In Which we may have Redemption for the Redeemer (fingers crossed and weather permitting)

heaven-02.jpgPost 32 – Bumper New Manager Edition! Save Yourselves Now!!

Hello folks. Been a while.

I give you; Senta, Elizabeth, Elsa/Lohengrin, Brunhilde, Tristan, Sachs, Parsifal, Davy Moyes, David Sullivan, West Ham Fans, The West Ham Way.

That’s a bit of a list of saviours and/or entities seeking salvation.

Forget Bob Marley, no-one does redemption like Wagner. In trying to make any sort of sense of the operas (sorry, music-dramas) within his oeuvre (and they’re chock-a-block with insight, if not sense), Don finds it helpful to keep the concept Redemption, front and central. Then all one need do, is work out who needs redeeming, whose doing it and why.

Not into the West Ham thing? Skip about ten paragraphs…

Likewise, in the enduring Stratford soap opera, West Ham are in need of help. Big time. Never mind the results, we seem to have lost our way, our hearts, our focus, our cohesiveness, our home, our ability to sprint and unless we have a care, our roots and our soul. For West Ham (though don’t all clubs claim this?), has always been more than eleven players kicking a football; we have (or had) ..soul.

And to whom have we turned for our salvation? A man equally in need of at the very least, a good makeover, if not a blood transfusion. David Moyes, of no fixed abode, whose last three endeavours; at Man Utd, Real Sociedad and Sunderland, were if not outright failures, perched upon that end of the spectrum. He too is in need of a bit of a leg up. In His words, He has something to prove.

Can two lost souls meeting at the crossroads of life really be mutually redeeming? Or do we have two screaming blokes, colliding and hugging in quicksand? Their combined shackles entwining and hauling them both below the viscous depths?

CLEAVON LITTLE & CHARLES MCGREGOR BLAZING SADDLES (1974)

I don’t know, Don doesn’t know.

But we have an initial premise to test. Has He been brought in to save our souls? Were David Brent here, he’d probably dredge up the old “impossible is immediate, miracles take a little longer.” Poor old Davy M has just 6 months to save himself and WHUFC. So preservation of soul may be a little dramatic (not to say ambitious), what we’re talking here is Premier League status, where a win is a win is a win and be that with soul, Mo’town or R&B, no-one gives a stuff.

If that is the extent of our horizons, we may have got the right guy.

For when it comes to steely eyed, forthrightedness, roll up your sleeves, tracky bottoms and give me 5 laps and 100 press-ups…. Davy is your man. And we do need quite a bit of that. The stats that have (coincidentally?) come out this week have really just borne out what us ITK types have known for some time (via players we couldn’t possibly name) and to what the plebs that go to games is simply the bleeding obvious; we ain’t fit.

As much as we all loved Slav (and Don is as up for a bit of bro’mo as much the next guy – see below..), it is something of a fucking disgrace to see team after team out fight us, especially towards the end of the game.

Having said that (for you Seinfeld fans), I’m sure even under Sam, I recall any number of average teams looking fitter, passing crisper and being better than us. Maybe that’s pessimist me.

So to ignore that slight fly in the ointment, Don was quite impressed with Him at the press conference. Honest, urgent, footballing guy, whom (whom is good, if only we knew where to put it) has enough in the bank from Everton days for us to think he can inspire the 25 pretty talented blokes he has available.

To take an oversimplified case in point, Zaha’s last second goal that deprived us of 2 points at Palace; he shouldn’t have been allowed to turn, he shouldn’t have been allowed to shoot. Everyone should have been about a yard more bothered than they were.

Even before that, ignoring criticism of Antonio because that’s too easy and obvious, various Palace players should have been fouled in their half and the game won.

Its a little bizarre to reference naivety in a manager successful at  international level for several years, but the way Bilic had us set up for our own corner against Liverpool was almost laughable. Once the ball floated in it was 50/50 if we or they won the header; but once Liverpool did, the odds were quickly stacked for them to score some 90 metres away. Such was the paucity of our defensive cover. And those poor souls raised on a diet of West Ham over the last three years, know this was no isolated incident.

Though at this point; a word or two in support of Slaven are in order. For we come to praise Caesar, not to dig him up and bury him again.

1. He brought in and for our purposes, discovered, Payet. If the West Ham Way means anything (and of course it doesn’t), it is Dimitri Payet gracing Upton Park and the current fishbowl. Not since Di Canio or Joe Cole in his youthful pomp, have we seen anything like Payet and nor will we do so again as far as the eye can see. Presumably other managers also noted he created an abundance of chances in France but it was Slav that moved quickly and decisively. For the memories Don and Little Don have of that man, we thank you Slav.

2. The same to a lesser degree applies to Lanzini,  Obiang and Antonio.  Lanzini could easily been overlooked in exotic desert leagues but he wasn’t. A fantastic talent whose entire potential is yet to be realised. Has he always been played in the right position? No. Does he often come too deep to get involved? Yes. But well done Slav for bringing him in. Same with Obiang, Slav’s first signing and probably rubber stamped rather than driven by him. Particularly as if memory serves, obstinacy kept this obvious talent behind Noble in the pecking order for half a season. Antonio, was and to a degree maybe still is, raw talent to be harnessed in the most effective way. Like Obiang he wasn’t an immediate favourite of Slaven’s but came to be such.

