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Category: Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner, The Valkyrie, Virginia Opera Center Stage, Richmond

Virginia Opera has built a reputation for solid productions of opera, featuring young voices under the baton of distinguished conductors like Joseph Rescigno. Its new production of The Valkyrie by Richard Wagner is no exception to that rule. Rescigno, who studied under Erich Leinsdorf, has a strong affinity for the sound and architecture of Wagnerian motifs and produced remarkably fine tones and ensemble playing from the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. The orchestral component became increasingly dominant for Wagner in the Ring and Parsifal, and it was good to have such a fine standard of strings in this production. The singers, too, gave vocal performances of a uniformly high quality in a production by Lillian Groag that did not impose too much of a “thesis” on Wagner’s mythopeic creation, allowing visual tableaux and lighting to point the story. The Richmond venue was the old Carpenter Theatre, a 1920s, Alhambra-style cinematic confection; wide and shallow, it conveyed a sense of intimacy despite its 1800-seat capacity. The production was a fast-paced event, which at three hours (including a 25-minute intermission) was shorter than Gone with the Wind! And what could be wrong with that? My only caveat is that this was not Wagner’s Die Walküre, which unfolds leisurely over more than four hours, but rather a radically reduced fumet of the original. While that may be a plus for many modern opera-goers, it is manifestly not what the composer intended.

Bruce Boucher

About Bruce Boucher

Bruce Boucher, is director of the University of Virginia Art Museum. Before that he was curator of European sculpture at the Art Institute of Chicago, a position he has held since 2002. 

Boucher is the author of numerous books, among them “Andrea Palladio: The Architect in His Time,” and he lectures widely on Palladio as well as Italian artists such as Donatello, Tintoretto and others, with a focus on the artists working in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. He was chief curator of the exhibition, “Earth and Fire: Italian Terracotta Sculpture from Donatello to Canova,” which was shown at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston and Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2001-2002. He also co-authored the exhibition catalog.

Prior to joining the Art Institute, Boucher taught art history at University College London for 24 years. He also spent two years as visiting member of the Research Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, between 2000-2002. During his tenure at the Art Institute, Boucher taught at the University of Chicago, and he lectures regularly at institutions around the country and abroad. 

This year he lectured in Vicenza, Italy, at a symposium marking the 500th anniversary of Palladio’s birth. He has also spoken on Palladio’s villas at New York’s Institute of Classical Architecture and most recently at a symposium on Palladio at Notre Dame University.

Boucher earned his B.A., magna cum laude in Classics and English from Harvard University and a B.A., M.A., in English Language and Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Before entering Oxford, he traveled to Italy and fell in love with the art and architecture. This event led him to change his course of research. After Oxford he went on to earn a M.A. with distinction at the Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London, and then a Ph.D. there with a thesis on the Venetian sculpture of the architect Jacopo Sansovino.

Boucher serves on numerous professional organizations and advisory committees. He has received various honors, including a fellowship at the prestigious Harvard Center for Renaissance Studies at the Villa I Tatti, the Alexander von Humbolt Fellowship, and the Salimbeni Prize for his monograph, “The Sculpture of Jacopo Sansovino.” He also was a guest scholar at the J. Paul Getty Museum and served as guest curator on the research department of the Victoria and Albert Museum from 2000 to 2002.

Farewell to Tankred Dorst’s Bayreuth Ring

As much as I might enjoy the paradox in seeking out real situations that recall a work which is for many the ultimate in escapism, I admired Tankred Dorst’s efforts to bring Wagner’s mythology into our own world. Dorst recognizes that mythology and the divine are present everywhere, largely because of the consistency of human behavior.

About Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts and The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

Katharina Wagner’s Die Meistersinger, now in its Fourth Year at Bayreuth

I won’t even say that I wish that, in beginning with Katharina Wagner’s production of Die Meistersinger, I was starting on a cheerful note. Nothing of the kind. Katharina has studiously avoided her great grandfather’s romanticized Nürnberg, where great artistic, literary, and musical achievement lurked around every corner, where the citizens dressed colorfully, where the men engaged in witty exchanges, while the girls joyfully gave themselves over the dancing, if not to their young men, at every opportunity. She has, rather, chosen to focus on the repressive nature of this conservative society, as embodied in the guild system, the obsessive power of routine in daily life, its neuroses, and, yes, its nightmares. Having a certain penchant for black humor and oddity, I entered with pleasure into my five-hour visit to this frightening and pitiable world, and I laughed, quite a bit, which, I should hope, is the desired result of any Meistersinger production. If my laughter was a trifle sour at times, it’s not entirely alien from the sarcastic wit of Wagner’s libretto. Hence, I am pleased to say that Katharina Wagner won her war, buoyed up by a splendid vocal, orchestral, and comedic performance, which had its own vigorous life, no matter how strange the goings-on on stage. And, if one is open-minded enough not to resist these, one can expect to gain a fair bit of insight into human nature, history, and Richard Wagner’s comic masterpiece.

About Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts and The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

Wagner and Masks

The production aesthetics of the recent Los Angeles Ring set it far apart from any other North American production of Wagner’s tetralogy to date. One aspect that has divided audiences and performers alike is the director/designer Achim Freyer’s ubiquitous use of masks and puppet forms. Freyer is not the only director to resort in the past quarter century to such devices, which have gained in popularity in opera/theatre production more generally. In the Ring, Wagner himself never called for masks for his singers. His theoretical writings nevertheless alert us to ways he thought about masks and his keen interest in matters of disguise and deception — core elements of the Ring dramas. Many modern critics are appalled by the use of masks for opera singers, both for aesthetic and vocal reasons, and believe that it is antithetical to Wagner’s dramaturgy. Wagner’s theoretical interest in masks undermines this critical stance. Simultaneously, contemporary directors have discovered in masks a powerful expressive tool that reaches well beyond what Wagner recognized as the boundaries of dramatically suggestive costuming.

About Katherine Syer

Musicologist/Theatre historian at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign).

A Note from Bayreuth

I had originally planned this commentary simply to let you, our readers, know about the changes in our usual coverage for the remainder of the summer: Larry Wallach, Seth Lachterman, and Keith Kibler will bravely continue their coverage of summer festivals in the Berkshires and Hudson Valley, while I visit Bayreuth, to review the entire 2010 season: Tankred Dorst’s production of the Ring, along with the controversial productions of Parsifal (Stefan Herheim, 2008), Die Meistersinger (Katharina Wagner, 2007), and Lohengrin (Hans Neuenfels, 2010). I left my rat-catching gear at home, not wishing to incur overweight charges and thinking it might be cheaper simply to purchase the necessaries here, but all the ratting supply stores in Bayreuth are sold out of equipment, and I realize that I simply have to remain unrattled, while the rodents run free.

About Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts and The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

Simon Rattle Conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in the Love Scene from Roméo et Juliette and Wagner’s Tristan, Act II

Point taken. Whenever period orchestras venture far beyond the Baroque, they have something to prove. But at last night’s concert of Wagner and Berlioz by the esteemed Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, some of the proof was self-evident. Banished completely are the intonation problems that plagued such ensembles in the past; one felt secure in the technical abilities of every section; the wind soloists played as expressively as anyone could wish. London is a center for period performance, which has become beloved. Sir Simon Rattle has conducted Act II of Tristan, in concert with the forces of Berlin and Vienna, but it’s good to be flexible, and since he enjoys a long-standing rapport with the OAE, they were a comfortable fit.

Huntley Dent

About Huntley Dent

Huntley Dent is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Santa Fe.

Welsh National Opera’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, by Richard Wagner

“Sachs, mein Freund!” Bryn Terfel has sung extracts from Hans Sachs’s music for years, and the character always seemed well suited to his warm voice and air of easy humanity. But he didn’t unveil the complete role until this season, in the very production of Die Meistersinger that visited the Proms last night. Terfel proudly puts Welshman after his name, and he promised the country’s National Opera that they would get his first Sachs. Six thousand listeners in Albert Hall spent most of the afternoon and evening for the privilege, just over six hours (imagine the ones in the arena who had to stand), with scarcely a handful leaving early. Terfel raises sheep at home, and it takes a golden fleece to hear him in Covent Garden, the Met, or Salzburg. Here he was cheap as chips but musically priceless.

Huntley Dent

About Huntley Dent

Huntley Dent is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Santa Fe.

Achim Freyer’s Rocky Horror Ring takes over Los Angeles!

Dressing up in a monkey suit is a time-honored profession in Hollywood. Many is the young actor or layabout who has earned a few dollars by dressing up as a gorilla — or Batman or Chewbacca — and going out into the streets with pamphlets to spread the good news about some new deli or used car lot or strip show. For a while, gorilla suits were popular in the studios as well. (That’s a whole genre that’s almost entirely forgotten today.) I reflected on this, as, on the eve of Das Rheingold, I drove along Sunset Boulevard, observing the crowds of tourists in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater, along with a group of people dressed up as comic book heroes who were available to pose with the visitors. I wondered if any of them thought about the impoverishment of the imagination that these comic book figures have brought to the movies. Humphrey Bogart, Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Huston, and Bette Davis all created characters in their own way, even if they remained recognizable as themselves in their parts. We know what to expect from Batman and Darth Vader simply by their costume, their design, or merely the outline of their shadow on a fictitious pavement. Characterization and acting are superfluous, even though some of these characters have human vehicles, who are dutifully provided with origins, relationships, and dilemmas, by screenwriters who know that they can only sink so low.

About Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts and The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

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