In Which Kasper and Slaven play Fast and Loose with the Plot

Post 24

I have to report that Don and Kasper Holten have lately been moving in opposite directions. Kasper is the respected and departing Director of Opera at Covent Garden. Die Meistersinger von Nürmberg is his swansong and his work done, he has left for his native Copenhagen. Don is a know-nothing gobby bloke from Muswell Hill, recently travelled with Mrs Don from Copenhagen to London after a very pleasant few days sightseeing. Two cities, two journeys, one mind. And its Kasper’s. Nevertheless, no point being gobby if one isn’t opinionated and so Don gives his personal insight into the latest controversies down Covent Garden.

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Don likes Slaven Bilic. Who wouldn’t? In much the way that one likes or is at least in awe of the cool guy at the bar with the earing, guitar and no beer belly. Oh how we wish these were the only credentials required to manage in the Premier League. Alas not. The plot has gone a little wobbly lately in the Olympic Park. Don considers why, what is to be done and how much of David Sullivan’s money can we waste in doing so.

Kasper

Firstly, Die Meistersinger. Don’s ardent fan will recall Don’s introduction to it some months back [here]and in a subsequent post, his take on the controversies; particularly the nationalism and potential or otherwise, anti-Semitism [here].

It is by any standard, a magnificent opera and stupendous piece of art. Some get carried away. Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the Polish pianist, considered it the greatest creation of art in all humanity. That’s quite a statement but in any event, its pretty good; probably Don’s favourite. At least this week.

Don has had two opportunities to consider the Holten production; the final rehearsal and then a proper performance this week. Indeed in a bizarre few minutes, Don booked tickets for Sunderland away (accompanied by Little Don), set off for the opera house and learned of the terrible events on Westminster Bridge. Let me add my words of comfort to the bereaved and grateful thanks for the heroics amidst this monumental act of nihilistic barbarism on the part of (as background begins to emerge),  a pathetic little man. Hannah Arendt wrote that the best rebuttal of totalitarian acts was active engagement in society by ordinary people. Later that night, on the packed streets of Covent Garden, it felt a little like that. Londoners were not cowering, they were re-claiming the streets of their city, Don’s city.

The benign gloss on Die Meistersinger is that it is primarily a music drama about Art, specifically music; yes Art in German society but also the role of Art in society generally. After that it is about German nationalism. The less charitable, place it the other way around. One can make a good case for both. The enduring fascination with Wagner is one doesn’t have a nice night out, enjoy the music and move on to dinner; Wagner compels one to think deeply about what one has seen.

What we saw was DM in a modern setting. This immediately presents challenges which Holten of course intended. In Don’s humble opinion, DM works best set well before the 20th century. Its nationalism can then be (easier) set in context and Sachs’ final speech (easier) dealt with. The modern setting places a national socialist burden upon the end of the opera that is difficult to shift. The question is, does it deserve to be shifted? Of course Wagner cannot be blamed for the Nazi co-option of the opera, beyond all other art, just as Haydn cannot be blamed for the subsequent adoption of his music as the German national anthem, which also had gruesome overtones during the Nazi era. Whereas that music has been rightly redeemed, people remain uncomfortable with Wagner.

I think with justification. The representation of the intended new Germany as a romantic Nuremberg idyll, was bound up in wonderful essences of purity, heroism and modesty but also fear of the outsider and worse yet, the dispatch of the outsider. By outsider Wagner certainly meant free of French influence but also undoubtedly Jewish influence. Whilst he could not have anticipated the horror of future decades (and I do not believe he would have been a Nazi supporter), the lineage from Wagner’s 1860’s romantic and heroic ideals to the 1930’s is clear and when Hitler heard Wach Auf in 1932 (or thereabouts), one can understand he thought not (or not only) of Luther, Beethoven, Sachs or Wagner but of himself and of the dawning of National Socialism. Goebbels said as much.

One assumes Kasper intended to meet this challenge head on by setting it in modern times. Directors of opera tend to want to direct, especially in their parting shot.

So lets look at a couple of challenges this presented.

  1. Unlike the timeless mythical essence of most Wagner drama, DM is set in a real place, involves real people and so should at least to some extent ring true. That a father might give his daughter’s hand in marriage as a prize in a singing competition is barely creditable even in the 16th century. Passing it off in 21st century London/Nuremberg (I’m not sure which), unduly stretches the credibility threshold, which in turn undermines some of the serious themes of the piece, including the feminist one.
  2. Don considers the greatest aspects of the opera to be Sachs’ humility and his modest heroism in renunciation. He recognises he must supress his desire (if not his love) for Eva because he has lost her to the younger man; and rightly so. He understands and wonderfully conveys the concept of Wahn; how it is natural to the human condition but that maybe it can be harnessed as a force for good and order and not simply chaos. The pivotal and for Don, the most moving scene is in Act 3 where Eva pours out her heart to him and love for him but is still drawn away to the younger man. It is so Tristanesque, they say so! In short, Hans Sachs up until the final scene is a role model for all generations, certainly for Don. Wagner then does him no favours in whatever century, by the final racist monologue. The vigour of which is unnecessary in any context and I wish he had not done it. It confirms nationalism as the thrust of the piece however much we may want to laud the other aspects.

One has to admire how Holten tries to handle this second point. Eva is equally disgusted with all three; Walter for accepting the honour of the guilds, her father for the original misogynist concept and with Sachs for his unsavoury comments, that she strikes the feminist blow and storms off. The audience, certainly those hearing the monologue for the first time, is metaphorically right behind her. As the final moment in the opera, it is unforgettable, if nothing else. But it is problematic. She has hitherto not been disgusted with her father (albeit the misogyny was obvious from the outset) and she was previously upset when Walter was not accepted by the guilds. Fundamentally however it undermines Sachs and all the emotion, love and respect that has previously passed between him and Eva and between him and us. Kasper may say it was Wagner that lost Sachs that respect by adding the final passage. Hard to argue but we’ve invested a lot of emotion in the previous 4 1/2 hours only to be told in the last 30 seconds it counts for nought. If one undermines Sachs to this degree, I fear the whole piece becomes at best, messy and at worst, fatally flawed.

3. Did the change of setting obfuscate important themes?

a) The opening scene in Church was transplanted to a gentleman’s (men only) club choir rehearsal. The hymn (of course) was still about John the Baptist (so setting the redemption credentials crucial to any understanding of the opera), so I think that worked.

b) Act 2 was not the traditional street scene but was somehow still in (was it??) the gentleman’s club. Poor old Sachs was some sort of portable cobbler dragging his tools around and trying not to smudge his tux. Little wonder he was pissed off at the end of Act 3. I’m sorry  but this Act needs to be outside; the scent of the Elder tree, the Linden tree, the balcony scene, the alley, the houses. Most importantly, the outside space for the Midsummer Night mischievous spirits to take hold. Well it was kind of outside-ish; we had a lilac plant and if it wasn’t, the night watchman and half the town were trespassing but I must say, even after the second viewing, Act 2 left me confused.

c) a fight scene with no fighting? Well Beckmesser was the sole recipient of a beating (plot essential), there was some slow motion pandemonium and we did get some fornication thrown in, so one shouldn’t complain.

d) Act 3, scene 1 is not in Sachs’ house but rather at the back of the Festival auditorium. But sure enough, cobbler Sachs is there..with his tools. This bloke is the traveling cobbler par excellence. More St Christopher than St Crispen. It all seemed a bit darker than it should have been for the glorious full swathes of strings when Sachs’ Johannes Nacht gives way to Johannes Tag (and can Beckmesser “steal” a bit of paper left in a public auditorium?)  But generally Act 3 is such a musical wonder of the world, its hard to go far wrong.

Plusses;

  1. The orchestra and choir. Simply magnificent. If I’d had my hat on, Wach Auf would have blown it off. The horns from the upper amphitheatre resonated a little with the SS guards doing same from the Bayreuth balcony in the 1930’s but lets not dwell.
  2. Beckmesser. The role is such a comedy show stopper and Johannes Martin Kränzle  has it down to a tee.
  3. Pogner. Don is not over technical music wise (!) but even he could hear Stephen Milling has a proper voice. Look forward to more.
  4. Rachel Willis-Sørensen’s Eva. Really came into it in Act 3 when that scene with Sachs is the only game in town. She nailed it so that by the time of the five-way Dream Song baptism we are utterly wrecked. Moreover she has been nice enough to respond to some of Don’s tweets so what’s not to like?
  5. Bryn. A very acceptable if not astonishing Sachs but he’s been there, done it, got T-shirt etc etc  and hey, what does Don know?
  6. Kasper Holten. He’s pushed the boundaries, did something and of that I suspect Wagner would approve and so probably would Hannah Arendt.