All in all, Moyes inherits a decent squad. Thanks Slav.

3. He presided over the best season in Little Don’s living memory. Don is ancient. Not only cutting his teeth on the boys of ’86 but even tasting the delights of Moore, Peters, Brooking, Robson and Devonshire. But for Little Don that last season at Upton Park happened to coincide with our decision to take in a few away games. Father and son, together on the road, seeing the Irons win and/or perform well in unexpected places, counts for something. Thanks Slav. Winning the final ever home games against Chelsea and Liverpool – thanks Slav. For febrile excitement at home to Arsenal – thanks Slav. Winning the final ever game against Spurs at UP – thanks even more Slav. And for that last game ever…..you have Don’s eternal gratitude.

4. What a guy. On the day you get sacked to say it was the right decision and no hard feelings. To say this will always be your club. To say this was more than a job…these are unnecessary words that one only says if they are heartfelt. And with them, he inscribes a place in our hearts. Get your next job Slav but feel free to turn up on the “terraces” with us any time you get. Cheers pal and all the best.

Back to our Redeemer. One season. What are his chances?  First advantage is he doesn’t need to work out the problem. That much s obvious; conceding way too many goals. Yet, we have a good keeper and decent reserve keeper. Reid is a perfectly acceptable Premier League defender, albeit on the creative side he’s no Rio. Similar re Fonte (after a sticky start). Ogbonna; also pretty good, provides left balance and better distribution. Loved what I’ve seen of Rice so far. Zabaletta means we shouldn’t be exposed on the right and Byrom, pretty good back-up. I worry about our defending at left full back. Creswell the better disciplined of the two gets exposed too often. Masuako, for all (and maybe because of) his attacking prowess is no defender, so that needs looking at. Add Kouyate and surely we have something to work with and working and organising defences is Moyes territory.

 

We live or die in front of our defence. In Don’s opinion we have one classy operator; Obiang and two that are played there that don’t have a defensive mentality. One is Kouyate a supreme athlete who if he is to fulfil the role has to stop getting wrong side and the other, the Captain who whatever his talents, never could think defensively and less so now his legs have gone (by Premier League standards).  So if all teams need a Kante, we are short and maybe where we head in January, especially if Carvalho remains an option.

Further forward, why shouldn’t we be ok? There is strength in depth and in variety.

Then youth. At Everton, Moyes had a reputation of giving it a chance and there is some talent to call upon. But lets not kid ourselves, he needs results and quick which is not typically fertile ground for blooding the kids.

So squad-wise give or take, He and we have a chance.

Another plus, is that the spirit also seems willing. Even though Slav looked a dead man walking for maybe a month, which must impact on the players even at subliminal level, they gave the impression they remained behind him. Much of this Don expects is because they liked the guy, which is a little surprising in this mercenary age but appeared to be the case. So also good.

Not so good is the amount of games pre-Christmas and the opposition strength in that run-in. If this goes bad we could be bottom and even detached by Christmas which will increase the panic and substantially reduce the effectiveness of the January window. Frankly if we are not in the bottom three come Jan 1st, Moyes will have done well. Probably comes down to home games against Leicester and Newcastle and picking up something (anything) at Watford, Bournemouth and Stoke, none of whom are bad teams and all capable of beating us.

Also challenging is the potential toxicity of the London Stadium. Us fans need to take full responsibility for the crap atmosphere, though if we had something to cheer, maybe ten thousand wouldn’t religiously head for Gidea Park on 80 minutes. Gidea Park must be a hell of a place.

Without wanting to labour the downside, also not so good is Him having to deal with our management hierarchy but hey, that’s the gig.

So Don on behalf of his family and the whole Don community (his family), welcomes Mr Moyes. Forgive the formality but we have more than enough Davids as it is. Wagner fans will know from Die Meistersinger how one can get mixed up over Davids. We’d like the one from the picture please, that slew Goliath.

Do your job, keep us up and we’ll get on fine. The West Ham Way can probably wait until next season.

Okay, West Ham fans, you are free to go. Any Wagner devotees that are still with us, Die Zeit ist da. Anyone that combines both, contact me immediately….we have so much to discuss.

So…Erlösung dem Erlöser, as until 1903 they could only say in Bayreuth. Redemption to the Redeemer. Don is too exhausted with West Ham to embark on a serious study of redemption in the mature ten and frankly there are thousands out there far better equipped to do so but maybe for a bit of fun, lets have a a quick peek at who is redeeming who(m).

Der Fliegende Hollander. Wagner’s youthful offering. This seems straightforward. The Dutchman (beautifully named only thus), is in desperate need of salvation. Not of course to walk off into the sunset, that would be too Disney but to finally sustain death (and keep that in mind for future works). Having made his pact with the devil, his only out is to find a women that will be true to him, Step forward Senta.

