Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit!
April 17, 2006 5:13 AM   Subscribe

It's not over until the fat lady sings, and she's not due up till midnight. BBC Radio 3 has devoted its schedule to a week of Beethoven and a month of Bach. Now it's going for the endurance record: devoting a day to a complete performance of Wagner's Ring cycle: a rare thing for a work and composer more often discussed than listened to, and more often excerpted or parodied than heard in full. The website offers even more lavish augmentation this time, including live libretto translation and commentary.
posted by holgate (11 comments total)
So we've missed the beginning? How frustrating :/
posted by nthdegx at 5:38 AM on April 17, 2006

I have been told that Wagner's music is better than it sounds.
-- Mark Twain, Autobiography (1924)
posted by pax digita at 5:59 AM on April 17, 2006

how fitting that the conductor is Daniel Barenboim, the first man to conduct Wagner in Israel. He was promptly called, what else, a self-hating jew, and a boycott was attempted. Barenboim is of course a great humanitarian who stubbornly -- and unfashionably -- refuses to consider the Palestinans as subhuman.

personally, speaking of boycotts, I have never bought a Wagner cd, I'll never go to Bayreuth as long as the festival is run by Nazis, and I think Barenboim's gesture was incredibly brave and, frankly, long overdue.
just the other day, I was browsing the classical music stands in a store I really like, and I saw a special for Barenboim's Ring box set, and I had it in my hands, and I almost bought it. but then I remembered that it was the first day of Passover, not the perfect moment to interrupt my boycott. so I didn't buy the box set.

Maestro Barenboim is giving this year's Reith Lectures -- they're online, to print a transcript, view the first lecture, or download/podcast as an mp3, go here

funnily enough, in his little personal musical Mein Kampf, "Das Judenthum in der Musik", Wagner attacked Felix Mendelssohn and Giacomo Meyerbeer, both incredible composers I've been listening to a lot, recently.

askmefi thread on the Ring here

old Wagner mefi thread here

my favorite Wagner anecodte: the time he tried to convince Hermann Levi, that, before conducting the premiere of Parsifal, Levi should convert to Christianity. but then, old Richard thought that Jesus was a Greek, not a Jew.

Daniel Barenboim Talks About Wagner and the Nazis, Fame
posted by matteo at 7:46 AM on April 17, 2006

In a fit of pretension, me and a friend watched the whole cycle in one day on video while in college.

I don't remember much of it.
posted by bardic at 7:55 AM on April 17, 2006

I would question the "more often discussed than listened to." Wagner's operas and music dramas (with the exception of three early works) are absolutely canonic in the repertoire, and have been so since the late 19th century. Here is a schedule of performances of Wagner's stage works in the past six months -- almost 400 performances worldwide during that time.

"Der Ring des Nibelungen" in a single day doesn't make much sense. Wagner quite carefully specified the performance conditions he deemed ideal: a week-long festival, with one opera performed each day. Performances begin at 4 PM and the intermissions are very long -- the first interval in each opera is called the "dinner break" and it lasts 1 1/2 hours.

He preferred that the "Ring" be performed only in the purpose-built Festival Theater in Bayreuth, a small town that offers very little in the way of distraction from the main event. In other words, Wagner knew he had created works so challenging that they could be appreciated only if the audience were utterly immersed. (This ideal is not often achieved, but I have had the experience of hearing the "Ring" during an otherwise undemanding week, and the experience is absolutely overwhelming.)
posted by La Cieca at 9:01 AM on April 17, 2006

OMFG La Cieca has a MeFi account! welcome!!!
posted by matteo at 9:26 AM on April 17, 2006

Barenboim is of course a great humanitarian...

Spoken like someone who's never had to actually play under the man, or work with him in any capacity.

La Cieca is right: a marathon Ring sort of defeats the purpose--who could take all that in??

What's most amazing to me about Wagner is the profound effect he had: his music & ideas were seminal influences on composers as divergent as Mahler, Debussy, and Strauss.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:04 AM on April 17, 2006

who's never had to actually play under the man, or work with him in any capacity

hhhmm, why so sure?
you'd be surprised.

Barenboim yells at people during rehearsals, but then, classical music at professional level is not exactly the most polite business ever -- I'm sure you know that very few conductors correct mistakes by bringing people flowers and chocolates (not even Giulini did, and he was the sweetest man). I'm told Barenboim screams much less than Celibidache used to, anyway.

see, last December, during rehearsals for Beethoven's Ninth, Barenboim got ovations and thundering applause by the entire Filarmonica della Scala. Maestro Casoni's coro is crazily in love Barenboim, too. funnily enough, they too think he's a great humanitarian, and a great man of peace, and a helluva guy.
but then, they all had to endure Muti for twenty years, so.

the "humanitarian" thing doesn't mean that, if you're playing for him, Barenboim won't scweam at you during reherasals and maybe huwt your precious feelings, and maybe, just maybe, that night you may not feel like the special snowflake you totally must be. it means that instead of doing piles of cocaine and looking at himself in the mirror like many star conductors do in their free time, he's the kind of guy who wastes time and money on a Palestianian/Israeli orchestra, on schools in the West Bank, and when he wins the Ernst von Siemens music prize, like he did a few weeks ago, he gives away the 170,000 dollars to renovation work for the Staatsoper and to build a kindergarten in Berlin.

instead of, you know, buying some snazzy new monster BMW with that spare cash.
just that.

posted by matteo at 11:05 AM on April 17, 2006

I would question the "more often discussed than listened to."

Let's just say that more people have an opinion on Barenboim conducting Wagner (and by extension Wagner's hideous nti-semitism, and subsequent appropriation by the Nazis) than have listened to Wagner. (There are two great comments by 'laon' at Crooked Timber's pointing out how how Hitler got sick of Wagner after the war turned against him, and he started paying attention to Götterdämmerung.)

And yes, the Ring-in-a-day absolutely overdoes it. Although I get the feeling that R3's intention is to catch the attention of people skimming the radio channels on a classic Easter Monday drive, and get them to use the 'Listen Again' feature -- it's up for the next week, divided into nice segments. (They normally broadcast opera in the evening, which makes it harder for casual listeners to bump into it.) Or, alternatively, this makes it easy for devotees to record the whole thing and then listen at a Wagnerian schedule. I mean, I love R3, but there's love... and there's fourteen hours of Wagner.
posted by holgate at 1:04 PM on April 17, 2006

matteo, defensive, much? Please don't read too much into my off-the-cuff quip--Barenboim does indeed try to use his authority and position to the greater good, and should rightly be commended and esteemed for that. I have no quarrels with him as a true humanitarian.

I do, however, have problems with him as a conductor. I wouldn't complain that he merely yells at players or can be difficult to work with; I would complain, though, that his self-indulgent rehearsal behavior is--in my estimation--to dull ends.
posted by LooseFilter at 1:40 PM on April 17, 2006

no, why defensive? of course one may (even successfully) argue that Barenboim is (was?) a greater pianist than he is a conductor. but he certainly is a world-class musicista.

re: "self-indulgent rehearsal behavior" I've always loved the (true) anecdote of Toscanini having one of his trademark fits of pure rage and literally ripping off his shirt. he had to leave the horrified orchestra to go change. when he came back, smart as he was, he realized that shirt-ripping was too much even for his savage standards, so he told them "I only yell at you because you are by far the best orchestra in the world and you can achieve perfection".

and he used to be pretty stingy with his praise, but he knew when to use the carrot. all the smart ones do (except, possibly, Celibidache).
posted by matteo at 3:47 PM on April 17, 2006

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