Slaven

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(reproduced with kind permission of whoever this belongs to. Much appreciated)

We can’t keep dining out on last season and we can’t keep blaming the pitch, the new ground and Payet. It is also not acceptable to say how well we played for most of the Leicester game. We did; I accept that but its not acceptable. (If you want tautology, this is the place). In the Premier League if you have an off 10 minutes you are very lucky not to be punished. To be 2-0 down after 8 minutes is either pathetic or really unlucky. We seem to concede goals in short bursts on a regular basis; West Brom and Spurs away this season, Leicester (again) and Bournemouth at home last season spring immediately to mind and I’m sure there are a host of others if Don bothered to look.

We famously tracked a world beater of a striker for most of the summer; indeed several of them. We got none.

We obviously needed a right back (since Jenkinson got injured, in what seems years ago) and famously did no tracking at all. Ok Arbeloa (rests case).

We clearly are still in dire need of both after another fruitless transfer window. We still have none. We are scoring with reasonable regularity but concede alarmingly so; often exposed where a decent right back should be, which makes otherwise half decent central defenders look fools.

I like Byram but he’s definitely better going forward. Its obvious to all (including Slaven) that he’s not yet ready at this level (though I think he’ll get there). I completely dislike Antonio, Kouyate, Noble, Carroll or any other non-right back at right back. Again obvious.

Up front, aside from Carroll, have any strikers even scored this season? I don’t count Antonio as a striker. Whisper it at risk of general bombardment but I don’t rate him that much as footballer. Top marks for effort, is a tremendous athlete, has speed and strength in abundance and seems an absolute top bloke. But his first touch and decision making are not great. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating selling him but if he’s our first team striker, then lower mid-table is about as high as our aspirations go and if he’s England standard….He is a right winger or nothing in my view and he’s not the best out there.

The ground does us no favours but what can we do? Get on with it, that’s what. Never mind increasing capacity to 66,000, Don would focus on 50,000 fans that actually stay the 90 mins and have more than a passing interest in the final score, as opposed to giving little Johnny a fun day out. If you think that’s fun son, you’re a bit bloody odd. We may even generate a bit of atmosphere if fans were still there towards the end.

No-one needs Don to tell them we need a decent right back, a proper striker and an Obiang quality midfielder to play alongside or a little in advance of Pedro. I fear maybe a goalie as well but only if in Joe Hart class or we’re simply juggling around for the sake of it.

And the $64,000 question. Having hardly excelled in previous two windows (though the lovely Pedro was his first purchase??), will Slav be there to spend Dave’s money? The harsh view is, if he’s not done enough to warrant a contract extension, why are we messing about? We are not yet safe from relegation this season which means under Slav, we’re among the dreaded runners and riders for next. So lets do better. The benign view is, he wore an earing, plays the guitar and seems a top bloke…

Will be an interesting next few weeks and have it sorted by Sunderland away Slav, its a bloody long way for nothing.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

In Which Don learns to cope with disappointment and stinking the place out.

Post 23

March 1970. Don was 9 and a half years old. Life to that point had smiled upon this little boy. Immediate relatives all alive and in good health, no major crisis. Yes, tonsils and adenoids had gone missing at Whipps Cross hospital several years earlier but the plethora of toys garnered as a result more than made up for the loss. Unlike the East End a generation earlier, Clayhall did not suffer a Luftwaffe blitz, Don was not plucked from his family and evacuated to Bedfordshire and West Ham had won most trophies on offer, both on domestic and world stage. The sun generally shone. What could possibly burst this bubble of contentment?

One of Don’s heroes upped and left, that’s what. Martin Peters transferred to Tottenham for a then record of £200,000 with an ailing Jimmy Greaves coming the other way. Up to that point, it was inconceivable to Don that anyone would want to leave the Hammers, never mind to Spurs. £200,000?? What did money even have to do with football?

martinpeters

Martin Peters, born Plaistow, grew up at West Ham, idolised by the fans. Yet there he wasn’t. Gone. It was a watershed moment. It dawned on Don that it was possible that players’ relationship with the club was different from fans’. Whether concepts such as ambition, career advancement, security and family planning (steady), formulated properly in Don’s mind or simply huddled into a general queasy feeling, history does not record.

Either way, Don was disappointed and grew up a little. And so must we with Dimitri Payet. Of course these days your average nine year old is so well versed in FIFA football finance, they could draft his new contract so it is the under sevens and over 30’s that deserve our sympathy. He is going and we won’t see his like again down the London Stadium for a long time. Despite (or perhaps because of) the bitterness currently festering, we mustn’t lose sight of what a wonderful player he is. Like Tevez, it was a bit of luck that such genius wound up with us and we must cherish the golden season we had. Last season was always going to be epic but none of us could have anticipated the quality of the football, results and memories created by the team, largely instigated by Payet. He was our Toscanini, our von Karajan.

This season the genius has gone missing. Can we cope without this Payet? Easily. In creative terms he has been average and defensively a disaster; time and again losing the ball in dangerous areas and exposing a dragged out of position defence. Can one replace Payet of last season? Impossible for a club like us. Domestically, only Coutinho comes close. I wouldn’t put Özil or Erikson in the same class, good as they are.

And cope we did against Crystal Palace.

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Don missed it, visiting a daughter who is being a hippy in the desert, so it was left to Little Don to represent the family. By all accounts a stirring second half performance incorporating (inevitably as Don wasn’t there), the goal of the century. I won’t go on – who needs to read my account of not being there?

Earlier in the week it was with great pleasure that Don returned to the Stop!Hammertime studios to record a podcast looking back on various recent defeats – so a laugh a minute. Actually not as depressing as it sounds and if you didn’t catch it, you can do so here:  Mike Dean: Schrodinger’s Prat .

To compound matters, we have our transfer activity. Little annoys Don more than seeing our constant and even official communications on what business we are trying to do. Its like we have a policy of keeping Daniel Levy in the loop so he can scoop us at the last minute. Fortunately (sic), they have I fear, moved out of our league on the transfer front but I swear other clubs are not as vocal as we insist on being. I read with disappointment and amazement Jacob Steinberg’s piece in The Guardian, that in the history of the Premier League we have not had a 20 goal a season striker – that’s 25 years! Read the full horror here . So why am I surprised we have failed to nail down that sharpshooter in the last window or this? Misery doom and gloom; and all this before we have seen Trump in action.

And yet, in what we at Don Towers assume is now PPE (post Payet era), does one detect a new cohesiveness and bunker spirit, hitherto absent? Its almost as though the stadium needed a jolt to set it on fire and maybe this has been it. There is a yearning among the support to be passionate but needs a catalyst. Passion is needed from the team to unleash passion from the support. We have had a taste. Slaven in his almost tearful press conference is a rock on whom one can rely in difficult times. Several skillful members of the squad, now out of Payet’s shadow, seem to be chomping at the bit to show what they can do, .

So there you have it, despite a week of disappointment, Don is really looking forward to the next few games.

It should not be hard to link Wagner to a post on disappointment. It characterised most of his adult life as project after project failed for every conceivable reason other than himself, until finally getting it right. But I’m not sure I am going to. This is about Payet.

There is much to look forward to re Wagner in future posts. Die Meistersinger is coming to town in March and as well as seeing that (several times), Don is looking forward to a one day study guide to that masterpiece in February. The wonderful Opera North production of the Ring Cycle is coming to our screens. Don saw that last summer in Nottingham and reviewed it extensively on here. Why one would watch semi-staged on tv I’m not sure but there we are, more on that in real time.

So there you have it. We’ve shed tears, we’ve rented our collective hearts asunder and we’ve cracked heads on walls. All fun activity no doubt but none of it shall return us the Payet of last season. So lets get what we can for him and move him on asap. Don doesn’t always agree with Redknapp but Harry had it right when he said if Payet plays for us again, he’ll stink the place out.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

 

 

 

 

In Which its a Wahn Wahn Wahn Wahn World

Post 22

The 1963 film Its a Mad Mad Mad Mad World is one of Don’s favourites.

Starring Spencer Tracy, Phil Silvers, the incomparable Ethel Merman and a host of others, its a mad cap romp around San Diego in which a group of otherwise law abiding citizens get into all sorts of scrapes in a grasping frenzy for a pot of gold. The madness rears with two heads. Firstly the notion that extra money will improve their lives and secondly; that every man for him or her self will be better than cooperating as a group.

Wagner and his mentor Arthur Schopenhauer would have approved Stanley Kramer’s central critique.

Linguists tell me there is no direct translation for the German word “wahn”.  Ernest Newman: Wagner Nights in a footnote refers to “erroneous or false opinion”, “illusion”, “delusion”, “hallucination”, “error”, “folly”, “madness”. All of the above. Generally that mankind is propelled by an inner and irresistible compulsion to strive for something unseen and unknowable and that such striving is invariably at the expense of a fellow human who is striving with equally determined folly.