Tannhäuser. In modern parlance Heinrich  Tannhäuser is desperate to be saved from his porn addiction. He longs for the time when pleasure was not an orgy but the trees, the meadows and pleasant walks with Elizabeth. Resorting to a couple of Hail Marys he eventually escapes the clutches of Venus and her domain in Venusberg. But his old buddies on the outside are sooo boring, how can they be salvation? Elizabeth, a wonderful combination of both worlds, offers  real salvation but Tann is to dopey to see it and decides only the Pope in Rome is the answer, which it isn’t. For all the tremendous music, Tannhäuser as a piece, doesn’t really convince because neither of the worlds he’s stuck between seem terribly attractive and following Wagner’s pimping up of the Venus music for Paris, Don finds himself rooting for the dark side. So no salvation and we dont really care.

Lohengrin. Elsa is accused of royal fratricide and faces serious consequences unless she has a champion to defend her. Of all the best legal brains and top soldiers there must have been in 13th century Brabant, she chooses as her saviour, some knight that she saw in a dream. As you do. And yet, bugger me sideways, he turns up and does the business. We don’t find out his name (see Dutchman above) until the very end but you won’t be surprised to learn its Lohengrin. So some obvious saving there, which is tricky amidst the machinations of Ortrud, evil purveyor of the dark arts who not only seeks the throne for he family but who also gets most of the best lines.

But lets look at this guy Lohengrin. A more one dimensional cardboard cut-out you couldn’t wish to meet. Won’t tell anyone his name or anything about himself. Only if Elsa asks the question, will he spill the beans but he must then disappear.  So if Elsa wants to keep him as her champ (in every respect…), she needs to put a lid on that curiosity and get back to blind faith.

Of course it ends badly and he has to return to Montsalvat and guard that grail. But beneath that silvery cardboard exterior, one suspects Lohengrin, was desperate to be saved from his cardboard existence. Elsa wasn’t quite up to the job. All very allegorical of our attitude to religion and art. Plus music to die for…..and to.

The Ring Cycle. Four operas joined together for one story and if you think Don is going to (has ability to) pick out the various acts of salvation in a couple of paragraphs, you’ve another think coming. Brunhilde is a decent bet for saviour but she along with the most of the rest of the cast need saving, primarily (from himself), Wotan, king of the gods.

Tristan & Isolde. Their love is so far beyond the rule of law, any form of morality, metaphysics and life itself, that any consideration of salvation is futile.

Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. Well Sachs saves: the day, the headstrong couple, the community, artistic traditions as well as artistic flair so I guess he must be the saviour.  Underlined by orchestral and other references to John the Baptist. He does so willingly and at the expense of his own happiness but lets not head  down any Schopenhauer rabbit holes at this point. What he’s saving them from is interesting to some…pedantry, Wahn (no, we’re down the rabbit hole again – touched on in post 22 and others), art critics, the French, (the Jews??), urbanisation and I’m sure others.

Parsifal. The final line of Wagner’s final opera is Redemption to the Redeemer. We can safely say that Parsifal is a if not the redeemer. He has re-united the holy relics and so saved the Grail community, including of course Amfortas. He has redeemed Kundry and allowed her curse like that of the Dutchman, to finally be lifted so she can die in peace. Depending on one’s take on the whole piece, one may say it is cleansing and cathartic for audiences and the whole world.

But does Parsifal himself need redeeming, for that is the heavy hint of the final line? He is a sinner from when he did not understand the concept of sin. He left his mother to suffer alone, breaking her heart and he shot the swan. The latter a sin of equal measure now Wagner is embracing a Buddhist and vegetarian agenda. He redeems himself in that he awakens to the concept of sin and other people’s suffering and then more graphicly, Kundry washes his feet with her hair. Kundry is therefore both in need of redemption and is a redeemer but it is doubtful that the last line is devoted to her.

Of course, Wagner himself needs redemption (boy, does he), though I’ve not seen much sign of him seeking that, unless one counts vicariously through characters. He believes he’s saved opera and because of its elevated status (in his eyes), art itself. By the time he finally came to produce Parsifal, I doubt he still felt art could radically change society, as he did twenty years earlier. But for the gift of his oeuvre for humanity, does he think he’s been redeemed?

 

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI! 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

In Which Lanzini Earns his Spurs, Tristan Sees the Light and its Top ‘alf Only

Post 27

Oh what a night! Late September back in ’63…

Sorry wrong record but what a night! We rocked, we rolled we twisted we shouted.

 

On what was no doubt Don’s first ever Friday night football match, the Olympic Stadium provided a dramatic setting to entertain our much-loved neighbours from up the road in N17. It’s always an event when Spurs are in town but this year the tension, the expectation and above all the apprehension was palpable. They arrived Cock-a hoop. Awesome is an over-used and oft inappropriate word but nine wins on the bounce indeed inspires awe. Don was afraid, very afraid. The pain of seeing Tottenham “coming for Chelsea” at our place would have been too much to bear.

But some optimism was justified. This time last year, their circumstances were similar (ours weren’t) and we’d stopped them in their tracks. Moreover, our form had improved recently, no goals but a solid defence. The return of Reid into a back three brings dependability and positional awareness that inspires confidence. One may say Adrian has also contributed but his jury is still hovering near the door.

