Sunday, October 17, 2010

To Valhalla We Go

People always throw rocks at things they don't understand.

Eliza Dushku
If you're an opera lover or even if you are indifferent to opera you may find this post interesting. If you hate opera you have my permission to cut to the bottom, but don't miss the Weekend Contest. There's only one right answer so far.

I was so busy yesterday with my problems (my printer) and other people's problems that I didn't settle down to write until 9:30 p.m. at which point I decided I had to do something nice for myself so I put on a recording of Wagner's "Die Walkyre."

Now some people don't like Wagner, in fact they hate it. There are even some dedicated opera lovers who will put many city blocks between themselves and a performance of a Wagnerian opera. Whenever I hear one of those claim his hatred of Wagner I always want to say facetiously "I'll pray for you."

But it's alright, I'll let them go their way. What really disturbs me is the tendency to make fun of opera and other classical music by people who don't understand it. It's like laughing at a bowl of Chinese food if you don't know what's in it. I'm aware that much of the ridicule come from the fact that people don't know what their hearing, but that's because they don't listen to it. I wouldn't be a Wagner lover today if I hadn't listened to it way back in the early days when I couldn't understand it. So on this trek along the city blocks to get away from good music they don't listen to it, and because they don't listen to it they don't hear it, and because they don't hear it they don't understand it. Okay, so far they're on level ground. But here comes the pot hole. Since they can't explain why they don't understand it and are embarrassed that they can't, they have to put it down by making fun of it. The music doesn't care that it's laughed at. But the musicians do and so does this music lover.

It is understandable that some Jews shun Wagner since he was Hitler's favorite composer, but Wagner lived in the 19th Century and they never met. It is certain that Wagner would have had nothing to do with Hitler if they did.

Opera was invented in the early 17th Century by a group of Italian composers, notably a genius name Claudio Monteverdi, (not to be confused with Giuseppe Verdi, who came along much later) and their purpose was to attempt to recreate ancient Greek drama, about which they knew very little except that it was probably sung.

Wagnerian operas are very long, some of them stretching into 4 hours, even though Friedrich Nietzsche called Wagner "our first miniaturist." It's because his operas are comprised of short themes that represent some idea or emotion and they are strung together like pearls. They reoccur all throughout the opera joined with different ones each time creating an unfolding of the drama even in the orchestra which is sometimes more important than the singing. What you hear in a Wagner opera you've probably heard before ad most certainly will hear again. But to a true Wagner lover there is nothing boring or repetitive about that.

One of the ways people make fun of Wagner is to depict a zaftig woman wearing a helmet with horns on it. I have been to a great many Wagnerian opera performances and I have never seen a helmet with horns on anyone. That sort of joke just belittles the work and the person who thinks it's funny.

If you want to be lifted and carried through a masterpiece of music drama go to a Wagner opera, wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to sit for a long time. But listen. Listen carefully and hear what's going on.

If you want to hear singers sing beautiful songs in French and Italian don't go to hear Wagner.

If you don't like opera or classical music at all then put as many city blocks as you need to between yourself and the opera house or concert hall. But keep your jokes to yourself.

DB - The Vagabond

Weekend Contest

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pacifica62 said...

I don't hate opera and I don't love opera. I actually know next to nothing about it and I would not know a Wagner opera if it bit me on the nose. Sadly, I guess, I am one of the uneducated.

mrs. miss alaineus said...

i like it, but i like it like i like jazz, don't know the background or the history of the artist/piece, but i like it. does that make any sense?

i have made the students listen to opera and jazz in hopes that they might like it enough to learn more about it.


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Know nothing about opera.