This resonates with West Ham’s ambition to improve itself by moving stadium. So far, not looking so good.

The anguish that there is no escape from such madness is a central, not to say overriding theme in several Wagnerian operas. Most obviously in the Wahn monologue in Die Meistersinger….to paraphrase..”everywhere people torment and flay each other until they draw blood in foolish anger…no-one has reward or thanks for it..he thinks he’s hunting, not realising its his cry of pain, as he tears his own flesh….”

Pure Schopenhauer and you don’t get that with Puccini.  

In the Ring Cycle too. Paul Heise (via Roger Scrutton’s intro) in his leviathan analysis, Wagnerheim, identifies in the Ring Cycle, in response to wahn as mankind’s destiny, a yearning for transcendence. A need to escape the forever pointless striving and return to an age of innocence. So generally the gold and specifically the Ring may not be (or not only be) symbolic of capitalist greed (as GB Shaw and others saw it) but rather of religious consciousness and/or scientific knowledge. In either case, the means whereby man has leapfrogged all other species to rule the world.

Whether you get this, you will at some level feel it. Lets put it this way. We have the scientific knowledge and curiosity to develop technical “solutions” to all the world’s problems. So what if we rape the world of fossil fuels? We’ll just create a better technology. Once the world is dead, we’ll move on to another planet. Technologically, humans will find a way.

But to what end? We are constantly striving but where are we going and is it any better? Some of us, possibly Schopenhauer but maybe also Wagner and Stanley Kramer, may wish we had not left an age of innocence when we desired nothing more than to roam the fields in our battered VW camper-vans (running on compressed sheep droppings), parking up by the river bank and strumming Leonard Cohen on a lute.

To my simple and frackered mind, it is such sentiment that is at the heart of much of what Wagner had to say and which couldn’t be further from the common conception of what he is about. Such is the fascination.

But what has this got to do with West Ham? To which Don says: any discussion that isn’t Mike Dean or the performance against Man City has got to be an improvement.

But actually there are links. Don is not about to re-write his own history and say with hindsight, he was always against the move. He understood the rationale at the time and was excited by the prospect of us little Hammers becoming a footballing giant. Which could still happen and we must judge the project after 5 years not 5 months.

But after suffering for half a season we look back to our golden age at Upton Park with not a little regret. Lets not kid ourselves that life back then was not, like now, more heartache than anything else but its undeniable that we had something magical and that is now gone forever.

There was a window of opportunity, between bids, when the TV money had kicked in and the club was not dependant on the move for survival. We could have redeveloped Upton Park to 45,000 but no, by then we were riding the Wahn wave. Don included.

I am not trying to equate the rape of world’s resources and pointless wars to the exit from The Boleyn but there is something familiar (and slightly nauseating) about this feeling that if one stands still, if one is not constantly striving for something else and being seen to be striving for it, one is as dead as dodo. Schopenhauer probably thought (and almost definitely said) that the dodos had it right.

So here we are. Team bereft of confidence. Ground that sucks out the atmosphere. Players that don’t look committed. Crowd that thinks its at Disney World and realisation that there is more to a manger than being cool. I fear Concerned is the new Cool.

Don will try to find some silver linings:

  • we are unlikely to go down
  • we have a good crop of youngsters. A team (3-4-2-1) of Randolph, – Burke, Reid, Oxford – Byram, Obiang, Kouyate, Creswell – Lanzini, Samuelsen – Fletcher/Martinez; has potential with more plus experience on the bench.
  • we have Payet; should he wish to play for us. If not, time to move on.
  • Board may realise it cant pick the transfers.
  • 10,000 day trippers may have had enough, allowing 10,000 waiting list fans that know what they are in for, to step up.
  • At some point, team will realise its in their hands and they cant blame the ground.
  • the manager is still a bit cool, for not being so cool.
  • We are West Ham United.

So breath deeply, don’t panic and don’t let the Wahn grind you down.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

 

 

In Which Don and Little Don embark on a Never-ending Journey (or Swansea)

Post 21

A Merry Christmas one and all.

In the opera The Flying Dutchman, the Dutchman, commands a ship condemned to forever sail the seas and so cannot arrive at port (save a quick pit-stop every seven years). So it felt on Boxing Day as Don and Little Don set sail from the picturesque fishing village of Muswell Hill, north London towards the great port of Swansea, way across the M4 ocean. Swansea! Bloody Swansea! That’s 200 miles away through foreign lands with names such as Ystrad Mynach and Nant-Ddu. If the Riders of Rohan had swept past en route to Isengard, Gondolin or some such place we wouldn’t have bat an eyelid. Actually as Port Talbot heaved into view I was thinking more 1970’s Dagenham but even if this were a good story, we won’t let the truth get in the way of it. [And on serious note, we wish PT a speedy recovery]

And we set off in high spirits. Don had almost behaved the night before and was bright eyed and bushy tailed for the voyage ahead. Like the opera, this would be our new dawn. Wagner intended to dispense with traditional operatic niceties, and produce something more meaningful and true to himself. With 180 odd years of perspective we can say he that he succeeded though at the time it was only him and a couple of mates that saw it this way. Thus were it to be for Slaven. Yes we beat Burnley and Hull City but only because the stats say it; anyone that was there knows it ain’t so.

This was our Dutchman. This was when the real West Ham, the West Ham of last season, flings open the saloon doors, chews some baccy and spits it on the floor. Slav’s back. Swansea were just gonna have to take one for the team, hit the deck, suck it up and any more Americanisms we could think of as we sailed gracefully past Swindon. [Editor note for the uninitiated: Swansea have (spoiler alert – had) a manager, Bob Bradley from over the pond. More of him later]

Raging tempests, the roar of the sea, towering white horses. All conspicuously absent on this fine Boxing Day morning; the americano barely rippling in its cup-holder. Never was a day less like a bedevilled ghostly ship being catapulted across the unforgiving watery chasms than this. I’ll admit, there was a moment that Don considered abandoning this post but then again, sod it. We shall somehow shoehorn Der Fliegende Holländer into Swansea away.

So we arrive in good time at the out of town retail park that is the Liberty Stadium. There however, the similarity with the Hammers own home from home, ends because we could park very conveniently right opposite. Mrs Don had thoughtfully packed us turkey leftovers in various guises, all of which were ditched in favour of a Balti chicken pie. Here we can again relate with The Flying Dutchman because the salt content of that pie would give the North Sea a run for its money.

The Hammers started in traditional festive manner, allowing a Swansea side, bereft of confidence, the freedom of the park until some bloke, for whom Little Don tells me they paid £15 million (or in old money, 1.5 Payets), sliced well wide just as Randolph was clearing a large space in the goal to accommodate him.

That seemed to jolt us into action. Certainly Little Don was getting very excited at this point screaming at our defence using language I can only assume he’s picked up from his mother. Well it may just have worked because we then do what I had assumed (based on decades of research) was only reserved for teams against us – we scored just as the other side were getting on top. It also reversed the Jermaine Defoe cardinal rule; that no sooner have we sold someone, they score against us. For it was none other than that erstwhile Swansea hero, Andre Ayew who lashed in a thunderbolt from a yard. But why am I telling you this? You know this.

I’ll tell you why, because either I talk about the game or prattle on about Wagner. Yes. Thought so.

Half time and we are still leading. The interval itself being relatively uneventful, in the sense of that time honored father and son tradition; barely a word passing between us. Do you know the other scores? No. Can I have a fiver? Yes.  Arthur Miller it ain’t, though now I think about it…

Come on now, a little bit of culture? Just a little? So the Dutchman has blasphemed or done something terrible at some point and as punishment must forever sail the seas until he finds the love of a good women or dies trying. “Yeh but guv, I only got blokes on the boat and most of them wouldn’t launch a fleet (if you know what I mean).” “Your problem.” “Yeh but guv?” “Aw alright, you can put in to shore every seven years to see if you can find someone and if I were you, I’d wash the night before.” “Cheers guv.”

Having been mulling over the theme for while, Wagner is inspired by elements of his experience of sailing with his young wife Minna from Riga to London (en route to Paris) in summer 1839. Wasn’t much of a summer though and amid terrible storms, the ship pulls into a Norwegian harbour for some running repairs. Fjords are just the thing to inspire a young composer it seems. Only some elements of the journey inspired, much of the rest was filled with dread of very near death. Had that happened, so early in his career, this blog would have been lost to the world.

So in the story, its a seventh year and the Dutchman’s boat is dashed against another boat in a Norwegian harbour. The captain of the other boat is a Norwegian called Dalland. He has a lovely daughter called Senta. There is another bloke called Erik.