Three clean sheets in the previous four games is excellent. Yes two nil-nils but sometimes Nil-Nil Satis Nisi Optimum, as they say around Everton. Our back three had Lukaku in their pocket so why not the far inferior Harry Kane? The phrase knocking around after the Everton game was that we “out Everton’d” them; meaning pre-Koeman Everton with the high pressing, hunting in packs and the style that has become a watchword of this season, personified by Spurs though ironically Everton have since been slightly more refined.

EvertonStroke

Against Stoke we were expressive but couldn’t finish off the chances we created.

So Spurs was maybe not the foregone conclusion it initially appeared…though probably would be.

But first a philosophical question: why does Don dislike Spurs with such vigour? He is envious of Chelsea so at least there’s some logic to that hatred and Arsenal do not raise the hackles with any real spirit. Brother Don (he of the dodgy Incest Post 7 ) supports them, could that be it? Not really. He only started supporting them 40 years ago to pinch that nerve. And it’s not as if they’ve had any real success to cause upset.

No, I think the issue runs deeper, in something neither Spurs or anyone can help. There was a Dr Who episode from 2006 in which miners have developed technology to dig very deep beneath the earth. Much deeper than any respecter of nature and unknown forces, should go. It’s the Wahn taking hold. Eventually, they discover why they should not have been drilling, for it is Beelzebub, the Devil himself that resides there; he has been disturbed and is not best pleased. Well that of course is fiction but sorry to report folks but I have it on pretty reliable authority that in actual fact the Devil resides deep beneath White Hart Lane and nothing good will come of the deep piling currently underway. Not Spurs’ fault; just the way it is and no team of the Devil will curry favour with Don.

the-devil

(sorry to rip whoever has copyright of this. I’m guessing BBC)

Don sincerely tries to warn his several Spursey friends (especially the three with whom he shared delightful pre-match Riojas at Enrique Tomas) but they won’t listen.

To the game! One may report that Don was really up for the fight but with 30 seconds gone he remembers looking at the clock, willing it to be over and we’d take the nil-nil.

But we swiftly grew into something resembling ok. Letting them have the ball in non-dangerous areas and closing down vociferously when needed. Noble of course had read the Julian Dicks pre-match relaxation routine and nearly permanently crippled Dyer. Mark, we all hark back to 1992 but this is 2017 and we’d quite like to keep 11 players on the field. Little Don remarked early on that their defenders were playing very high up, especially Walker and we could easily expose that with the right ball. Both Ayew and Calleri had chances to slot people in but didn’t quite have the guile but Noble and then Ayew did manage it, both times for Lanzini. We were not only holding them quite comfortably at the back (the Adrian flick over the bar aside), we showed signs of hurting them. The atmosphere began to cackle.

A word about Calleri. Its been hard to fathom why he is consistently preferred to Fletcher but no-one can argue with the shift he put in, as he did against Everton and Sunderland.  He single-handedly more than occupied Alderweireld and Vertonghen allowing opportunities for Ayew and especially Lanzini. It’s a shame we won’t keep him (which is probably correct to allow room for Fletcher and Martinez to bloom) but he will have learned a lot from his time with us and there’s a decent player somewhere in there. Somewhere.

In the second half we went up a gear and it surprised Tottenham, who looked increasingly ruffled, even before the goal. I thought Slaven’s tactics were spot on. We have four players; Byram, Creswell, Noble and Kouyate who are all decent but very capable of ill-discipline and getting wrong side. But they all stuck to the task manfully and both this and the back three formation allowed centre backs to attack the ball quite high up knowing someone had their back should it not work out. It invariably worked out. The rest of the ream replicated this attitude.

The passage of play just before the goal was an example. Ayew, without much hope of getting the ball put Vertonghen (was it?) under pressure into making a poor clearance. We collected possession and the rest is history. Don has seen precious few goals from his seat in the East Lower and no others (even Payet v Boro) resulted in him dancing in the aisle.  It was a wonderful moment as his Cha-Cha-Cha is indeed a sight to behold. And what can we say about Lanzini? The cliche is that was everywhere. Except he wasn’t; he focused on doing what he does best in positions where it could hurt them and often that was drifting into the space Walker had just vacated. He has emerged admirably from beneath the rock that was last season’s supporting role to being the main attraction. He deserves the plaudits and he will win goal of the season.

Considering what was at stake for them, the Hammers coped with the Spuds quite comfortably because we were simply pretty good. The fact is that our defence and midfield (even without Don’s favourite Obiang), is capable of competing with top 6 sides. It is up front that we are woefully short and surely that will be addressed in a few weeks. (Deja vu).

At the final whistle the place was rocking and it was a night no West Ham fan will forget. Maybe this spectacular stadium that contrives to be a monstrosity of a football ground, can feel like home. What choice do we have?

Suddenly albeit temporarily we are ninth. Top half eh? That takes me back but its the least we are entitled to expect. Tomorrow Don is going to see one of his favourite films, Brassed Off at the Albert Hall complimented live by the Grimethorpe Colliery Band. What an absolute bloody treat. Should my Dear Reader have the impeccable taste to have seen the film, he/she will recall the quote from the lovely, nay gorgeous, Tara Fitzgerald, in recalling pubescent playground experimentation. “Top ‘alf Only!” Listen up Daves and think on…Top ‘alf Only!

gallery-1476463454-brassed-off-2.jpg

(apologies to whoever has copyright – don’t worry, only Don’s Mum reads this.)

