In Which Pomegranates are not the only Fruit.

Post 31

Oh dearie, dearie me. Slav’s in a pickle folks. In fact that doesn’t begin to describe the doo doo in which my favourite football team currently reside. Not just Slav; from top to bottom and going by the embryonic league table, I’m afraid the emphasis is on the bottom. Don ponders this. But to take his mind off of it, he will also muse (without research or off button) whether Parsifal, far from/as well as being a Freudian wet dream, might actually be Wagner’s coping mechanism for having to go without his conjugal rights back at the ranch; Cosima having closed off that avenue of pleasure. And don’t even get Don started on pomegranate seeds.

Rock bottom, pointless, manager considered most likely to get the chop, needless sending offs, defensive shambolics, best defender injured in pre-match warm up, daft penalties…yes folks….you know it, we know it….can only be ….put your hands together for…… West Ham United.

The irony of course, is that it had been a pretty good summer. A week in Avignon with Mrs D followed by a lovely time outside of Dubrovnik again with Mrs Don, Little Don and one of the Little Donettes. There Don mused with Little Don over the challenge to come at Old Trafford; a tricky start of course but with our well received new quintet of Hart, Zabaleta, Arnautovic, Hernandez and Haksabanovic, we thought we were pretty well equipped; not to win at Man Utd of course, that would be silly, but not to be disgraced. And then to go into the Southampton and Newcastle games with justifiable hope. Added to this, very public talk of William Carvalho being when not if, Valencia gone, Snodgrass about to follow and we reasonably anticipated a winger and maybe one other addition to a good squad and a decent season.

Ok so we conveniently ignored pre-season form, or lack of. Also, various tittle-tattle  concerns re our training intensity, or lack of.

And so it came to pass. Not so much the defeats but the manner of them in the Man U and Newcastle games in which our effort levels doffed caps towards the insipid. Certainly, grit was on display against Southampton, its true; but having clambered to the life raft, we launch ourselves with gusto off of it and into the abyss.

Don’t get me wrong; Don is in the Slaven camp. There; said it and rightly so. It’s grossly unfair to judge after three games, even where tagged onto the ten at the back of last season. But there are very worrying signs. A talented defence looks shambolic. No protection in front. That’s no criticism of Declan Rice whose potential will surely soon be fulfilled and hopefully with us and to a lesser extent, the same applies to Fernandes but his natural instincts lie a little further forward. No, its the impression Slav gives that either Noble or Kouyate can protect a defence; they can’t. They may put in the odd gritty performance but both habitually get wrong side or don’t follow their man because they don’t think like defenders. Can’t remember which manager it was (maybe Curbishley?) that years ago took the young, attacking Mark Noble and said he could turn him into a defensive midfielder. He couldn’t and he isn’t.

Which all makes the William Carvalho debacle an even greater indictment on the numpties supposedly running the club. We thought they’d turned a corner in that some of the earlier transfers were done with comparatively little fanfare, whereas every moment of the early rounds of the Carvalho transfer bout were played out in Technicolor for all to see. And as the deadline approached, the one target so obviously needed, the one all signals from the club highlighted was Slaven’s main priority…. died. Dead. As dead as Frank Miller in High Noon; it took a while to kill him off but once done, he wasn’t coming back. Miller was a vicious outlaw, he had to die. But what had the Carvalho deal ever done to anyone? In these days of grossly inflated transfer fees there seemed little between the clubs though of course we only know what the clubs PR want us to know. Its like the Carrick sale to Spurs; the true details are so complex and obscure as to actually be beyond human comprehension. Like why does every salad now have to contain pomegranate seeds? But more of that later.

The overriding impression is that the board wouldn’t sanction it because rather than support the manager with £40 million, he was a dead man walking and they’d rather save the dosh for the next guy. Whatever one thinks of Bilic, that is shabby treatment because if that is how you feel, sack the guy. Either back him or sack him. Instead we have a half way house, where he hasn’t got the squad he wanted (albeit still one capable of avoiding relegation) and has to limp through to Christmas when he will no doubt be dispatched and the new guy will have some money to spend.