But in Don Pantomime Productions, the dramatis personae is as follows;

The Dutchman, a ghostly captain: a Croat called Slav

Dalland, captain of a Norwegian vessel: an American called Bob

Senta, his daughter: a (French?) Ghanaian called Andre.

Erik, another bloke: a Norwegian called Harvard Nordveid, recently of Rush Green.

Act 1.

Bob: Darn it, someone just reversed into my Buick!

Slav (bursting open Norwegian saloon doors): So Bob, how much for your daughter Andre? I got the big bucks.

Andre: Daddy, just look at the wad in his pocket, I ain’t never seen one so big. That got to be at least £19 million, at least.

Harvard: Visit Norway in the Spring, the fjords are beautiful.

Bob: Ok Slav, we got us a deal, Andre you now offence for Red Bull Hammerettes United.

Slav: Joke is on you Bob, for I am the ghostly Dutchman and this deal will come back to haunt you. For instance on Boxing Day I return to beat you 4-1, with your daughter Andre here “on frame” as you Norwegians like to say.

Bob: Bugger.

Slav: You have been.

Harvard: Oslo is also nice.

Curtain falls as entire cast skip hand in hand in Norwegian countryside.

 

I very much doubt it but if you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016

In Which Don muses further on Die Meistersinger. Good v Evil (part 2)

Post 20

Die Meistersinger von Nürmberg. Last time we laid some groundwork. Now what the hell is it all about? Unfortunately with this opera, the elephant in the room is the baggage it carries so lets firstly have a go at that and then look at the many more uplifting aspects.

And while we are musing, we shall spare a little time later for the Hammers’ sterling (don’t rub it in Don) performance at Anfield and the 1-0 slaughter of Burnley.

On the face of it, bloke wins singing competition and gets the girl. The goodies are good, the baddie is more laughable than bad. Its sunny (even the night seems well lit), written largely in a style that is generally bright and uplifting and has lots of catchy tunes. That sounds more Gilbert and Sullivan than Wagner. Because of this, some Wagnerites cast aspersions upon it because its not sufficiently Tristan. For same reason, non-Wagnerites consider it the most accessible of his cannon. Performances sell out and it is one of the most popular operas going. What’s not to like?

Well that it was used by them to glorify the Nazi cause may have something to do with it.

Lots to consider; the dark side, charged with anti-Semitism and being fuel for the Nazi cause, boils down to two points:

  1. The humiliation of Beckmesser; and
  2. The glorification of things German (Aryan) in Hans Sachs’ final address.

But first a little Nazi background for those that may not know. Wagner was Hitler’s  favourite composer and for all of the reasons the Nazis are associated with Nuremberg (see Donner the Hammer, Post 19), it is hard to disassociate 16th or 19th century Nuremberg from Nazi Nuremberg. And in 1940’s Nuremberg, Hitler commissioned performances of Die Meistersinger during the Nuremberg rallies – much to the chagrin of officers and men who no doubt would have preferred to be down the beer keller.

In Post 19, Don posed two questions;

  1. Should Wagner and particularly Die Meistersinger be damned because of the adoption by the Nazis? and
  2. To what extent should evaluation of art be affected by the personal traits of the artist?

Academics have devoted careers to these questions so this is dipping toes into big water but your average West Ham fan is cleverer and more curious than your average bear so lets give it a go.

First Question.

On the face of the matter, this is the easier one. It was written over several years in the 1860’s; Wagner dies in 1883, 50 years prior to Hitler’s Chancellorship in 1933, so lets criticize the Nazis for sullying a great piece of art but the other way around? Surely not. However, art triggers reaction; gut feel, If it doesn’t its pointless and the better the art, the more profound the reaction. Wagner wanted that reaction, he wanted his art to change society, that was his raison d’etre. So if people hate Wagner’s work by association, that is to be respected and is of course their prerogative.

He was an anti-Semite but that was far more normal in his time than thankfully in ours (though we are rising up that shameful league). He was a German nationalist and whilst one cannot claim that to be an exclusively liberal cause, there were liberal aspects to it and he aspired to those. He certainly did not perceive it as a forerunner to fascism, his political thinking was far too left of the spectrum for that. Divorced from his personal antisemitism, his operas generally speak to tolerance, compassion and humanity.

So what then should we make of the final monologue in which Hans Sachs warns of respecting not only German art but German masters? Moreover being wary of foreign influence and rule. An apologist would say this must be considered in context. Which is, that it was a private conversation with Walther who had just rejected the offer to become a Meistersinger. Sachs was telling him not to be disrespectful; that it is the traditions of the Masters that had preserved German art and that good art and consequently good society comes from a blend of following ones heart and emotion and believing in our intuitive spark of genius  (- so of course for Walther, read Wagner) but also in respecting tradition. The apologists may also say that for “foreigner” read French, not Jew. German nationalism was a product of the post Napoleonic Wars era as much as anything else. German lands were not the only part of Europe to feel they had been under French influence for too long and valued their own traditions.

The non-apologist says Who are you trying to kid? Mid 19th century German nationalism may have had positive aspects but Wagner was at the dodgy end; consider his antisemitism (see below). Moreover, the passage may have been said to Walther but was said by Sachs (which counts), was resounded by the entire community and to boot, are the closing remarks of the opera. So where does Don stand on this? Read on

Second Question

That he was antisemitic is beyond doubt; he wrote, profusely explaining his views on everything, this included, so we know. It would be too easy to dismiss this as a defect plain and simple but a genius such as Wagner deserves the effort to be understood, at least. Let us try.

Wagner was an artist über alles. It framed his world view on almost everything, including Jews. True art, he thought, gushed unrestrained from the soul, the artist being almost passive in the process; a mere conduit from which the creative spark spontaneously burst. So for more than one opera, he would start with a few notes in his head, not quite knowing from where they had come and felt compelled to write and create around and from the little tune. Some of his best work would (so he tells us) gush out and fill the pages without him giving it a great deal of thought. Literally composing from the heart.

True art was for the people and by the people. He refers to ancient Greece as the pinnacle of culture not only because Greek Tragedy brought together music, words, drama in a way other art did not (and had not since) but it involved much of the community as actors and chorus, with the rest of the community watching (and so participating in) the performance. I think he was getting at this with Die Meistersinger in which the community (volk) is almost a character.

So where did he think this left Jews? Firstly, no matter how assimilated, he considered them, rightly or wrongly, to be outsiders. Therefore their art was disadvantaged. Secondly, the process of assimilation must make it contrived. Jews were creating art not from the soul but from the brain. The Jewish artist felt compelled to ask, “What does the community want to hear/watch/read that will make me more accepted?” And then produced that. So there was a sincerity gap. There is a short step to saying Jews produced only commercial art, which opens the murky trap door of just being in it for the money and Wagner was all too prepared to cross that line.

Overlaid are his personal circumstances (chickens and eggs, naturally). Poor to the point of destitution and on the run as a political deviant, he could only look on with envy as the darlings of the European opera, Meyerbeer and Halevy, both Jews, had success after (commercial) success while the genius Wagner was in early years, largely ignored. Ironically not ignored by Meyerbeer who offered to help him but the altruist becoming the sworn enemy is a well trodden path by would be genii.

We have considered before his contempt for contemporary music.   Over commercialised, audience more important than the art etc. etc.

So, limited by brevity, lets take it that he’s an anti-Semite and we know a little about why that is. The question that leaves, is does it influence his art and even if so, does that make the art worse (obviously, yes). If it doesn’t influence the art, are his views relevant as commentary upon that art?

So again because he writes about everything, we have it from the horses mouth. He denied there were any Jewish characters in his work. Firstly because much is myth based, personal characteristics in that sense are less important. Even the apparently obviously Christian characters in say Parcifal are not necessarily representing Christians. Secondly because of the outsider status of the Jew, the character was insincere and so offered insufficient  depth to be of use in his art. Bizarre but that is my understanding of what he felt. So for all one seeks in Kundry, Mimme, Alebrich or Beckmesser, Wagner himself denied.

And for all the praise lavished on him by the Nazis and for all they would have wanted to make the point, it was never claimed by the Nazis that there was any Jewish element to his work.

Yet many see just that throughout Die Meistersinger and in particular centring on the character Beckmesser, the anti-hero and butt of much of the humour. Some of the many reasons given are

  1. the Jewish cantonal style of his singing.
  2. his poor physical characteristics at the start of Act 3
  3. his treatment as the outsider
  4. the use of the “hilarity” leitmotiv.

So in turn..

