Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Up to now I have done nothing even approaching it" (Richard Wagner on Act I of "Die Walküre")


We've already heard the stormy orchestral introduction to Die Walküre -- in the February 2012 post "Storms that set three great operatic scenes in motion (aka: Musical storms, part 3)."

Vienna Philharmonic, Sir Georg Solti, cond. Decca, recorded Oct.-Nov. 1965

Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Teldec, recorded live, June-July 1992

New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1969


"The score for Act I of The Valkyrie will soon be ready. It is extraordinarily beautiful; up to now I have done nothing even approaching it."
-- Richard Wagner, in a letter to Franz Liszt dated
February 16, 1855 (translated by M. M. Bozman)

by Ken

For the record, Wagner's guess about the score for Act I of Die Walküre being ready "soon" was wrong, just as he had been wrong in June 1852 when he was finishing the libretto and estimating to Liszt that he would "be able to polish off the music very quickly and easily, for it is only the carrying out of what is complete already." After all, as my friend Conrad Osborne suggested when I mentioned this to him once, Wagner could already hear it in his head.

It wasn't until October 3, 1855, that he was able to send Liszt not just Act I but Acts I and II. That said, the part about Act I being "extraordinarily beautiful" and the composers's "hav[ing] done nothing even approaching it" up to that point -- that part could hardly have been more true. Neither he nor anyone else had done anything like it.

In that spirit, perhaps, we've never done anything like what we're doing today either.

I had the post to follow last week's "Can we fully feel Wotan's pain knowing that it's mostly self-inflicted?" pretty well mapped out (as set up in Friday night's preview, "Brünnhilde asks, 'Who am I if I were not your will?' Question: Is it ever OK for a daughter to say such a thing to her father?," and a number of audio files and some of the texts were already prepared. But to be honest, I just didn't have the energy or concentration to do all the choosing and editing still to be done, not to mention figuring out what to say about it all.

Then it occurred to me that we're at a perfect juncture to just listen to Act I of this First Day of the Ring cycle (Das Rheingold being formally a prologue). In Das Rheingold we left the gods making their grand entrance across the rainbow bridge into Valhalla, Wotan having finessed his original ethical and contractual breach by stealing the ring recently forged by the Nibelung Alberich after he stole the Rhinegold -- the titular Ring of the Nibelung.


WHEN THE CURTAIN RISES ON ACT I OF DIE WALKÜRE --

Friday, October 25, 2013

Preview: Brünnhilde asks, "Who am I if I were not your will?" Question: Is it ever OK for a daughter to say such a thing to her father?


Deborah Voigt as Brünnhilde and Bryn Terfel as Wotan in the new Met production of Die Walküre, 2011
BRÜNNHILDE [answers WOTAN softly]:
To Wotan's will you're speaking;
you can say what you will;
what am I,
if not your will alone?
-- English singing translation by Andrew Porter
[A]

[B]

[C]

[D]

Our four Brünnhildes could be drawn from this list (in alphabetical order): Kirsten Flagstad, Rita Hunter, Birgit Nilsson, and Astrid Varnay

by Ken

There are, of course, parents who truly don't want their children to be independent -- indeed, whole cultures that depend on squelching any such impulse. But through time there have also been lots of seemingly enlightened parents who wish this devoutly, as long as said independence leads the children to think and behave exactly as they would wish. It doesn't usually work out this way. It's a dilemma.

Now Wotan has particular reasons for needing independence in his children, which we won't go into now, except to wonder how feasible it is for his own flesh and blood to be truly independent of him. This week we're continuing to deal with his unbearable pain at being forced to part with his Valkyrie daughter Brünnhilde, as he does in the great Farewell at the end of Die Walküre, which we heard last week ("Can we fully feel Wotan's pain knowing that it's mostly self-inflicted?"). It's after he has been bitch-slapped by his wife, Fricka, over the whole mess he's gotten into, dating back to his flagrant breach of contract with the giants Fasolt and Fafner, violating a contract he never had any intention of honoring, that he finds himself in dialogue with Brünnhilde.