If Don’s analysis is even vaguely right, that is hopeless miss-management. This is supposed to be the second season where we settle into the new ground and assault some sort of challenge on the top half off the table.  I’m not even mentioning that we haven’t played at home yet. That’s unfortunate but we’ve known it from the off. One can only hope that UK wins no more major athletic events. But no, rock bottom, morale having to be built from scratch and the manager left to feebly persuade that he has the squad he needed despite losing the guy he was so desperate to sign.

Don’t get me wrong; there are two sides to every transfer, Sporting may be equally to blame. Also one player doesn’t make the squad. But nevertheless…

It would be wonderful if Slav could sign off with some memorable wins and whisper it, even a cup adventure but Don is in no doubt. He is signing off.

So we’re all in a pickle but this being West Ham, we’re quite used to that.

Is cucumber a fruit? Don’s not sure. Be that as it may, Don turns his roving eye to salad and a very worrying trend that no doubt has been praying on the minds of many readers. It may be a summer thing but why oh why oh why does every salad have to be covered in pomegranate seeds? It’s not just pomegranates, though they are the worst and most persistent offenders. Don feels mandated to speak on behalf of the traditional salad loving community and be in no doubt, we are a community, when he says…fruit belongs in a dessert bowl, not in the salad! Honorary non-fruits being tomatoes and cucumbers. We’ve seen the pickle the EU has got into by broadening its membership too far and we should beware that sorry tale.

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Artists grapple with a difficult issue: how to know when the work of art is finished? How not to spoil it by keeping going? In the salad world, that conundrum is easily solved. It’s the moment before you put the fucking pomegranate seeds in!!

On to Wagner and his little pickle. Rather the little pickle he got into. Here was a man who enjoyed the company of women. We know this because due to his huge ego, he insisted on recording every aspect of his life, primarily in his autobiography Mein Leben which covers up to 1865. However, by nature, autobiographies tell the story the author wants us to hear. So it was with Wagner and although it hints at various dalliances it glosses over the less savoury adulterous and other aspects, largely one assumes because he was dictating it all to his then wife Cosima. However, due to his copious letter writing and above all to the Cosima’s diaries which record in detail his life from 1865 until his death in 1883, we have an insight into his life pretty much sans egal.

 

And we glean that Wagner found life quite tricky without a good women to organise his life as well as to tend to his various needs. His marriage to the long-suffering Minne is blighted with affairs; real or longed for. The most notable being Mathilde Wesendonck, his inspiration for Isolde, whose husband Otto, financed much of Wagner’s life through to middle age. Their dalliances, (possibly nay probably un-consummated) so embarrassed them and Minne, that various breakdowns in relationships ensued, leading to Wagner becoming estranged from Minne. Yet the on-off relationship endured and it was not merely one-sided. Mathilde’s feelings for Wagner were very real as some of her private poetry testifies and they both suffered the strain of deep affection that could not be fulfilled. Social convention prohibited but one also wonders at Wagner’s reluctance to truncate the husband’s financial succour.

7

Separation from Minne was a significant loss to RW. She was the stable hand on the rudder as well as the tiller. Without her he became increasingly penniless as well as rudderless.  Mathilde was not a realistic option and these years are characterised by a string of female companions from nobility to housemaids generous with their favours, Wagner needed a women.

 

Enter Cosima von Bulow. Daughter of Franz Liszt and young wife of Hans von Bulow, Cosima was many years Wagner’s junior. Hans was one of Wagner’s closest confidants and musical associates. He conducted many concerts and was, I think, intrinsically involved in the laborious Tristan rehearsals. in short he loved Wagner, realised and accepted he was losing his wife to the Maestro and remained devoted (to Wagner) even afterward.

Cosima was Wagner’s dream. She was prepared to subjugate her life to his genius and takes great credit for providing the backdrop for him to complete the later operas, particularly Die Meistersinger and Parsifal. But despite providing him with two children, she did not excel between the sheets. This aspect was taken up by Eva Rieger in last month’s Wagner Journal. Author of Richard Wagner’s Rebellious Granddaughter and Richard Wagner’s Women, Rieger took this aspect of Wagner’s life and considered how it affected the later operas, focussing on Parsifal.

