When guest editing The Wagner Journal this time last year, I contributed a brief editorial, entitled ‘Wagner Rescued from the Opera House?’ I tried to suggest the incompatibility, as recognised by Wagner and his more discerning interpreters and successors, between Wagner’s works and the everyday life of a typical opera house. As Pierre Boulez, whilst at work on the Ring at Bayreuth, put it: ‘Opera houses are often rather like cafés where, if you sit near enough to the counter, you can hear waiters calling out their orders: “One Carmen! And one Walküre! And one Rigoletto!”’ What was needed, Boulez noted approvingly, ‘was an entirely new musical and theatrical structure, and it was this that he [Wagner] gradually created’. Whilst deliberately leaving matters open-ended, I was hinting at the need for more opera houses to become like Bayreuth, or rather to consider a modern version of Wagner’s principles. Interestingly, however, some readers thought I was urging a transfer of Wagner performances from opera house to concert hall. Indeed, upon considering the matter further, I realised the uncomfortable truth that my two greatest live Ring performances had been, if not quite in ‘concert’, minimally staged. It is surely indicative that I immediately think of them with reference to their conductors, Bernard Haitink and Daniel Barenboim, and not, as now tends to be the case with theatrical performances, to their stage directors.
that the orchestra pit be, like Delphi’s smoking pit, a crevice uttering oracles – the Funeral March and the concluding redemption motif. The redemption motif is a message delivered to the entire world, but like all pythonesses, the orchestra is unclear, and there are several ways in which one might interpret its message. […] Should one not hear it with mistrust and anxiety?
To enlist the services of a director who might think in such terms should not be the least priority for Bayreuth, or any other house, when forging a new Ring.
(This piece originally appeared in The Wagner Journal (8/3, November 2014), alongside a review of the cycle by Tash Siddiqui and another opinion piece by Peter Bloom. My full reviews of the Castorf 'Ring' may be found here, here, here, and here.)
Pierre Boulez, ‘Time Re-explored’, in Orientations: Collected Writings, ed. Jean-Jacques Nattiez, tr. Martin Cooper (London and Boston, 1986), 262.
Robin Holloway discusses – if at times with exaggeration – the strong realist currents in the Ring in ‘Motif, Memory and Meaning in “Twilight of the Gods”’, in Nicholas John (ed.), Twilight of the Gods/Götterdämmerung (London and New York, 1985), 13–38.
Pierre Boulez and Patrice Chéreau, ‘Commentaires sur “Mythologie et idéologie”’, in Bayreuther Festspiele: Programmheft, Siegfried (1977), 86–102, esp. 87.