Brünnhilde has found her father in a state of despair unlike anything she has ever seen, and has implored him to open up to her. He responded with one of the musical literature's most extraordinary outbursts -- an expression of rage and self-pity (which we're going to hear in a moment). Getting a bit of control of himself, he asked whether unburdening himself might not cost him the grip of his will. She responds with the extraordinary passage we've just heard.


LET'S HEAR OUR FOUR BRÜNNHILDES AGAIN,
THIS TIME PROPERLY IDENTIFIED


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Can we fully feel Wotan's pain knowing that it's mostly self-inflicted?

UPDATE: I had the text for the complete Farewell all ready to paste in, and then -- already running late for an appointment -- I forgot to do it! It's done now.


Brünnhilde (Lisa Gasteen) and Wotan (James Morris) at the Met, 2008
BRÜNNHILDE, moved and exalted, sinks on WOTAN's breast: he holds her in a long embrace. She throws her head back again and, still embracing WOTAN, gazes with solemn rapture in his eyes.

WOTAN: These eyes so warm and bright,
which, smiling, often I kissed,
when courage
I acclaimed with kisses,
while childish prattle
in heroes' praise
was heard to pour from your lips:
yes, these gleaming, radiant eyes,
which shone so bright in the storm,
whn hopeless yearning
consumed my spirit,
and worldly pleasures
wee all I longed for,
when fear fastened upon me --
their glorious fire
gladdens me now,
as I take this loving,
last farewell!
On some happy mortal
one day they'll shine:
but I, hapless immortal,
I must lose them forever.
[He clasps her head in his hands.]
And sadly
the god must depart;
one kiss akes our godhead away!
[He presses a long kiss on her eyes. She sinks back with closed eyes, unconscious, in his arms. He gently supports her to a low mossy bank, which is overshadowed by a wide-branching fir tree, and lays her upon it. He looks upon her and closes her helmet; his eye then rests on the form of the sleeper, which he completely covrs with the great steel shield of the Valkyrie. He turns slowly away, then turns round again with a sorrowful look. Then he strides with solemn decision to the middle of the stage, and directs the point of his spear towards a massive rock.]
-- English singing translation by Andrew Porter,
used in the Goodall-English National Opera recording

[in English] Norman Bailey (b), Wotan; English National Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded live, Dec. 18, 20, and 23, 1975

Friedrich Schorr (b), Wotan; Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Leo Blech, cond. EMI, recorded June 17, 1927

George London (b), Wotan; London Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded September 1961

Thomas Stewart (b), Wotan; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Aug., Sept., and Dec. 1966

John Tomlinson (bs), Wotan; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Teldec, recorded live, June-July 1992

by Ken

As promised in Friday night's preview ("Wotan's Farewell -- feeling the pain"), today we're hearing the whole of Wotan's Farewell, the conclusion of Die Walküre, and we're going to listen to it in the context of the question: Can we feel Wotan's pain even knowing that it's largely self-inflicted?

Above we've heard the "missing" portion -- the central section that follows the opening, which we heard Friday night, and the concluding section that begins with Wotan's call to Loge, the god of fire, which we heard in last week's preview ("To prepare for some serious Bruckner business, we need to consult Wagner's fiery demigod Loge"). Actually, we originally heard the opening and closing orchestral sections attached to the respective opening and closing sections., but I thought it would be nice to hear this central section in full context.


AS TO MY ASSERTION THAT WOTAN'S PAIN IS LARGELY
SELF-INFLICTED, IN THE EVENT THAT IT ISN'T OBVIOUS . . .


Friday, October 18, 2013

Preview: Wotan's Farewell -- feeling the pain


The final parting of Brünnhilde (Anne Evans) and Wotan (John Tomlinson) in Harry Kupfer's Bayreuth production of Die Walküre -- we hear a snatch below.
WOTAN, overcome and deeply moved, turns eagerly towards BRÜNNHILDE, raises her from her knees, and gazes with emotion into her eyes.