Parsifal has been considered from almost every aspect, psychological – Freudian and Jungian; religious  – Christian, Pagan, anti-Jewish, mythological etc. But Don has not previously considered it from the perspective of a sex mad author who was having to cope without. For as Rieger says, Cosima declared fairly early on in their “marriage”, that she was ready for the convent and that must have put an awful strain on Wagner. At last he had the King of Bavaria and was not only financially secure but also had an opportunity to create a purpose-built auditorium to do justice to his Ring Cycle. He was in an established relationship with Liszt’s daughter no less, his operas were increasingly performed and he had become increasingly respectable.

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Yet his personal needs were not being attended to. A mistress?? Dare he risk all that he had achieved? Dare he risk losing Cosima, his rock and mother of his children? Rieger says not. Most commentators agree that Wagner operas are largely about Wagner and so it seems sensible, as Reiger asserts, to consider them against this personal backdrop that if true, one can expect to influence his thinking.

 

In this light, the ascetics of Schopenhauer refracts a little differently. Hans Sachs’ acceptance that Eva will choose the younger Walter, the grail community of Monsalvat being male only and the central theme that sex is destructive and to be feared, all make slightly different sense. Is this Wagner accepting that in his later years, his love life might take a bit of a knock but the prestige the wealth and giving him the benefit of the doubt, the opportunity to achieve his artistic dreams was a price worth paying.?

Eva Rieger cannot know such personal detail but it makes interesting food for thought. Just please leave the pomegranate seeds.

 

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!

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(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 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?

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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 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 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 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 nit-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

 

In Which Don is Back, is at the Ring Cycle and is a Tad Disappointed

Post 14

Season’s finished, dust settled, bits of Boleyn going to highest bidder before the gates are finally locked. The removal men have packed up the old house and to continue the metaphor, we (all 60,000 of us), are waiting in the van outside the new place as its not ready for us to move in. From the outside looks lovely but can we make it home?

Enough West Ham. Don left pensive mood back in London, for he was in a state of near febrile excitement. Here was sun drenched Nottingham ready for Opera North’s production of Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Don had seen it at the Proms in 2013 but that was an Albert Hall token version of events, albeit with a stellar line -up; Stemme, Terfel, Barenboim, O’Neil, Meier among many, not to mention the Staatskapelle Berlin.

But this was different; this was the real thing…or so Don thought. Last night was Das Rhinegold and today we really get going with Die Valkure, followed in Bayreuth rhythm, by Siegfried on Thursday and Gotterdammerung on Saturday.

Its Don’s own fault really. Whilst it seems years ago that tickets were booked and it was not then billed as semi-staged, his pre-event research left a lot to be desired. Naive too. It was being held in a concert hall and the price for the four operas would have bought one half decent seat at Covent Garden, so the signs were there. But only reading the pre-event programme, did Don realise they were making a virtue of “visually showcasing the orchestra-the central “character” of the Ring.”

So there it was – a concert with singing. But who can beat a week off work in Nottingham so lets make the best of it and get into the detail.

The Opera North Orchestra looked resplendent and sounded great under the guiding hand of the superb Richard Farnes. Seasoned readers will know, that unlike 95% of last night’s audience, Don is in no position to technically judge the music. To his untrained ear it sounded big and exciting from the first (and most important) pre-historic stirrings of the Rhine, to the tumultuous finale. No complaints there.

But Wagner takes a lot of orchestra and if it is on stage, it leaves a depth about the length of Wotan’s (absent) spear for the cast to do their stuff. They can either make the best of that or stand there like dummies and I’m afraid last night, in the main, I think we got the latter.

Lets start with the Rheinmaidens. They are supposed to be naively promiscuous. Teasingly slutty. This is essential to the plot; when they playfully encourage Alberich with sexual innuendo and then each in turn, reject him, it puts him in a position to renounce love which is one of the vital pillars of the whole Cycle. That tone is set in the first 10 minutes of the 18 hours. Last night they barely looked at him; instead stood there and and sang the song.

How would he know they were delightfully slippery? They didn’t come within ten feet of him, barely gave him a glance. Yes the smiles turned to concern when he nicked the gold but come on girls, you’ve been guarding this stuff since before time. It was your only job. The bottom has just fallen out of your world. You need to be wailing in anguish not perfectly maintaining poise and tone.