Last week Don went to a Wagner Society lecture on Tristan and Isolde given by wonderful Anthony Negus and the equally wonderful Carmen Jakobi. Both of Longborough Festival Opera and its production of Tristan and Isolde next month, to be conducted by Anthony and directed by Carmen. Don can’t wait. An amazing opera and starring Lee Bisset who first came to Don’s attention as Sieglinde way back here and its fair to say she stormed that Ring Cycle in Nottingham.

In stark contrast to the forgettable pre-Meistersinger study day (which was just a run through of the synopsis – no questions allowed), this focused on a particular episode (Act ll/3 &4) and was wonderfully interactive. Two pre-prepped members of the audience read through the scene trying to make sense of quite mystical and tricky concepts and saying what it meant to them. It is the dialogue between Tristan and Isolde after the signal torch has been switched off and seemingly unfathomable dialogue concerning Day and Night. It all sets up the famous Love Duet in scene 5. Carmen explained that this is how she starts rehearsals with the cast and how important it is for the singers to understand the meaning of not only what they are singing but also what others on stage are singing.  But what depth of understanding is necessary? The torch is the signal to Tristan that it is safe to come to Isolde. Not when it is on but when it is extinguished. This is fitting because it is the illuminated Day that keeps the lovers apart while the secret unlit Night allows them to play out their time together without real world responsibilities.

What was of interest to Don was that it became apparent that the singers were not expected to have any understanding of Schopenhauer. Fair enough, at face value, it would surely be preposterous to suggest one needed a philosophy grounding to sing an operatic role. And yet Wagner’s head was so full of Schopenhauer when writing Tristan that it guided his thinking and one can see it in almost every line, particularly the considered scene.  It begs the question of whether detailed knowledge of the author’s thoughts can improve performance. To momentarily switch operas, what are the credentials for singing the Wahn Monologue in Die Meistersinger? Simply learn the lines, belt it out and head for the pub? Don is not musical and so ill-equipped to know but it is weird (at least to Don) to think that a singer can give a stellar performance without really understanding what Wagner was getting at with all the Day/Night material.

If one reads through scenes 3 and 4 without any broader background, one will get the gist that Day is bad and Night is good. One doesn’t need to understand Schopenhauer to see that the night is for illicit lovers and that the day is real, it carries responsibilities such as being loyal to King Mark, whereas at night one can escape into a dream and live out alternative realities. That much is clear and pretty obvious.

But take the line; “The spiteful day, filled with envy, could part us with its deceptions, but no longer mislead us with its lies!” It’s as though the Day is a character and has force and compulsion in its own right. That surely is Schopenhauerian Wille. Does not knowing that detract from performance? Probably not.

A little naive pondering doesn’t hurt every now and then,

Remember Daves, top ‘arf only!.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

In Which there’s No Fool like a Pure Fool

Post 25

Ludwig Swan copy

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2015

 

A recent survey indicated that No Religion is now one of our most observed “religions”. Which goes to show that either the survey was rubbish or that we think of religion in  a broader sense. The phrase “Keep the Faith” is bandied about for all sorts of reasons and for many, including Don, his immediate family and Fan, supporting West Ham is a kind of religion. Usually the self-flagellation type but with very rare moments of spiritual rapture.

We like Slaven, we back Slaven, we keep the faith. But Lord, how you test us! After another defeat (at Arsenal) with Spurs, Everton, Liverpool etc all to come in short order, it was looking grim. As regards two of those; Spurs and Everton, this was the season (Don not unreasonably hoped) in which we would make great in-roads into the “stature” gap between them and us; even over-hauling Everton. Instead the gap has widened to a chasm (such pettiness is of interest to Don). Yet here we are. Are we foolish or what?

So what a relief to beat Swansea on Saturday. After weeks of abstinence, Don can again look at a league table and he has returned to the joys of Gary Lineker et al on Match of the Day. It wasn’t a superb display but it was a distinct improvement over the second half at Arsenal. There was passion, guts and we had a messianic Ginger Pele at the back to remind what playing for and supporting this club means to all of us. Don’s moment of the day was a dead ball moment. With 15 minutes to go, their captain Jack Cork (decent player) was down injured. The sound of “Super Slav” resounded around the ground at Jericho threatening volume. In the context of the pressure the gaffer’s been under, this was a stirring moment and showed, not that the recent dross is acceptable but that we are all in it together. It could have brought a tear to a Madonna statue (non-weeping variety).

Don and Little Don are up to Sunderland at the weekend, fools that we are but at least now a prospect of a decent day out (naturally the only day this week with rain forecast), as opposed to the day of judgement.

swansea-city58-3107

A little sense of serendipity as the Swans bring relief and we move on to Parsifal..