WOTAN: Farewell, my valiant,
glorious child!
You were the holiest pride of my heart!
Farewell! Farewell! Farewell!
[Very passionately] Though I must leave you,
and may no longer
embrace you in greeting;
though you may no more
ride beside me,
nor bear my mead in Walhall;
though I abandon you
whom I love so,
the laughing delight of my eye:
a bridal fire
shall blaze to protect you,
as never has burned for a bride.
Threatening flames
shall flare from the rock;
the craven will fear it,
cringe from its fury;
the weak will flee
from Brünnhilde's rock!
For one alone wins you as bride,
one freer than I the god.
[BRÜNNHILDE, moved and exalted, sings on WOTAN's breast: he holds her in a long embrace. She throws her head back again and, still embracing WOTAN, gazes with solemn rapture in his eyes.]
-- English singing translation by Andrew Porter,
used in the Goodall-ENO recording

[in English] Norman Bailey (b), Wotan; English National Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded live, Dec. 18, 20, and 23, 1975

Norman Bailey (b), Wotan; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer, cond. EMI, recorded 1970

by Ken

Change of plans. I know the purpose of our making the acquaintance of Loge, the god of fire (and of lies), last week was to set the stage for a final Sunday Classics Bruckner exploration, but in the process we inevitably stumbled into the ineffable final scene of Die Walküre, from the point at which Wotan summons Loge to resume his original form as fire to protect the now-sleeping Brünnhilde on her mountaintop from any but the hardiest suitor. And I don't see how we can come this close without pausing to take account of the whole of Wotan's Farewell.

We're hearing the start of the Farewell proper, after Wotan has informed his cherished daughter Brünnhilde that, because she disobeyed him, she is to be stripped of her Valkyrie-dom and abandoned on the mountaintop to be awakened by some passing hero, and she has suggested that he protect her with a ring of fire. And speaking of heroes, ours has to be Norman Bailey, who manages to sustain not only Reginald Goodall's but also Otto Klemperer's extremely gradual tempos -- with the reward that I really don't know of any other performance that communicates more intensely the pain Wotan is suffering.

We're going to round out this preview with pretty much the same group of Wotans we heard last week close out this great scene. And then on Sunday we can take a closer listen to Wotan's pain.


Friedrich Schorr (b), Wotan; Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Leo Blech, cond. EMI, recorded June 17, 1927

George London (b), Wotan; London Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded September 1961

Thomas Stewart (b), Wotan; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Aug., Sept., and Dec. 1966

John Tomlinson (bs), Wotan; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim, cond. Teldec, recorded live, June-July 1992


IN THIS WEEK'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST

How deeply can we feel Wotan's pain if we conclude that most of it is self-inflicted?
#

Sunday, October 13, 2013

"Ingratitude is always Loge's lot"


English singing translation by Andrew Porter, used in the Goodall-ENO performance below:

LOGE: Never one word
of praise or thanks!
For your sake alone,
hoping to help
I restlessly roamed
to the ends of the earth
to find a ransom for Freia,
one that the giants would like more.
In vain sought I,
and now I can see
in this whole wide world,
nothing at all
is of greater
worth to a man
than woman's beauty and love!

I asked every one living,
in water, earth, and sky,
one question, sought for the answer
and all whom I met,
I asked them this question:
"What in the world
means more to you
than woman's beauty and love?"
But wherever life was stirring
they laughed at me
when they heard what I asked:
in water, earth, and sky, none
would forego the joys of love.

But one I found then
who scorned the delights of love,
who valued gold more dearly
than woman's grace.
The fair and shining Rhinemaidens
came to me with their tale:
The Nibelung dwarf Alberich
begged for their favors,
but he begged them in vain;
the Rhinegold he tore
in revenge from their rock
and now he holds it
dearer than love,
greater than woman's grace.
For their glittering toy
thus torn from the deep
the maidens are sadly mourning.
Return, Wotan,
in anguish, you, for
they ask that you will avenge them;
the gold they pray
that you will restore it,
to shine in the waters forever.

So I promised I'd tell you the story,
and that's what Loge has done.