  1. I have been Jewish for as long as I can remember (blame the parents) and suffered many more synagogue services than I would wish. Beckmesser’s musical style is staccato, jerky and unmelodic. It conveys his character; petty, slightly malicious bureaucratic. We have little sympathy. However, none of it particularly calls to mind a cantoral style, though admittedly one cannot compare eras. Nor have I seen documented examples as to how it does, other than in general terms. The entire last scene of Act 2 runs to a backdrop of Beckmesser’s song in which the whole community join. This doesn’t seem likely if Wagner intended him to represent a Jew.
  2.  This is ridiculous. He was beaten up previous evening. Anyone would have been limping the next  morning.
  3. He is not an outsider. He is a Meistersinger; steeped in that tradition as much as the rest of them, including Sachs. His name is simply a German name. We know from early drafts of the libretto that he was initially called something much closer to Eduard Hanslick, a famous (part Jewish) music critic of the day. Hanslick unfavourably reviewed Lohengrin and was never forgiven by Wagner, who wrote the book on bearing grudges and seething resentment. So undoubtedly an interesting development. but is it telling us anything beyond an artist’s hatred of critics, especially one unfavourable to himself? One of the main thrusts is Walther’s natural ability v The Meistersingers (and especially Beckmesser) singing by the rules (or by rote). I see this as the point and Hanslick’s Jewish connection as merely not helping.
  4. This is quite interesting. Newman (see Glossary) identifies the hilarity motif in Wagner Nights. It is a very short passage that appears in the body of the work only once, when Beckmesser walks out to sing his prize song at the competition. Cue general mocking hilarity and jeering from the gathered crowds to this little tune. He then slips off the little platform and cue further mirth. It is a little nothing ditty.  Except that it does appear elsewhere; right at the end of the overture and again, having been preluded a few bars earlier, in almost the closing remarks of the opera. Now that is interesting; the themes developed in the overture are otherwise all highly significant. Why put something in the overture that is used just once in the work apart from it closes the whole opera? And, just after Hans Sachs’ anti-foreign outburst? Interesting! Especially when it is so cutting and so insulting to Beckmesser. It is inconceivable that this is coincidence. Might Wagner be saying “Ok whatever else you take from this, don’t forget we’ve got to blame and get rid of the outsider…the Jew”???  I can’t dismiss that but I don’t really buy it, much because for the reasons above, Beckmesser was not an outsider. There is also much evidence in the libretto that whilst it would be nice if he could learn not to be such a petty fool, he will nevertheless, always be welcome as part of the community. So I conclude anti-Beckmesser but not more sinister.

Finally, having said there are no Jewish references in the opera, that is not quite true. There are several references to King David. He is the old bearded king on the Pogner coat of arms (which whilst not an entirely positive message is still quite an endorsement). But more significantly, early on Eva likens Walther to David. Not to the old fella above, not to Lena’s David but to the beautiful young man in the Dürer picture; the young David about to slay Goliath. The Nuremberg born renaissance painter held a special place in German hearts at the time and certainly in Wagner’s. I have not been able to identify the picture but Eva refers to him as very handsome and fair; hardly an anti-Jewish reference and a link by Wagner of the main hero Walther (who is a thinly disguised Richard Wagner) to a Jew! Maybe somewhat simplistic but there nevertheless.

Time is running out and Don has not got to the uplifting essence on the nature of Art and how Die Meistersinger helps us to understand that essence. Maybe a Part 3. For now, I am pleased to report that Don does not see this wonderful opera as an apology for anti-Semitism, in fact in the main, quite the opposite and it is these opposites we will look at next time. Moreover, that Wagner’s personal prejudices are entirely distinguishable from a wonderful piece of art.

So, the Hammers. Finally a win! Following hot on the heels of a great point at Liverpool. Have we turned a corner? I hope so. Slav says we are a team afraid to win but that now we have done so, the players who played so fearlessly last season will we hope lose some shackles. A bit more Walther, a little less Beckmesser. The goalie position remains an issue but I would persevere with Randolph who deserves to establish himself as a Premier League and international keeper. Adrian’s fear of approaching (never mind going beyond) the six yard line is the downfall of an otherwise decent keeper. Witness when he does, it is usually in a forced and forlorn cause which inevitably costs us.

Pedro Obiang continues his calm and assured campaign for Hammer of the Year (who else?) and our summer signings continue to underwhelm.

A run of games now to put our poor, poor start to bed. Lets hope we take advantage.

Don never thought this blog would see Easter, never mind Christmas and the fact that no-one knows it exists is neither here nor there.

So if you have been, thanks for listening and have a very merry Christmas, Chanukah and whatever else flicks your switch.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016

In Which its giant killing season; the Hammers take on Man City and Don tackles Die Meistersinger (part 1)

Post 19

All we needed was a bit of luck for an FA Cup run. Hundred and something teams to choose from but bugger my old boots if we don’t draw Man City. So that’s that then. Half a season, where the pinnacle of our existence is fighting relegation. Just shoot me now or pass me that Schopenhauer essay. So, in recognition of our huge undertaking in the cup, Don attempts to tackle one of the biggest of the big in the opera world – Die Meistersinger von Nürmberg. A bit of West Ham below but its mainly pwoppa culture this time.

Meistersingers is big in every sense. Packed full of controversy, its long – even by Wagnerian standards. It fills the stage, it requires a full orchestra. The Ring you say? Well ok not that big obviously but that’s four operas put together. Unlike another biggy, Tristan, which packs a huge punch but only has 3 or 4 main characters, Meistersingers is chock-a-block with leading characters, a dozen lesser ones, chorus, dancers, fighters, jugglers; you name it, its got it. This reflects, and this is something to bear in mind throughout, that its about a community, so it stars a community. Consequently its expensive to put it on and doesn’t come around too often. In short, its a right production.

But stick with it my friends and there are rewards beyond heaven.

Of course its a forlorn task. One cannot do any sort of justice to Die Meistersinger in a short blog so this is little more than some random thoughts. This time setting the scene and next time, maybe for Burnley (come on you Irons, we need that win!), interpretation and commentary (which is of course the whole point).

Lets start with the controversies and off the top of my head…

  • Its set in Nürmberg or Nuremberg as we would have it. Like a Hans Sachs poem, that counts for something. Nuremberg, the place in which the main raft of anti-Jewish legislation was first enacted by the Nazis. Nuremberg, site of the huge Nazi rallies, choreographed in part based on some of Wagner’s stage direction. This was no accident; Hitler adored Wagner and saw in this opera an idealised German community, pure in thought and deed and free from foreign influences. Nuremberg, site of the post-war trials where a few Nazis (not enough) got what was coming to them. Nuremberg, flattened in hours by allied bombs near the end of the war.
  • In the last scene, the great hero, Hans Sachs and I hope to show he is indeed a hero, presents a monologue, warning the burghers of Nuremberg against anti-German art and foreign influence. What a god-send for Hitler and more so because it was written mid 19th century, not 1932.
  • The anti-hero is Sixtus Beckmesser, the pedantic town clerk who is mocked throughout and receives appropriate comeuppance. Cleverer people than Don recognise Jewish traits in Beckmesser and cast the entire kit and caboodle as a thinly disguised anti-Jewish tirade, This they say, is to be expected as Wagner was an outrageous anti-Semite. And indeed he was.

So these beg two questions;

  1. Should Wagner and particularly Die Meistersinger be damned because of the adoption by the Nazis? and
  2. To what extent should evaluation of art be affected by by the personal traits of the artist?

To consider these we need a reasonable understanding of the material.

Setting the Scene

  1. It is in a minority among Wagner operas in that it is set in a fixed time and place and deals with real people. Wagner preferred myth. Myth is timeless; if one is trying to convey thought process and emotion, real events can be a distraction. Wotan is not a particular person, he is every-man; what Tristan and Isolde go through resonates in all of us so powerfully because it cannot be confined to time and space. Meistersingers however is set in Nuremberg and because it is 16th century Nuremberg, the city itself is a character (in the way Brabant in Lohengrin is not). How so? Well, at that time, it was pretty much the capital of the faltering Holy Roman Empire and so as one would expect, Church was pivotal and it was a centre of commerce; but it also had a pretty unique reverence for art. The “Master singers” did exist. They were real people representing various guilds and trades; they were considered to be masters of poetry and song and this gave them an exalted position in society.
  2. The time was significant. This decade of the 16th century was when Nuremberg and much of Europe began to recover from the ravages of the plague. Hans Sachs was a real person who lost his wife and all children to the plague. He re-married and had further kids but the opera is set in the year or two in which he had lost everything. The time is also significant in that it is set centuries before German statehood (see below).
  3. It was written in mid 1860’s just a few years before the unification of Germany. There was a nationalist fervour. This, Don feels, is why most of the controversy arises. Having lived through subsequent events, it is nigh on impossible , especially when it comes to Wagner, for us to appraise pre-Nazi German art other than as a pre-cursor to the Nazis nor 19th century nationalism, especially German nationalism other than in racist or proto-fascist terms. But if we are to judge Die Meistersinger on its own terms, this we must do. This means understanding what German nationalism meant back then and this point must be (and of course is) made in any appraisal of Wagner’s works and of him personally.
  4. Its a comedy! There are more lighter moments in Wagner operas than one may generally assume but this is his lightest and most jocular. It is also bursting with great, accessible music; arguably more than any other opera.
  5. Don’t let the time/space specifics fool you. It is highly allegoric, still dealing with highly charged senses and emotions. However, unlike say Tristan where by the end, one may feel like an emotional punch bag from which it may take a week to recover, most on leaving the theatre after Meistersingers, will feel uplifted, walking on air and ready to take on the world.  They may not know why they feel that way but you might after reading this. Don’s a modest chap.

