I simply did not feel it probably because the Met has such a great orchestra. My only reservations were the couple of times he suddenly put his foot on the accelerando with jarring effect.

    I flew to New York to hear Kaufmann and was not disappointed. I have never heard this role so BEAUTIFULLY sung. For all his wonderful dramatic singing it is his mezzo forte and especially piano singing which is so moving. His delicate diminuendo on “Oeffnet den Schrein!” was simply magical.

    For those of you who read Liz and Shawn, you might like to know the “darkly dressed characters” contrasting with the knights of the Grail in white were the women of the community, separated so stunningly in this production by the snaking river of pollution/blood/holy water (take your choice) dividing the first and third act sets, a line crossed only at the end first by Parsifal and Kundry. Lastly, Liz, if Kaufmann in Act III was not “wearing a wig (I think)”, he is able to re-grow his shoulder-length curly locks amazingly quickly!

    Having – and I am not alone – criticised the musings of Liz and Shawn in the past, it was a delight to read this time a report of what they actually heard and felt. Perhaps they could develop into interesting opera critics. It was quite moving, although I was surprised that they did not tell us the cost of their first-interval Champagne, as they have been happy to report the cost of smoked salmon sandwiches in previous outings.

  16. SchleppaG. says:

    Jordan is indeed fabulous! Just heard him conducting Das Rheingold in Paris – it was a stupendous performance

  17. David Boxwell says:

    Lucky me: I’m attending one of Asher Fisch’s performances at the end of the run.

  18. SchleppaG. says:

    Michael, do not argue about Kaufmann. Actually his Act II singing moved me to tears, and it does not happen to me all that often

  19. I very much doubt that the entire Met orchestra, singers and chorus are suddenly going to speed everything up for the last two performances for a different conductor: a recipe for unco-ordinated disaster. In any event, if anything Asher Fisch has a reputation for some equally expansive (critic-speak for slow) tempi in this repertoire.

    All this Gatti-hating reminds me of of one of my own Wagner bete-noires – Reginald Goodall. Each time I go to a performance of Siegfried now I have flashbacks before the third act, scared that the conductor might destroy this thrilling, dramatic introduction to Wotan’s end by adopting Goodall’s tempo, so “expansive” I wondered if a joker had replaced Goodall’s Siegfried score by Beethoven’s 3rd symphony, opened at the second movement! For flashbacks, please also read nightmares.

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