[in English] Emile Belcourt (t), Loge; English National Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded live, March 1975

Gerhard Stolze (t), Loge; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded December 1967

Ramón Vinay (t), Loge; Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Fritz Stiedry, cond. Live performance, Jan. 26, 1957

by Ken

As I explained Friday night, we're headed toward some serious Bruckner, for which we need to make the acquaintance of music's superscout, the demigod Loge, god of fire and of lies. Friday night we encountered him transformed back into his original state, as fire -- specifically, the Magic Fire with which Wotan surrounds the cherished daughter he is abandoning, Brünnhilde.

We backtrack now to Das Rheingold, and in a moment we're going to meet Loge at his first appearance, fresh from a scouting mission for the head god, Wotan. Now it sounds as if Loge is merely performing an errand for Wotan, looking for a way out of his bind -- having promised his wife's sister, Freia, as payment to the giants Fasolt and Fafner for their heroic efforts in building Wotan's great castle, Valhalla. But Loge is no errand demigod. As he has already pointed out to Wotan (as we're going to hear in a moment, sticking to Andrew Porter's singing translation:
I roam through the whole
wide world as I please!
I'm not held
by house or home.
And for me there's an unmistakable "travelogue" quality to Loge's great narrative, which we've just heard in character-tenorish performances by Peter Schreier and Emile Belcourt, a rather more dramatic one by Gerhard Stolze, and a full-fledged Heldentenor's richly sung rendering (admittedly a distinctly baritonish-sounding) from Ramón Vinay.


MOVING BACK TO LOGE'S ARRIVAL . . .

Friday, October 11, 2013

Preview: To prepare for some serious Bruckner business, we need to consult Wagner's fiery demigod Loge

550

Donald McIntyre as Wotan summons Loge at the end of Die Walküre, with Pierre Boulez conducting, in this installment of Patrice Chéreau's (in)famous Bayreuth Ring production, designed by Richard Peduzzi, video-recorded in 1980.
WOTAN has set the now-sleeping BRÜNNHILDE down on the mountaintop. He turns slowly away, then turns round again with a sorrowful look. Then he strides with solemn decision to the middle of the stage, and directs the point of his spear toward a massive rock.

WOTAN: Loge, hear!
Come at my call!
As when first you were found,
a fiery glow,
asa when you escaped me,
a wandering flicker;
once you were bound:
be so again!
Arise! Come, wavering Loge;
surround the rock, ring it with flame!
[During the following, he strikes the rock three times with his spear.]
Loge! Loge! Appear!
[A flash of flame leaps from the rock, and gradually increases to an ever-brightening fiery glow. Flickering flames break out. Bright, shooting flames surround WOTAN. Wih his spear, he directs the sea of fire to encircle the rocks; it presently spreads toward the background, where it enloses the mountain in flames.]
Only the man
who braves my spear point
can pass through this sea of flame!
[He stretches out the spear as if casting a spell. Then he gazes sorrowfully back at BRÜNNHILDE, turns slowly to depart, and looks back once more before he disappears through the fire. The curtain falls.]
-- English singing translation by Andrew Porter,
used in the Goodall-English National Opera recording


[in English] Norman Bailey (b), Wotan; English National Opera Orchestra, Reginald Goodall, cond. EMI-Chandos, recorded live, Dec. 18, 20, and 23, 1975

by Ken

I know we haven't finished with Pagliacci yet, but I wasn't happy with the dubs I made of my LP of the 1970 Decca recording, and wound up ordering a CD edition that's coming from England. Meanwhile there's a project I wanted to get to while there's still time: another Bruckner symphony. But to do that properly, we first have to make the acquaintance of Wagner's demigod Loge. And I thought the best way to start would be to meet him in his final incarnation, as the Magic Fire with which the god Wotan, at the end of Die Walküre, surrounds the cherished daughter, Brünnhilde, whom he is abandoning to her fate. This is the final section of Wotan's Farewell, one of the most overwhelming expanses of music Wagner created -- I'm sorry we never got to the whole thing.

WAGNER: Die Walküre: Act III conclusion,
from Wotan, "Loge, hör! Lausche hieher!"