Then there’s Wotan, the main guy. Michael Druiett, who from not too far back in the stalls, looked oddly like a well fed Richard Wagner. The budget didn’t extend to an eye patch and a hat? And give him an effing spear! You can’t do Wotan without a spear, I don’t care how small the space. The spear represents the rule of law, it gets thudded when we need reminding how important the rule of law is to Wotan and the Cycle. If that point is not conveyed to the audience, there really is no point in the performance. Are we going to get Siegmund and Siegfried with no sword? But he didn’t help himself. He may have been a lovely singer but he was wooden and expressionless. Its hard to convey in one line the importance of his preference to go to Neibelung via the sulphurous pit rather than along the Rhine but he made no effort. Then there is the “unspoken” announcement of his big idea in the last scene; a pivotal point in the tetralogy. Of course the announcement is made and well made by the orchestra but Wotan could have let on that at least he knew (after all it was his idea!), even if the other gods were clueless.

Which brings me to the orchestra. Richard Farnes is right to refer to it as Wagner’s central character. It is for Wagner, the chorus in Greek tragedy, conversing with the audience, subtly playing tricks above and beyond the comprehension of some or even all players on stage. Really good it was too. But the Maestro would have recoiled at seeing it on stage. It stands for everything he railed against. Gesamtkunstwerk it is not and that means for Wagner, it doesn’t work. At Bayreuth, we don’t need reminding, the orchestra is hidden from view altogether.

As for the other Gods, I’m afraid generally the same applies, with the possible exception of Freia who at least had the good grace to run on in panic and actually make physical contact with another member of the cast.

All in all however, Opera North deserves the plaudits it will no doubt receive. I realise now it must be impossible to put on a fully staged festival anywhere beyond Bayreuth. The choice is a poorer version or a different version. Opera North have gone different. I was at a concert not an opera, let alone musik-drama.

So most of the disappointment is with myself for not realising what it would have to be. However, I think my criticism of the woodenness of the cast is fair. You maybe can get away with it in the Prologue which is a lot of narrative. Emotion takes centre stage from tonight onward and I want to see it etched on their faces, starting notoriously, with the first line.

COYI!

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016

 

 

 

In which Don considers the real point of the Ring Cycle, spouses and the West Ham family

Post 9.

Hello Peeps.

Don is at his happiest with Mrs Don at his side. Its true she is a bit of a control freak, doesn’t really relate to Don’s mantra of idle mess being next to godliness, her knowledge of Wagner does not extend beyond X Factor and she cares even less. Yet Don doesn’t mind what the others say, he insists that in her own way Mrs Don is lovely and after 26 years, she is still Don’s bird. Imagine then, the unbridled joy at Don Towers, that Mrs Don was to make her final trek (of three in twenty six years) to Upton Park for Mark Noble’s testimonial.

Some say Wotan wasn’t as fortunate with his choice of spouse, Fricka but the opposite also arguably applies. More of that happy couple anon..

So off we trot on a lovely early spring day for a unique West Ham experience. One doesn’t see too many testimonials in these days of enthusiastic agents and signing-on bonuses. So it was pleasant indeed to celebrate Mark’s 10 years at the club and raise a chunk of change for the worthy charities.  And a unique day it was….there were even less away fans than the last time we entertained Wigan and what really appealed to Don, was that it being a bank holiday, the Controlled Parking Zones, the little darlings, sportingly ushered us through and invited us to make ourselves at home. If Carling did testimonials…

I vaguely remember testimonials in the 70’s. Bobby’s maybe was Celtic and Geoff’s was (was it?) some sort of All Star affair. Though my memory of that night is blighted by a dodgy burger sending my pubescent gills a diarrhoea shade of green and throwing up over the steps of the old west stand. Block C if you must know.

For Mark, the West Ham family were out in force and on best behaviour. It had such an end of term feel one worried for our next game (with reason as it transpired). How fantastic it was to see old favourites back on the hallowed turf (back to its resplendent best with recent bald patches having been given comb-overs). But as exciting as it was to see the Paolos and Rios, Don’s fuzzier feelings were derived from seeing the lesser celebrated folk back in claret and blue. Daly, Etherington, Bishop, Lomas, Moncur… I could go on. Not yer tip-top heroes but part of the glue that makes our club so special. There was a palpable feel of the players being excited to be there. Of course they would be. Imagine five, ten years after careers are ended, they have a final opportunity to play at the old ground in front of 35,000 adoring fans. And for us, a chance to say goodbye to players that just sort of drifted off. The game itself was pretty irrelevant, the 6-5 scoreline being only just off-script but chapeau to Deano for that most unscripted touch of genius. Seriously, Harry Kane is the poor man’s Dean Ashton. Oh what might have been….