Brief Synopsis

Act 1. Walter, a knight from Franconia, arrives as a stranger in Nuremberg and spots Eva in church (St Katherine’s – sadly subsequently flattened by allied bombs). He asks her if she is engaged. How rude says her chaperone (Lena). I can speak for myself thank you, says Eva. Its complicated because her father, Pogner (not Pogba but call him that if it helps), richest bloke in town and Meistersinger has offered his daughter’s hand in marriage to the winner of a singing competition to be held next day on Johannestag (midsummer’s day) provided, that Eva can veto anyone she doesn’t like. After several winks and sultry pouts from Eva, Walter decides he will enter the competition. No chance! says Lena, its for Meistersingers only. So I’ll become a Meistersinger, says Walter. No chance! says Lena but seeing as it looks important to my boss Eva, my boyfriend David will help you. He’s apprenticed to Hans Sachs, the cobbler and best poet going so if he can’t help, no-one can.

It becomes immediately apparent to David that Walter has no understanding of the voluminous rules, regulations, ritual and convention, necessary to be a Meistersinger. He has studied nothing but has simply listened to birdsong. It takes years and Walter expects to do it in a night? We soon see how he does because that night there is a “trial” before the Die Meistersinger to see if anyone can be admitted to their number. The weighty conventions are again explained and its time for Walter’s song. A Meistersinger is on rota to listen out for mistakes. Its Beckmesser’s turn to be Der Merker and he sits with his slate and chalk ready to note errors. More than seven and you’re versunken. The not so hidden agenda is Beckmesser also fancies Eva and hopes to sing to win in tomorrow’s contest. He doesn’t need this handsome young  upstart rival from Franconia. Walter breaks all the rules because he just sings impulsively. The Meistersingers reject him utterly; save one, Hans Sachs the cobbler. Sachs recognises that something this new and fresh plays by its own rules. Nevertheless, he is a lone voice and Walter is effectively out the game.

Act 2. Its twilight and because its Midsummer’s Eve, mischievous spirits are at play. The town is agog for the next day festivities, particularly this year with the best looker in town to be bride to an unknown groom. Much drinking and frolicking about the town. David breaks the bad news re Walter to Eva and Lena. It is also plain that Beckmesser will enter and they’ve heard that (what with the proviso and all), he plans to serenade her this evening to see if he can woo her. Eva and Lena hatch a plan to swap roles so Beckmesser will be unwittingly serenading Lena. There follows a touching scene between Eva and Sachs. They discuss a number of important subjects, all in the guise of shoe repair (if nothing else, you leave this opera with a good working knowledge of soles, pitch and wax).

  • why Sachs a widower, is not entering the competition. Her charms are very apparent to him and for her, well he’s been the guiding mentor of her life and quite handsome to boot. But no, the age gap is too great and Eva is now pretty taken with Walter.
  • will he abandon her to the horrid Beckmesser?
  • was Walter utter rubbish? Can nothing be done?
  • why is Sachs being so horrible and not helping?

Night closes in. Eva secretly meets Walter in an alley next to her house. Much despair re news he’s messed up the competition. Only answer is elopement and it better be tonight. They hear Beckmesser tuning up. Eva thinks she will throw up. Walter wants to beat him up.

Fortunately Sachs hears all and in guise of some outdoor late night shoe-mending (he’s reparing Beckmesser’s shoes for the big day tomorrow), sufficiently interrupts the serenade with a very loud cobbler song about Eve (Eva) leaving the Garden of Eden without any shoes and hurting her feet. This has following intended effects

  • annoys Beckmesser
  • secretly tells Eva not to elope as he’ll work something out for her and Walter
  • alerts his apprentice David upstairs to the fact that Beckmesser is actually serenading his girl Lena.

Cue pandemonium, a mass punch-up (by this time half the town is off its face drunk- mischievous spirits? – yeah, right) and the curtain ends Act 2.

Act 3. Johannestag – Midsummer’s day. Last night’s mischievous spirits have been burned off by the sun. Will Hans Sachs resolve all of last night’s problems, just as his namesake, John the Baptiste, for whom the day is named,  redeemed believers with baptism? Sachs, the poet cobbler, sits in his workshop reading. He thinks aloud the “wahn” monologue in which he observes the madness that is human nature, compelling us all to ultimately self destruct in a frenzy of striving for something unknown and unknowable. All very Schopenhauerian and a marvellous passage in opera; Wagner at his most effective. Sachs cannot stop the madness but can he try to guide it in the cause of something noble? Lets see. He receives a series of visitors:

  • first up Walter, who slept little but deep and well and had a wonderful dream. Sachs senses a plan and as Walter tells (sings) his dream, Sachs is interpreting, prodding moulding it to conform with some basic rules and hey presto there is the embryo of a master song. It will need work though. Walter you’ve done a great job with the initial verses, go away and think of a third verse to resolve the meaning and bring it together. Meanwhile…
  • Beckmesser, fresh from last nights beating but determined to woo to success, comes for his shoes. In Sachs’ absence, he sees the draft of Walter’s song and assumes that Sachs is entering the competition and that last night’s ruckus was a ruse by Sachs to eliminate the competition (Beckmessser). Sachs enters and a plan formulates; he denies (truthfully) that the song is his and to show good faith,  says Beckmesser can use it in the competition if he wishes. Initially cynical, the scribe ultimately gleefully takes it, for a song by Sachs, that counts for something and will have a better chance than his own effort. Be careful says Sachs, that song needs subtle handling (he suspects Beckmesser is not up to that). Exit town scribe and enter…
  • Eva. More shoe talk that is allegoric for far more worldly matters, on topics similar to when they last met. Amid shoe fitting, Walter’s back. Cue glazed look and misty eyes between the (spoiler alert) soon to be lovers. Sachs also sees that as much as he loves Eva, he’s got no chance now she’s got Walteritis. It probably doesn’t help that she tells him she’d definitely have chosen him if not for gorgeous chops over here, who’s 20 years younger. So he focuses on being noble and working out how Walter can win a competition he’s not allowed to enter. First up Walt, lets get that song finished.

That done, there follows a lovely scene in which the song is christened (and baptised – it is Johannestag after all), Eva and Walter are told the plan and Lena and David get engaged. In short, if all goes well at the festival all problems will be solved, save that Sachs remains alone but has done the right thing, the Schopenhauerian thing.

And its off to the festival for the competition!

The only competitor is Beckmesser; cue Eva disappointment but she knows she can veto. He has Walter’s half baked song that Beckmesser think is by Sachs. He applies his own music and of course the many stifling rules of Die Meistersinger; this make a pigs ear of the whole thing and he is laughed off court. Its not mine, he exclaims, its Sachs! Sachs!!?? exclaim all, surely he would not write such rubbish. Sachs takes the floor. “I agree that sounded crap but as my reputation is on trial, at least let me call a witness; the true author of the song and who will show that if properly delivered it will sound wonderful”. Enter Walter, not as competitor but as witness, sings wonder song, redeems Sachs’ reputation and the community insist he must also take the prize. The girl was always mine, he says (and Eva readily agrees) but I don’t need to be a Meistersinger who have been boorish to me. They are all rules and no impro – and I’m an impro man. Steady says Sachs. Impro is good but you have to respect what tradition can do and you will be improved by having a good blend of the two. Cue dodgy monologue (see controversies) re respecting German art, German Meisters and beware foreigners. Townsfolk all say well done Sachs, you saved the day. And well done Johannestag, you saw off the mischievous spirits of Johannesnacht.

Bish, bash bosh. much applause and we go home.

So you get the picture. Many points of discussion which we will do next time. There’s no rush, we don’t play City until January.

Meantime, Slav has been given the dreaded vote of confidence. Everyone is laughing at us but hey, Don says its the mischievous spirits of Midsummer’s Night that are lingering far too long and as next is Liverpool away, they may hang about a bit more. But then Burnley at home and we, Slav and the whole of east London shall be redeemed. you heard it here first.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Which Don remembers he has a blog and West Ham forget we are a football team. Plus Lohengrin.