George London (b), Wotan; London Symphony Orchestra, Erich Leinsdorf, cond. RCA-Decca, recorded September 1961

Thomas Stewart (b), Wotan; Berlin Philharmonic, Herbert von Karajan, cond. DG, recorded Aug., Sept., and Dec. 1966

Albert Dohmen (b), Wotan; Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, Christian Thielemann, cond. Opus Arte, recorded live, July-Aug. 2008

Friedrich Schorr (b), Wotan; Berlin State Opera Orchestra, Leo Blech, cond. EMI, recorded June 17, 1927

IN THIS WEEK'S SUNDAY CLASSICS POST

We go back to Das Rheingold to meet Loge in chattier form.
#

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Don't tempt me," Nedda implores Silvio -- but they can't help themselves

Teresa Stratas and Alberto Rinaldi as Nedda and Silvio in Franco Zeffirelli's film of Pagliacci
NEDDA: Don't tempt me!
Do you want me to lose my life?
Quiet, Silvio, no more!
It's delirium! madness!
I'm trusting in you,
to whom I gave my heart!
Don't abuse my trust, my fevered love.

Teresa Stratas (s), Nedda; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Georges Prêtre, cond. Philips, recorded 1983

by Ken

We're continuing with Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. The fine piece of imploring from Nedda above comes in answer to the stretch of imploring from Silvio we've already heard, most recently in Friday night's preview {"In I Pagliacci, is it so surprising that Nedda would choose the mysterious Silvio over her husband?"). I was going to chop it down to just Silvio's immediately preceding plea ("Nedda, Nedda, answer me"), but I just couldn't make that chop.

LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci: Act I,
Silvio, "E fra quest'ansie in eterno vivrai?"

SILVIO [approaching NEDDA sadly and tenderly]:
And amid this anxiety you'll live forever?
Nedda! Nedda!
[He takes her hand and leads her downstage.]
Decide my fate, Nedda! Nedda, stay!
You know that the festival comes
to an end and everyone will leave tomorrow.
Nedda! Nedda!
And when you say that you will be gone from here,
what will become of me, of my life?
NEDDA [moved]: Silvio!
SILVIO: Nedda, Nedda, answer me!
If it's true that you never loved Canio,
if it's true that you hate this wandering,
and the profession you ply,
if your immense love isn't just a fancy,
this night let's leave!
Fly, fly with me!

Mario Zanasi (b), Silvio; Lucine Amara (s), Nedda; Orchestra of the Teatro alla Scala, Lovro von Matačić, cond. EMI, recorded 1960


INSTEAD OF BREAKING DOWN THE SILVIO-NEDDA
SCENE, WE'RE JUST GOING TO SWEEP THROUGH IT


Friday, October 4, 2013

Preview: In "I Pagliacci," is it so surprising that Nedda would choose the mysterious Silvio over her husband?

Tonight we hear a chunk of the 1934 recording of Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci built around the great tenor Beniamino Gigli.

by Ken

In last week's Pagliacci post, we left Nedda in a state, after fending off the unwelcome advances of her troupemate, the hunchback clown Tonio. As unpleasant as that surprise was, she's now in for a pleasant one: the unexpected arrival -- scaling a wall! -- of a gentleman she immediately identifies as "Silvio."

WE ALREADY KNEW THAT NEDDA HAS A SECRET

When we took our close look at the monologue Nedda sings after her husband and Beppe go off to have a drink with the hospitable villagers ("Pagliacci and the woman who understood the birds' song"), in which we learned that Nedda has a secret. Here's the start of the recitative again.

LEONCAVALLO: I Pagliacci: Recitative, Nedda, "Qual fiamma avea nel guardo!"
How his eyes did blaze! I turned mine
away for fear he should read
my secret thought!
Oh, if he should catch me,
brutal as he is! But enough,
these are frightening nightmares and silly fancies!

Claudia Muzio (s). Edison, recorded Jan. 21, 1921

Gabriella Tucci (s), Nedda; Orchestra of the Accademia di Santa Cecilia, Francesco Molinari-Pradelli, cond. Decca, recorded 1958

WE'VE ALREADY HAD A TANTALIZING TASTE OF SILVIO