Parsifal, der Reiner Tor, the Pure Fool, was Wagner’s final opera. He may have intended that because whilst he had over the years mused over other operatic projects, his tendencies in his final years, hinted at a more symphonic direction. It was also his only opera written specifically for his newly created Festspeilhaus at Bayreuth aka the Wagner Cathedral, which is fitting. Those coming to Parsifal for the first time may find the slow-paced, reverential feel quite challenging, or if in contemplative mood, quite wonderful and may be forgiven in thinking it is a religious piece, set as it is around the Grail, and Good Friday – a hint of Passion Play. Academics have long argued as to its religious credentials. As Ulrike Kienzle (1) comments : it is beyond doubt that it is a work of a sacred nature, “but what form of “sacred”are we dealing with here?” One may find it cleansing and cathartic; calming and strangely sensual without really knowing why.

Unlike his other operas, there is no obvious narrative that pushes proceedings towards a denouement; indeed the crux of the matter (Kundry’s kiss), takes place in the middle of Act 2. Acts 1 and 3 reflect each other in several ways so Act 1 builds to the kiss and Act 3 is in contemplation of its revelatory consequences. Time and history are of less significance than event. One may be forgiven at the end for thinking, “that was an amazing experience but I don’t know why and haven’t a clue what it was really about”. Don’s regular reader will understand that Don’s boundless ignorance does not preclude his mouthing off, so with Good Friday and Passover fast approaching, its time for some initial impressions on Parsifal.

To whet appetite; religious fanaticism, castration, lust, sex-slaves, re-incarnation,  androgyny, necrophilia and an over burdening Oedipal complex. Not to mention the nihilistic killing of an endangered species. So as “Swansongs” go, its your normal trip through Wagner’s neurosis. Yet, someone watching it fresh, may take it at face value,  love the beautiful experience and pick up on little of the above. That in Don’s view, is equally worthy.

Lets start with the briefest of over simplified synopsis. Then we will have a bit of a think as to its meaning..

Act 1.

In a remote and desolate part of Spain (Montsalvat), a group of committed believers guard the holy Grail, the vessel which, following the last supper, was used (in another vortex) to catch the blood of the dying Christ on the cross as he bled from a wound in his side; apparently inflicted by the Roman soldier Longinus piercing him with a spear. The guardians (Knights), live an ascetic existence of self-flagellation, celibacy and occasional glimpses of the Grail and also their other holy relic – the said spear (until they lost it). They derive succour from the relics’ other worldly qualities and the very ritual of bringing them out on a regular basis sustains them, spiritually and actually (which is helpful as god knows the place looks as though nothing would ever grow there). It brings to mind Freya’s apples from Das Rheingold. The Grail when brought forth glows blood-red and flows as Eucharist wine. The Grail King,  Amfortas, should preside over this ceremony, like his father Titurel before him. However, Amfortas suffers from a wound that will not heal and inflicts perpetual pain but which will not bring the longed for relief in death. Guess what? It’s a wound in the same place from the very same spear (significantly it still drips blood from its tip). So he has to be respectfully dragged out to perform the ceremony. With the King’s reluctant leadership, the community is fast falling into decline, the landscape into desolation and its all becoming a bit of a chore.

Enter Kundry. She flits in and out of the community, they don’t really know why or from where she comes. She ostensibly helps but always seems to be absent in times of trouble. So a target for mockery and suspicion but grudgingly respected by Guernemanz , the chief lieutenant Knight. In defending her from taunts, he provides the following little back story; to wit….

A former Knight, Klingsor, angered at being omitted from the community (he’s not thought to be of the right stuff, especially on the celibacy front), has established camp over the way and plans to capture the holy grail and spear. His tactic (a sure-fire winner), is a brothel (inhabited by the Flower Maidens) which tempts the weaker Knights which, after a quick knee trembler, are in Klingsor’s thrall.

Sad to report Dear Reader, but the king Amfortas himself, to his eternal shame and on a supposed trip to defeat Klingsor no less, succumbs to fleshy temptation and (though the Knights don’t know it) with none other than Mata Hari in chief, Kundry. While she is tempting him with a bit of how’s your father, Klingsor nabs the holy spear laying by Amfortas and stabs him in the side. He returns to Montsalvat.

Debit column: lost holy spear. Credit column: gained perpetual wound. Note to the Accounts: Klingsor, in futile attempt to convince the knights that he is serious about celibacy, has at some time before, castrated himself.

So back up to date (whenever that is because it’s all a bit fluid, time wise), the Knights are preparing for the ceremony. A commotion and a thud, as a dead swan hits the deck. A boy with suspicious bow and arrow is hauled by the Knights to Guernemanz. Who are you? Why did you kill an innocent swan? Further similar questions, all of which are greeted by a shrug of the shoulders by the boy who doesn’t even know his own name. Kundry has seen all and realises she knows the boy and his parents. She explains to Guernemanz how the boy was raised by his mother who after his father died in battle, was so over protective of her son, she insulated him from knowledge and life. But alas, the boy having left her, she has subsequently died of a broken heart. Devastating news to the boy. Guernemanz remembers a rumour that Amfortas would will only be healed by a pure fool and something about knowledge through compassion. So on a hunch he invites the boy to observe the grail ceremony.