Post 18

Don doesn’t post for a brief while and world goes off its head. I mean can’t you folks manage on your own for a few weeks? OK a little longer. The last post (my review of Gotterdammerung) was in June. The world then had its usual share of insane hotspots but seemed roughly to be coping.

No sooner had the fire curtain gone down on the immolation scene at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, our little planet has really gone off at the deep end. Lets have a little review..

Here at home, we decided our economic and social future lay with countries on the other side of the world with no interest in trading with us as opposed to our prime trading partners for the last 40 years. In other nutty news, Labour re-elect Jeremy Corbyn.

Across the pond, not to be outdone on the insanity stakes, Good Ol’ US of A held an election….

We lose Leonard Cohen, Andrew Sachs, The Man from Uncle, Hilda Ogden, Gene Wilder, Caroline Ahern,  Mohammed Ali and Fidel Castro.

And of course Dame Karren announces the most successful ground switch in the history of the universe and West Ham packed their cases for a European tour..

Honestly I turn my back for a couple of minutes….

Don feels he owes it to the post apocalyptic sane to return to the fray with some calming words and to bring welcome respite to those desperate for that potent combo of West Ham United/Wagner operas hot issues.

So on the West Ham front, things are going pretty well. Having dished out the generous spirit to one north London neighbour, we felt duty bound to do likewise with the other lot. Miraculously, Little Don and Don’s excursion to Old Trafford produced a half decent performance in the 1-1 draw.

Fresh from our 1-5 defeat this weekend, what should we think?

  1. At 0-2 down and with Carroll ready to come on, thousands and I mean thousands, headed for the exit. Am I saying this would not have happened at Upton Park? No and it did, though inevitably not on the same scale.  It does though reflect our changing fan base. An emerging proportion have bought tickets to give the kids a nice day out and once they start moaning, they they are off. And then there are just the general wankers that always have, always will leave with 5 minutes to go when there’s one goal in it. I would rather they just didn’t bother and we had a half full ground of die hard fans. (Don of course, did the smart thing; staying to the bitter end to watch us concede another three.)
  2. If Samuel Allardici were still in charge, assuming also that he oversaw the players brought in over the summer, we would be calling for his head, injuries or no injuries. And he would probably have gone by now.

But Bilic has still I feel deservedly, bought himself more time, sympathy and enduring support. Ninety percent of this is due to last season but there is also a recognition that moving grounds is not an easy adjustment, that the injuries are not (I have to hope) his fault and that it will come good. Also there is sympathy that he has tried to play decent football, comes across well in the media and in contrast to his predecessor, is not a smug git. I am now feeling that comfortable(ish) survival plus half an FA Cup run will (and I can’t believe I am saying this) be just about acceptable for him to survive.  Once relegation looks a distinct possibility as opposed to being an agenda item, the board will act but until then I hope they back him.

I keep telling myself that the squad, when 75% available is pretty decent and one must assume they will go all out for a striker in January.

Far be it for Don to deter Slav from his Croat soft rock thing that he has going but a little Wagner wouldn’t go amiss. In troubled times, Don has a variety of Wagnarian ports in which to shelter but thinks the current plight calls for a little Lohengrin.

Lohengrin is a tale ostensibly about the holy grail (whatever that may be) in which the lovely Elsa is being deprived of her birthright by the nasties and seeks to defend herself by calling upon a bloke she has only met in a dream. But for those reading between the lines, we watch the growth and strength of Elsa as she develops through the piece and we ponder the nature of art and creativity. We also notice that Lohengrin, along with most Wagner operas, is in fact about West Ham.

So lets assume Slav is Elsa, the holy grail is mid table mediocrity and that her knight in shining armour (Lohengrin – but we don’t know his name) is of course Dimitri Payet. Well firstly, Slav needs his knight to turn up, which is a huge question mark in the opera and becoming increasingly so down the Olympic Stadium. He does so, in the nick of time and generally saves the day. I have to report that ultimately he sadly lets Elsa down but she learns a vital lesson in that process. Someone as special as Dimitri/Lohengrin is for the whole world and not just for Slav. But in learning that lesson, Elsa evolves as a person and likewise, 10th place could still be ours. (Don, you brazenly optimistic idiot).

Tough times call for the overture to Act 1. So with credit to conductor Rudolph Kempe and the Weiner Philharmonic, lock your self in a dark room and treat yourself to 8 minutes or so of me time. The stress and if you are not careful, the tears will ooze out.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGxGJVki5jU

 

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016

In Which Don Survives the Gods (which is more than we can say for Siegfried). Part 4 – Gotterdammerung

Post 17

So it is over and ready to begin again. The nature one supposes, of a cycle. Philosophically speaking I mean; not in the sense that Opera North are beginning again in Salford. But before we get into that and speaking of gods, two words; Dimitri Payet.

Ok that done, Don survived indeed thrived in, a lovely week in Nottingham. The final instalment of Wagner’s mammoth Ring Cycle was Gotterdammerung last Saturday. The clue is in the title, the Gods get their comeuppance.

As I mentioned after Siegfried, the Ring Cycle operas in my view, improve through the week and for me, Gotterdammerung is the finest. There’s an extra bit thrown in with The Prologue (Wagner’s initial attempt to tell the story in one opera), which is a bit like discovering the extras on the DVD are the best bit because musically, it is superb and arguably, if one extends into Siegfried’s Rhinefahrt, the finest hour-plus in the tetralogy.

The Norns were perfect and provide crucial back story. Here we learn for example, that Wotan’s acquisition of knowledge and power was actually a crime against nature, which puts a lot of other activity in context. Tagesgrauen was performed beautifully and regular readers may recall the bit of fun Don previously had with that ( Post 10 ).

Siegfried is dispatched by Brunnhilde (the magnificent Kelly Cae Hogan) to perform new heroic deeds, with some caution. If only she could be his soul, she tells him. Does she already feel he is under-prepared? Chasing bears through the forest is all very well but its no way to go through life, son. She’s imparted all her wisdom to him, was he paying no attention?

Anyway, off down the Rhine he travels. Gibichungs meet and greet, Micky Finns are slipped and the rest as they say, is mythology. Or at least Wagner’s wonderful version of the selected parts of the Norse Edda. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the performances and as well as Kelly Cae, I would mention Mats Almgren who looked and sounded a Hagen to his boots, Giselle Allen as Getrune and Heather Shipp as Waltraute. But frankly the whole cast were marvellous.

Wotan does not appear in Gotterdammerung but his sloppy paws are all over it as his hopes dreams and errors are played out in his absence while he sits in Valhalla staring at logs and awaiting, inviting Das Ende.

The hero he planned for long gone; the one he hoped for, falling pathetically short. The one he hadn’t consciously anticipated, Brunnhilde was just growing into the part and the absent Wotan was learning with her.

It is easy to categorise Dar Rhinegold as Power over Love and Die Walkure (with a bit of shuffling) as Love over Power. But Gotterdammerung shows Love failing in the face of evil so what is the message of the Cycle?

If one asks a philosopher, psychologist, politician or musicologist one may get four different and equally convincing answers. Clearly the restoration of nature is at its heart. The use of the Redemption through Love motive right at the end, when it has only been used once before in the whole Cycle has great significance.

Wagner himself was confused, so who are we to figure it out? We have the so-called Schopenhauer ending and the Fauerbach ending. This is not the place to significantly explore these. Suffice to say, Schopenhauer would have advocated death redeeming the inevitable futility of life and man’s silly plans (a la Tristan) whereas Feuerbach celebrated life, love and revolutionary fervour which could conquer all. One suspects that at this point on his philosophical journey, Wagner was in the Schopenhauer camp but struggled with how to make it work artistically. Hence, with huge question marks, we are left with Redemption through Love.

So, Opera North. A huge undertaking and a colossal achievement. Richard Farnes deserves huge credit. Bravo.

Before Don signs off, a final word on semi-staged. It is an economic reality of course but one doesn’t have to like it. I want to see the Ring Cycle. Wagner’s Ring Cycle, not Richard’s or anyone else’s. The orchestra, particularly when it is brilliant, is inevitably a distraction. For example, there was a female percussionist at the back. She had a male counterpart opposite who was sat and whom I couldn’t see so well. I was constantly drawn to her, the long periods of inactivity but fierce concentration, followed by flurries of activity and the precision and care she took over each note was fascinating. But I should have been concentrating on the drama. With Wagner, there is no waste. Every line, transmitted by voice or orchestra communicates vital messages and cannot be missed. I must hear the orchestra; I don’t need to see it.

