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Soundcheck Smackdown: Wagner's "Ring"

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

As Wagner's "Ring Cycle" arrives at the Metropolitan Opera this week critics contend that it's the ultimate in long, boring and bombastic music drama. But Wagner fans (or "Ringheads") argue that few composers pack in more thrilling songs, glorious orchestral passages, and big ideas -- and the rewards for the listener are plenty. We debate Wagner's biggest achievement with Norman Lebrecht, music critic of London's Evening Standard; and Anne Midgette, chief classical music critic of the Washington Post.


Norman Lebrecht and Anne Midgette

Comments [20]

Stephen from Durham

Wagner is probably the most overrated composer of all-time. His music is nothing but extremely pretentious tripe. It is poorly-written and it goes absolutely nowhere. Wagner-worship is for sheeple who buy into the hype of the very German ultra-nationalism that nearly destroyed Europe. The fact is that Wagner was a total hack, and even his most famous works sound like they were written by an amateur. Listen and see for yourself, if you aren't bored to death first.

Feb. 22 2011 05:51 PM
Andrew Petrisin from East Windsor, NJ

The Ring Cycle And Nazism are forever linked,Yes thru both the Blantant AntiSemitism in it And the Historical truth of the Wagner Family up to WW2 and even to current times,but a good portion of society today is introduced to Wagner today by watching Bugs Bunny and the skewering they do to Wagner and the Ring Cycle, Thank God for Parody, But Also remember they also skewered that other great Opera Figaro as well.

But we should look upon Wagner as a reflection of his time the Ring as work reflecting that time and the Nazi's as the culmination of that time.

However we should also look at what a few years after WW2 brings the skewering of Wagner by none other than Bugs Bunny who also in cartoons of the WW2 PERIOD skewered Hitler, Tojo, Mussolini & other leaders of the Axis. Also Please look at the skewering of that beloved barber of opera Figaro. So pardon me if when the Ride OF the Valkyrie comes on I sing the line Kill the Wabbit .

Mar. 24 2009 09:22 PM
Michael from Ossining, NY

On a smaller scale, I experience a similar dissonance when listening to the Stones' "Under My Thumb" from the album "Between the Buttons". Musically great, but the lyrics are just too misogynistic (sp?) for me to recommend the song.

I heard The Ring Cycle live for the first time during its last production at the Met, and was hooked. We're going again next month.

Mar. 24 2009 03:03 PM
Murray Rubinstein from Putnam Valley, NY

why must one always intellectialize this? I study and analyze one place _Taiwanb--and many events in that place for a living.

With opera and with Wagner--like the lord of the Rings, I enjoy the experience and take the music in without deconstructing it....

if one puts him in his social and historical place and one is a Jew one cant listen to him or read Netische....but that limits life in many ways and I for one find it a paranoid way of looking at reality. The person and the music must be separated.

Mar. 24 2009 02:42 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

GBS was misquoted. He said that it SOUNDED better than it WAS.

Mar. 24 2009 02:37 PM
C.Tennyson Crowe from Ridgewood, New York

What's wrong with a new religion? The old ones haven't worked out so well. At least Wagnerian religion has good music and is only as evil as Christianity.

Mar. 24 2009 02:35 PM
Steve from New York

It is a political statement. And like Nazism, it's incredibly kitschy. But please leave the ancient pagans out of it. For all we know, they were peaceful, rational and shunned heroism and other Romantic nonsense.

Mar. 24 2009 02:34 PM
Claudia from Teaneck

My first time hearing the Ring was in about 1983, when the Wagner Society rented a room in a hotel and played a video of the then new Patrice Chereau/Bayreuth Ring back to back, starting at 9AM. So yes, my first Ring ran from 9AM to about 3AM the following day. It was spectacular. Although I confess I did nap a bit.

Also, while writing this I started to imagine an R&B cast for the Ring. So far I have Kanye West as Wotan and Jennifer Hudson as Brunhilde. Any other casting ideas come to mind?

Mar. 24 2009 02:32 PM
gregory from The Bronx

Wagner publicly humiliated Mendelssohn and his work with that classic demeaning European sarcasm by claiming that his work was inferior through no fault of his own but due to his inferior Jewish genes.

Mar. 24 2009 02:25 PM
Will from Los Angeles, CA

Any comments on the difference between the Los Angeles and NYC productions? LA Opera is currently "practicing" for the full cycle next year and has staged Das Rheingold with Die Walkurie up next.

Mar. 24 2009 02:24 PM
Tom from Upper West Side

I used to think The Ring had incredibly long, boring sections until a college professor pointed out how Wagner was manipulating our sense of that a 30-minute sung dialogue was actually a 6-minute duet in Verdi-time.

Mar. 24 2009 02:23 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

Amy [6], you are sooo right. I miss hearing the brilliant and hysterical Anna Russell.

Mar. 24 2009 02:22 PM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

John Schaefer, I read your blog on Wagner and The Ring, and I think you presented the question (including controversies and dilemmas) perfectly.

And I agree with your ulitimate conclusion. And that's with always considering the entire Tolkien "Ring" to be silly, nonsensical, and totally undisciplined "art" -- adolescent male fanatasy.

Mar. 24 2009 02:20 PM
C.Tennyson Crowe from Ridgewood, New York

By the way - how exactly does the "Ring" license incest and other bad behavior? Did your commentator notice that it all ends badly for the dwarves AND the gods, both of whom are criminals? The only character in the whole cycle who comes off at all well is Brunnhilde - the only character who truly has love in her heart.

Mar. 24 2009 02:18 PM

I never understood the Ring cycle until I listened to Anna Russell's classic (and hysterically funny) explanation of the plot. Said she, "This is the first woman he's been with that isn't his aunt" and "I'm not making this up, you know!"

Please, please, play Anna Russell on the show!

Mar. 24 2009 02:18 PM

Wagner's politics are obviously reprehensible, but to suggest that his masterpiece is essentially "boring and bombastic" is nonsense. I have to say that these "smackdown" shows are often awfully contrived. I would like to see the bar raised a little higher if this format is going to continue.

Mar. 24 2009 02:16 PM
C.Tennyson Crowe from Ridgewood, New York

Epic? No. Check your genre. Dramatic? Gloriously so. Excessive? OF COURSE. Dangerous? Yes. But it's also one of the great works of art in the world. I couldn't love anyone who didn't love the "Ring."

Mar. 24 2009 02:11 PM
Ken from Little Neck

Why can't it be both? I have enormous respect for the genius of Wagner, and the Ring is one of the crowing masterpieces of western music, but that doesn't mean I want to sit through it!

Mar. 24 2009 02:08 PM
jean from manhattan

What a question--of course it's a masterpiece. Only make sure you're sitting comfortably. My main problem with the Met's production is that it's so damnably expensive.

Mar. 24 2009 02:04 PM
Alvin from Manhattan

As Rossini said, "He (Wagner) has his brilliant moments, yes --- and his dull quarters of an hour."
Woody Allen also had a point: "Every time I listen to Wagner, I get the urge to invade Poland." His bombastic display of Teutonic nationalism is matched only by his despicable anti-Semitism.

Mar. 24 2009 01:49 PM

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