Moving on. Reverential slow-paced ceremony at which Grail is revealed, still glows red, Eucharist etc. but with no Spear with which to couple, is then returned to its place of safety. Guernemanz in hope, asks the boy, “Weißt du was du sahst?” Do you know what you saw? The boy shrugs his innocent shoulders and Guernemanz guesses he’s a fool but not the fool. The choir resounds not with Super Slav but with knowledge through compassion, the pure fool. Suggesting Guernemanz may have missed a trick.

Act 2.

Klingsor’s camp over the way. He’s been observing goings-on down Montsalvat and he too has spotted the kid’s potential. Having secured the spear, he considers the time to be right to get the Grail but (rightly) perceives Parsifal as a threat. He awakes Kundry from her coma like death sleep in which he keeps her shackled until her sexual charms are needed. Her task; to seduce this Parsifal kid who is heading this way, mowing down several of Klingsor’s Knights en route and then amid coitus, he can go the same way as Amfortas. Lets not think of Klingsor as an out-and-out baddie; he wanted to join the gang and they wouldn’t let him or, he was one of them and they booted him out. Think Captain Black to Parsifal’s Captain Scarlet.

The lovely flower maidens in the walk-thru brothel try to tempt him but to no avail but then he sees Kundry at her sultry best and it looks like he’s a gonner. Amid telling him about his mother’s love (vague memories return to him), it becomes a little confusing; is Kundry mother or lover? Which is of course the point and see below for discussion. They embrace in a passionate kiss which probably stands for the Full Monte just short of penetration. When….at the last second he pulls away and exclaims “Amfortas, the Wound!!”  That is, he’s had an epiphany re what happened to Amfortas, what Kundry is up to and how he Parsifal can provide redemption. A whole raft of complex stuff ensues between them re faith, seduction, compassion and redemption which is beyond this short synopsis (but which is the key and peripherally considered below). Klingsor curses Parsifal and throws the sacred spear to kill him. As Parsifal catches it above his head, Klingsor, the Flower Maidens and the whole kit and caboodle (other than Kundry) turn to dust (sounds biblical).

Act 3

Having regained the spear, our boy is making his way back to Montsalvat. Considering its just over the way, he gets badly lost because it takes an unknown period of time and by the time he bumps into Guernemanz (who has just bumped into Kundry) in a lovely flower meadow (note contrast to desolation and to tawdry Flower Maidens),Guernemanz  is an old man.

Guernemanz sees Parsifal has the longed for Spear and realises that Parsifal is the pure fool who can redeem Amfortas from his sin, save the community and (Parsifal) can take his rightful place as Grail King. Much anointing and in best Saviour-like tradition, Parsifal washes Kundry’s feet (and vice versa) before the three of them follow the yellow brick road to Montsalvat.

Once there, a further grail ceremony is performed which also doubles as a funeral for the ancient Titurel. The Spear is re-united (by which we mean inserted into) with the Grail, Amfortas is healed, Kundry is forgiven and finds her longed for redemption in death and Parsifal is anointed the new Grail King. All is well.

The End.

So it’s not much of a story. Its carried (in Acts 1 and 3) by sublime, slow, transcendental music with the Dresden Amen much in evidence and one feels it intends to impart deep messages of a spiritual nature. Don would not pretend to be able to attempt to decipher but lets at least raise some notions and pose some questions.

It looks like a piece of Christian art. Without mentioning Jesus by name, we have a Saviour and a Eucharist; and baptisms of sorts are performed. This is an unnatural bedfellow with the agnostic Wagner of his Feuerbach and Schopenhauer decades (and he was influenced by Schopenhauer to the last).  But his essays in his latter years suggested a pivotal role for the established (non-Catholic) church in the new German society. Nietzsche was convinced the older Wagner had “fallen” into Christianity and for him, it was the last straw, though we know by this time, he was looking for any reason to criticise his erstwhile idol. One could look at it purely at this level but I think that would be superficial.

Nationalism and blood. Parsifal, perhaps more than any other Wagner piece has been interpreted differently over the years and generally there’s sufficient ammo to bolster any existing perspective if that’s the reviewer’s aim. To generalise for the sake of it; in the 1880’s and 1890’s, the Church supported its christian ethos. Pre-WW1 its purely artistic and aesthetic qualities were appreciated. In the increasingly antisemitic Weimar years, preservation of pure race/pure blood issues were emphasised and honed  with the rise of the Nazis. Interestingly while the Nazis banned a lot of overtly religious art, Parsifal was permitted. So what are the racist/nationalistic aspects?

We have a community trying to survive, it is based on principles of purity and to its mind, decency. It preserves the pure blood of its long-lost leader/god head, which has purifying qualities. It is exclusive, it has cast out those not of the right stuff (Klingsor) and is wary of the outsider (Kundry). Its headed by a leader who is not only not leading but has fallen short of the principles, due to his weakness. The community reveres two relics, the grail and spear. Both are linked to the blood of the mythical godhead. If the Grail community doesn’t remain strong in the face of outsider (other race) temptation, it’s very essence will be lost. Who will save them? Enter Parsifal, yes a fool but because he has been kept pure from the corrupting influences of the outside world he will gain wisdom to illuminate the path. Watch him gain in authority as the piece progresses. He is the outsider hero who can resist the temptation that befalls the incumbent leader, thereby save the community from unwanted outsiders and by end, all are prostrate before his absolute authority. Weißt du was du sahst? One can see what the Nazi’s saw.