Then there is the power of the stage itself and its importance in drama. Don knows nothing about drama or stage direction but this is obvious. Even a barren stage without scenery is part of the drama; the space (or not) between the players, the movement of the players; the lighting. All are telling a story. Wagner was his own stage director because he wouldn’t trust it to anyone else (conducting he entrusted (the first Parcifal) to Hermann Levi). His son, Wilhelm, I think I am right in saying, regarded the lighting at Bayreuth as his personal baby. (I might be wrong as these blogs are barely researched).

I leave with this thought. Would a production of West Side Story or Guys and Dolls be better or worse with the orchestra taking up most of the stage? It would be entirely different. I think that’s what semi-staged makes Wagner; a very different product.

I feel I have seen Wagner’s Ring Cycle beautifully and wonderfully performed in concert. It was a wonderful experience and if you can get to see it, I urge you to do so, it will be an experience you will never forget. I don’t feel I have seen Wagner’s Ring Cycle.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016

In Which Wotan Got a Hat. Don at Der Ring part 3 – Siegfried

Post 16

Mrs Don and I are awoken every work morning with the strident horns (middle C?) that stir Brunnhilde so effortlessly and gracefully as she greets the sun after 20 years. I can’t remember ever seeing it being played live at such close quarters and what a thrill it was.

I have been a little frustrated through the week that the singers have been left a little at the mercy of the sheer power of the orchestra, elevated literally to the stage. Last night I was treated to full compensation. It was wonderful and fascinating to see the orchestra rejoicing in music I generally only listen to. The complexity and effort involved in what I thought were quite simple leitmotivs is extraordinary and was a privilege to see and that’s from a musical novice like Don. That pleasure must be multiplied by those more able to appreciate the technicalities.

Siegfried is a fantastic opera. The third act in particular is an epic masterpiece. I honestly think the Ring Cycle operas ascend in accomplishment through the week. A dozen or so leitmotivs in Das Rhinegold have now become a hundred at least and each constantly evolving, combining and emitting little secrets to the paying customer.

Die Walkure whets our lips for Siegfried and in the first Act we get to meet our hero; unwitting carrier of the world’s hopes and dreams. And there he is, a brash aggressive teenager, totally unappreciative of Mime, the struggling single parent. Reminds me a fair bit of Little Don. Brings a bear into the house for crying out loud! (Lets gloss over that it was fur coat shall we?)

Its so Wagner. He is wonderful at creating lofty ideals and then reducing them to everyday practicalities to which the audience relates; Valhalla is a building contract dispute, the nagging wife leaves his big ideas in tatters and now here, the saviour of the world is only interested in hunting playing and fighting.

Mime is allowed to be three dimensional. Sometimes cited as evidence that Wagner’s disgusting antisemitic views and even proto-facism pervade his art, he is on closer inspection, a rounded, interesting character. Yes, scheming and evil; no, not many tears when he gets his comeuppance but I think I’d be ready to kill if I’d have to put up with Siegfried for 20 years. Finely played by Richard Roberts.

Then who wanders in? The Wanderer, Wotan of course. The props cupboard was still locked but the cloakroom has been raided because bugger me, he’s been found a hat. It may be trivial to you but this is important stuff. He is now transformed. Middle aged bloke in dinner suit becomes…Wotan. “tief hing ihm der Hut”…”his hat hung so low”. And the Theatre Royal down-lighting created a wonderful shadow so we could believe he’d lost an eye.

Thoroughly enjoyed Bela Perencz’s performance, with one quibble and Don sounds like a broken record.

I (in the stalls), lost an entire line of Wotan waking Erda. I realise that Wagner expected the voice to kind of roll with the waves, float atop of the sometimes undulating, sometime raging currents of the orchestra and is an instrument in itself. However in none of my live audio recordings do I lose that line. Its the downside of the orchestra being on stage. Wotan is virtually within it. How is one voice expected to overcome a hundred instruments in full torrent. Such a shame in one of the highlight passages. Either the orchestra goes back where it belongs or give the singers radio mikes.

Lets continue through the Third Act, hard to imagine a better 90 minutes (save of course that final game at Upton Park). Its a different Wagner, he stopped for a decade. He wrote Tristan and Meistersingers. But most importantly (I think he would say), he discovered Schopenhauer (was why he stopped the Ring?). Wagner was consumed by his philosophy and the Ring cannot be understood without recognising its influence, front and centre. The revolutionary zeal will be found wanting (getting ahead to Gotterdammerung) , Wotan becomes sanguine to his fate and a new type of hero(ine) evolves.

Kelly Cae and Lars take a bow. And you did. Quite right, excellent stuff. Boy meets girl (aunt). Boy nervously cuts open armour (yes, we imagined the armour..) to see curvy womanly bits and enters shock. Unsurpassed duet ensues. Its not all esctasy; Brunnhilde needs to adjust to recent loss of divinity and impending loss of virginity but then gets back on track. Fantastic. The theatre palpably heaves with nervousness as the top A approaches and then we collapse in a heap of (Arthur S’s) laughing death.

Jo, Mats, Jeni and Ceri. All good and brevity prevents further detail.

Bravo, Bravo and if I’d have had a bunch of flowers I’d have chucked them. The amazing thing is Gotterdammerung should be even better.

What a day, England try to mess it up at Lords and West Ham launch a new kit. Exhausted!

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016

In Which Don is still at Der Ring. Part 2 – Die Walkure (or how Don learned to love semi-staged)

Post 15

Well not love obviously because who wouldn’t prefer the full version but to appreciate the medium through which a version of Wagner is brought to a lot more people. This alone cannot justify it because it must stand up to scrutiny but having settled into it Don absolutely loved last night’s performance of Die Walkure.

First on agenda though – an apology. I did not intend yesterday’s post to be personally insulting and I apologise unreservedly if it was perceived as such. I make two points:

One, as I always stress, I have no musical training. I do have eyes, ears and many years’ concert going experience, so can and will express opinion but try to not comment on technical excellence or otherwise because I am in no position to judge and if I do, people are entitled to treat it with contempt.

Two, on Monday I was shocked largely at my own incompetence for not realising it just had to be semi-staged and my piece so reflected. It is however a semi-staged musik-drama and I maintain that in Das Rheingold the balance was off-kilter. When actors are not singing they are still on stage and should be contributing to the performance, otherwise they may as well be in the audience awaiting their turn at the recital.

Anyway, adjusted to the format, I turned to Die Walkure and must say I loved it.

I can knit-pick and lets get that out of the way briefly. I think evening dress was the wrong choice. Its been done many times before of course but it added to the confusion in a semi-staged context. The orchestra tells us Siegmund has run to the point of exhaustion through a storm ravaged forest, so in full versions when he is dressed smartly the audience must suspend belief. Here there is no staging and no props to help. We only have the huge graphics that emphasise the rough country he’s struggled through. So when he walks on looking like he’s had a slightly dodgy spoon of caviar at The Ritz, it doesn’t help. Its hard enough anyway with semi-staged, why make a rod for your back?

I also thought at times the orchestra subsumed some of the singing and words were lost. Its unfair on the cast to make them compete at such close quarters with a huge wonderful wall of noise.

So lets get positive. I thoroughly enjoyed it and here’s among my highlights:

  1. Lee Bissett’s Sieglinde was sublime. From the first note her voice was wonderfully pure but more important, I believed her! I felt her anguish. I wish she could have made some sort of physical contact with Siegmund and it was odd where she pauses and stares with “eloquent explicitness” at an ash tree that wasn’t there.  Stop it Don. Really, I thought she was great. Brava.
  2. Frika. Again, give me someone I can believe in and in Susan Bickley I believed. One of my favourite roles, so many subtleties to convey. She is outraged of course at the incestuous adulatory and for its own sake. But underscoring this (and everything she does) are her insecurities;  insecure in her marriage, worried (the perennial fear of the ruling class) at the fate of the Gods and all this tempers her enforcement. Yet at same time self-centred and shallow. I loved how the orchestra majestically supported her as she assumed the confidence of a winning argument against Wotan.
  3. Wotan. I lost just a few of Robert Hayward’s words but he was confidently jocular with “Heut – hast du’s erlebt” and suitably crestfallen as he delivers “das Ende, das Ende” (the most important line in the tetralogy?). Wotan’s journey between those two lines is for me, one of the enduring fascinations of Wagner’s genius.
  4.  Kelly Cae Hogan was a class act and I enthusiastically await the pleasures to come. So I’ll leave it there.

So, where are we..? A few props wouldn’t hurt and I wish the protagonists could sing to each other rather than Row Z but what choice have they got when a dozen horns are within a few feet? But generally Don is much uplifted and he heads toward Siegfried with renewed vigour.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016