More than I can remember perhaps ever, there is a feeling that we, the club, the players, the board the fans, are all pulling in the same direction.

All in all what a day. I don’t think Mrs Don and I will ever forget that parking space.

a chunk of Wagner and more footie below..

Regular viewers will recall our occasional musing of the divine. So for our next God in The Ring Cycle, I give you Fricka. Fricka is the Goddess of marriage and fidelity in the Ring Cycle. She is married to Wotan the King of the Gods. Not your ideal husband, he fathers a dozen or so kids, some human, some semi divine; none however with Fricka who is sadly barren.

We get to know her in three scenes; two in Rhinegold and one in Valkyrie. In each she challenges, nay scolds her husband, two scenes are a private dialogue and one is in the company of the other gods. She is a women scorned and does not pass up an opportunity to let him know.

So what does Fricka offer us?

To consider this, we have to consider her husband and his true aspirations because make no mistake, to understand the Ring Cycle, one must understand Wotan.

Superficially, the Cycle is a story of recovery of the stolen gold and its return to the Rhinemaidens. But Wotan was a troubled God on a mission, well before he heard that the gold had been stolen. Why and what was the mission?

Through snippets in the libretto; the riddle dialogue with Mime, the singing and spinning of the Norns, we get clues as to the timeless pre-history to the first opera. From his supping at the stream of knowledge and the stripping of the branch of the tree of the World Ash, Wotan has ruled the world through contracts and the rule of law. But he has become fallible, he has made bad and unfair contracts and through this fallibility he has pre (or early in)-Das Rhinegold, concluded that unless he can change course, the reign of the Gods is morally vacuous and in terminal decline. He had intended Valhalla to be both a symbol of the rule of law and a physical stronghold against challenges to that authority but instead it is a symbol of a bad contract in which he was prepared either to pawn his sister-in-law (goddess of love by the way), or to dupe the giants. Either way, his governance lacks authority and he knows it. This backdrop illuminates for me what the Ring Cycle is really all about and its relevance to all of us.

For our lives to have meaning, whether we are the governors or the governed, there needs to be a moral structure. If we cheat, are dishonest or immoral, ultimately it is us that is the poorer. The riches that life offers do not lie in hidden treasure but rather in being decent to ones fellows. 

There you have it. Just saved you 18 hours.

For Wotan, at the helm of a ruling elite that lacks moral authority, his choices are either to somehow inject such morality or to hand over power to something more fitting. Either way he has recognised that the current crop of Gods has to go. This is a slight simplification and throw a fair bit of Wotan complacency into the mix. Anyway, at this point, we start Das Rhinegold (actually he still pretty complacent at scene 2) and fairly soon, Wotan learns that Alberich is in possession of the gold and has created the Ring. Suddenly lofty ideals give way to urgent practical expedience because Alberich in control of the Ring gives rise to another outcome; control of the world by an all-powerful amoral bunch of thugs.

So back to Fricka..

Das Rhinegold scene 2. She admonishes Wotan for contracting to pay the giants with the human trafficking of Fricka’s sister Freia, goddess of youth/love as payment to the giants for building Valhalla. She has no appreciation of the big issues with which Wotan has been grappling but she is (naturally) shocked and appalled at the bargaining of her sister. Beyond this, she has the myopic and vain hope that with a fine new palace, her husband is more likely to stay home with his wife and the myopic and vain concern that it will stand testament to the shame to the Gods .

Whether Wotan was really prepared to pay the giants with Freia is moot but we have to think probably not. If he didn’t need Fricka to tell him this she certainly brings the problem into sharp focus.

