Sunday, March 4, 2012


I have battled for much of my life. I listened when I was a student, I tried hard in my thirties, I really studied in my forties, I got the first glimmerings of comprehension in my fifties, I started to love the early works in my sixties, and yesterday the battle was finally won! I am seduced, totally overwhelmed, by Wagner's Ring cycle.

I suppose it had to happen some time. A life of immersion must surely wash some sense into the ageing soul. But it took the Met's Gőtterdämmerung to finally seize my heart. The high-definition film of the New York performance was totally seductive.

This was six hours of absolute bliss. After the first two-and-a-half hours of the first act, I glanced at my watch, and it didn't make sense. How could it be 2.30 in the afternoon? Ah yes! we had begun at noon! The time had flown in a way that proved one had been transported into a magical land. The Wagnerian wizardry worked. All that 'nonsense' about rings and Rhinemaidens and Nibelungs fell into place. Of course Brűnnhilde's forgiving father Wotan could maroon her on a mountain top surrounded by flames. Of course the heroic Lohengrin could walk through the flames to win her heart. Everything was possible, everything was believable, the imagination could soar with the gods.

And so it continued - love potions, curses, an evil dwarf Alberich and his wicked son Hagen, a milksop leader Gunther and his luscious sister Gutrune - even Brűnnhilde's Valkyrie sister Waltraute flying in to bring news from home, about how the gods were about to immolate in Valhalla. The incredible was made credible. You were magicked out of time.

Much of it was the incredible production. The 13t Machine turned into a mountainside, a palace, a courtyard, a waterfall in the woods, the Rhine at one point softly ebbing and flowing over the pebbles, at another tumbling down rapids with wet-suited Rhinemaidens carousing in the raging waters - which then turned to blood when Lohengrin's blood-brother Gunther became an accomplice in his death, and tried to wash his hands.

When Lohengrin dies, his body is cremated by the side of the Rhine, and Brűnnhilde rides her horse into the flames to join him in death, while Hagen rages at the loss of the Ring in the ashes. Is it credible? You bet! The producer at one stage says he had not realized how cinematic Wagner was, ahead of his time. Now, surely, Wagner's conception has been realized, 130 or so years later.

The machine is a magic rock, from which the ropes of destiny descend to be woven by the Norns.

The machine has Brűnnhilde meeting Lohengrin surrounded by fire.

The machine is now the Rhine with a pebbled beach by moonlight!

The machine has turned into a palace, wooden beams supported on pillars!

The wet-suited Rhinemaidens warn Lohengrin - while in the background the Rhine tumbles down the rapids of the machine!

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