Ricky The Wag

First published on Live Journal - 14/08/09

Whilst discussing Ayn Rand, I cited Richard Wagner as an example of someone whose ART is easy to appreciate DESPITE him being a COMPLETE AND UTTER GIT as a person (actually, perhaps "easy" is the wrong choice of word there!).

Now I happen to think that Wagner's music is one of the peak achievements of Western civilisation, but his own proto-nazi tendencies (well documented elsewhere, so I don't need to dwell on them here) tend to preclude some people from giving him the time of day (and believe me, that's a LOT of time to give!).

"Ah," says a young friend, "If you mean the RingFellow, then if not his politics, certainly his costuming..."

But productions of his monumental four-opera cycle "Der Ring des Nibelungen" (or the "Rinse Cycle" for short) aren't ALL fat ladies and hornéd helmets these days, oh no siree bob!

The last Bayreuth production I saw on the box looked like it was set during the First World War - all post-apocalyptic ruins, military greatcoats with leather and fur trimmings. Wotan himself looked like a cross between a pirate and a fighter ace, albeit a rather stocky one.

The London production of "Rheingold" a year or so back had some REALLY seductive, almost naked (and certainly not that fat) Rheinmaidens floating about. Meanwhile, the Nibelungen dwarves (although not very dwarfish in stature) toiled in an Underworld that looked like a cross between an overworked city morgue and a butcher's shop.

Wagner conceived his operas as TOTAL THEATRE: the music, the staging, the acting, the costumes are all part of the package. That's why he built his own venue, so that it could be done 'properly'.

I don't think you get the whole picture just LISTENING to the music on disc. I definitely don't think Wagner makes for good radio - in fact, without the visual stimulus, it's REALLY hard going! But WATCH a good production on DVD (with a decent pair of headphones) and you get swept along by the whole experience.

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