Next scene and Loge tells the assembled Gods about Alberich, gold etc. But whilst Wotan realises he and Loge need to “retrieve” the gold from Alberich for selfless as well as selfish reasons, Fricka is all to easily swept from sisterly concern to superficial vanity as to what power the gold will bring to the gods and in particular whether the gold might adorn certain female Gods to better keep their husbands loyal. She is oblivious to the real threat.

By the time, Wotan has retrieved the gold, traded it with the giants to release Freia, thought (sword motif) of his Big Idea (Project Siegmund) and led the Gods to Valhalla, Fricka is disappointed to have lost the gold but is generally a satisfied women, blissfully unaware of the tectonic movements that have been set in motion.

What is Wotan’s Big Idea? The gold (inconsequential) including the Ring (very consequential) is now held by Fafner the giant who has used the Tarnhelm to transform himself into a dragon, better to guard it. Wotan knows the Ring must be recovered. Alberich may not have it but Fafner is only marginally better. His overriding issue is to find a suitably moral ending to the Gods reign, so he can’t simply take it by force but Fafner will not relinquish it by other means. The big idea is for a third party, his son Siegmund (by an unnamed women) to become the hero that will take the Ring from the dragon. It is not spelt out but presumably Wotan trusts Siegmund to then give the Ring to Wotan.

By Die Valkyrie Act 2, circumstances have prevailed so that Siegmund is a hero warrior, he has met, saved, loved and impregnated his long lost twin sister Sieglinde see Post 7 , recovered the “special” sword Nothung and is about to duel with Sieglinde’s barbaric husband Hunding. Wotan has sent Brunhilde to protect Siegmund and is confident he will be soon be ready to seek Fafner and regain the Ring. Plan on track.

Enter Fricka. Remember she is Goddess of marriage and fidelity. Not only is she appalled that her adulterous husband’s son has broken up a marriage but has committed incest to boot! This is whom Wotan wants to protect? Houston, we have a problem and no way Jose.

Lets dispense with the superficiality. The infidelity objections really underscore her own humiliation at the hands of her stay away husband and serial adulterer, so arguably she is not so pro-marriage as pro her own marriage. She fails to see the big issues. For example for Fricka, marriage (loveless or otherwise), is the contract on which a contract based society is based. So she sides with Hunding, an oaf who has forced his wife into marriage and effectual slavery. She cares not one wit for the extra-marital love between Sieglinde and Siegmund. More significantly, she has completely failed to grasp the serious issues weighing on Wotan. It’s about Fricka’s marriage, Fricka’s sister, Fricka’s humiliation. The decline of the Gods is not on her radar.

But for all her inadequacy, she spots something that has not occurred to Wotan and when it does, changes the course of the tetralogy. The Big Idea requires an independent agent. Wotan cannot recover or command the recovery of the Ring because the means shape the end. Siegmund is the free and independent agent that will do so.

Fricka observes that he is neither free or independent. His warrior training, his meeting with Sieglinde, his procurement of the sword and even his success in duel with Hunding is all engineered by Wotan. Siegmund is a proxy and no more.

“in ihm treff ich nur dich” In him I find only you.

Wotan sees this for what it is and is devastated. His Big Idea has no moral authority and therefore must fail. Musically Fricka moves in for the kill; she now sings with a sweeping majesty and he increasingly the opposite.

Fricka exits leaving him in a tailspin of nihilistic depression. His Big Idea is in tatters and he longs for a precipitous end to the reign of the Gods. Dignified and fitting if possible but not essential.

“nur Eines will ich noch: das Ende..das Ende!”  only one thing do I still want:the end..the end!

We don’t get the end for around another thirteen hours. Good stuff.

More footie..

And on this happy note, a quick review of the Arsenal game. We’re up there with the best teams in the country. Thus far, no big Premier League club has beaten us this season. Simply amazing. The place rocked. Referees decisions go against us. Another normal day at The Boleyn. What a blinding season. Little Don, season ticket holder (missed just two home league games) and veteran of several away games this season has yet to see us lose! Effing unbelievable!

So few games left and they are all going to be crackers. Bring on Man U in the week. Check out all the Andy Carroll videos you want LVG, he’s unstoppable!

Next season in the magnificent xxxx Stadium, we in the East Stand Super Chicken Run or whatever it is, will have to sing our hearts out to get close to our unique Boleyn.

COYI!!

 

©DonnertheHammer.com 2016