Others look at it quite differently. There are few operas that have inspired Freudian literature like Parsifal. Conferences have been held on it is influence on psychoanalysis.

Tom Artin, in his book What Parsifal Saw considered this and it is worth brief consideration now (and a longer look another time).

Don knows about as little of psychoanalysis as he does musical technicalities but hey…

Artin makes 2 initial points re Freud.

  1. Human experience is like an iceberg with the conscious experience being the visible tenth and the unconscious being the great mass under water that is nevertheless the greater part of the whole and dictates everything.
  2. Freud says: The overwhelming unconscious human experience that dictates our thinking is the Primal Scene. This is, wait for it..and no West Ham blog would be complete without it..the child’s image of its parents having sexual intercourse. The played out “Mummy, where do I come from?” It is a disturbing image for the child and perceived as violent. To spell it out, Daddy is stabbing Mummy to create a wound. It goes on but you get the gist and we’ll leave it there.

Having set that scene, Artin sets out 6 principal themes in Parsifal:

  • Ignorance of the pure fool
  • Seeing. What Parsifal saw.
  • Maternal sacrifice.
  • Sex as parlous.
  • Seduction
  • Redemption through compassion.

 

Ignorance of the Pure Fool

Wagner has given us ignorant heroes before but more nuanced than Siegfried, Parsifal acquires the right knowledge. Initially he knows nothing; not his name, who is father is, that it is wrong to kill a swan. But he learns. Without knowing what he saw at the initial grail ceremony, he instinctively knew to make his way to Klingsor.

Seeing

So what does he see in the epiphany? He screams Amfortas! The wound! Artin says that having almost re-enacted the Primal Scene (Kundry/ his mother, Parsifal/ his father), that is what he sees; Kundry having sex with Amfortas, which leads directly to the wound.

Maternal Sacrifice

Kundry explains how his mother sacrificed herself for his protection and ultimately enacts her name, Herzeleide, by dying of a broken heart. In the seduction scene, Kundry almost becomes the mother (in Parsifal’s eyes). Freud’s Primal Scene moves inexorably in an Oedipul incestuous direction for the child’s protection which is a huge sacrifice on her part. Kundry certainly wants to sacrifice herself in repentance of historic sin. She is supposed to have seen Jesus being crucified and laughed at him. About as un-compassionate as can be. Her punishment; to re-incarnate over generations and be denied peace. She is awoken on two occasions in the opera and both times from a “death sleep”, so perhaps sacrificed many times over and simply used, in death, as a sexual vassal.

Sex as Parlous.

In most grail legends, the King (the Fisher King) is wounded in the thigh or groin and is somehow incapable of functioning. Sterile. Wagner moved it north to the side, in replication of Jesus and perhaps to spare 19th century blushes but the implications are clear. Have sex, get stabbed in the side, lose holy relic, lose power, destroy community. Freud would liken the wound to the vagina, bleeding as menstruation. The Spear penetrates the Wound etc. etc. Yet at the end the Spear penetrating the Grail is the climactical coupling that saves the community, so who knows? Klingsor considered it sufficiently parlous to castrate himself.

Lets add to the mix that Schopenhauer considered the sex drive the most obvious and most powerful example of the Will (see Don’s various Meistersinger posts and others), which is irresistible and by nature, destructive.

Seduction

Kundry’s seduction and then her kiss, is the crux of the piece. It is this that brings knowledge. She tells him his name, she reminds him about (and of) his mother. One feels she has deep knowledge spanning lifetimes and has witnessed (and partaken in) a lot of evil as well as good. Something of an active but flawed Erda. Her role is to teach Parsifal, to bring him to maturity and to Redeem the Redeemer. The mutual washing of feet and mutual baptism suggests she and Parsifal almost merge into one and several commentators comment on the androgyny. See for instance the Syberberg film.

Redemption through Compassion

In the epiphany he feels Amfortas’ pain, admittedly in the heart (where his mother died) rather than the side and sees his role to forgive Amfortas and Kundry and redeem them both as well as the community. He also needs redeeming (contrast with Jesus). At the end the choir (and we know for Wagner the significance of the choir) sings Redeem the Redeemer. Why does he need redeeming? Ok he killed the swan but he pulled back from sex, if sex is bad. On that note, if that’s what Wagner thought, he certainly didn’t practise what he preached. But Parsifal sinned, he broke his mother’s heart and after all she did for him and what greater sin than that?

So that’s it folks and all Don can say is Gosh. Lots to ponder, hope it wasn’t too x-rated for some sensibilities.

It’s a lovely opera but can stir strange emotions, especially if one is open to it.

Suddenly West Ham v Sunderland has a charming simplicity and here’s hoping for redemption for Slav and all of us. We’re all in it together.

If you have been, thanks for listening.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2017

  1. Ulrike Kienzle. “Parsifal and Religion: A Christian Music Drama?”