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Thread: Have you heard Wagner's early operas?

  1. #16
    Senior Member quack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    I feel that even Fliegende Hollander isn't a fully characteristic mature work, despite some great moments and an impressive overture. Wagner really only hit his stride with Lohengrin.
    I'm interested to hear and compare this one. The director of the Paris opera took Wagner's idea of a work based on the legend and gave it to Pierre-Louis Dietsch to produce his own version, Le Vaisseau fantôme. Although apparently it isn't really similar to Wagner's. It has both Dietsch and an early version of the Wagner opera.

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    Last edited by quack; Mar-09-2014 at 00:22. Reason: add an apparently
    The soft complaining flute in dying notes discovers the woes of hopeless lovers.

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  3. #17
    Senior Member Frasier's Avatar
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    Have to say I find his early dramas easy to listen to. I realised on hearing Die Feen that he was destined to write for the stage at that early age. It's interesting that he wrote Fliegende at roughly the same time he was working on Rienzi - markedly different works but a sign of what was to come.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    I feel that even Fliegende Hollander isn't a fully characteristic mature work, despite some great moments and an impressive overture. Wagner really only hit his stride with Lohengrin.
    I'll grant that Lohengrin is a big step forward, but the one element that holds it back for me is rhythmic monotony. Never exactly an innovator in the area of rhythm, Wagner in all his early works falls over and over into the same basic 4/4 pattern, beginning a melody with quarter note, dotted eighth, sixteenth, quarter, quarter, or some slight variant thereof, with the next bars similarly square. This, or something close to it, is the rhythmic template for tune after tune, and for me it's actually most problematic precisely in Lohengrin, giving the opera a slightly stodgy, old-fashioned feel and patches of dullness despite its advanced aspects and gorgeous orchestration. Wagner doesn't break fully free of this rhythmic straightjacket until Rheingold, the opening scene of which still thrills me with its freedom and its brave new sound world. I wish the rest of Rheingold were as consistently good, but I can understand having to wade a bit haltingly into the deep ocean of the Ring. Any other composer attempting it would have drowned straightaway!
    Last edited by Woodduck; Apr-13-2014 at 01:13.

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    Senior Member bigshot's Avatar
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    Die Feen isn't bad. Liebsverbot is interesting to hear once or twice. Rienzi is the one I can't get into at all- too damn long. Nice overture though.
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    Quote Originally Posted by quack View Post
    And John Ruskin said about Die Meistersinger... and Otto Gumprecht said about Die Meistersinger... you can find just as many negative criticisms of the work, criticisms that say as little as Solti's praise does.
    I wonder if Solti had opinions about the quality of watercolors or writing?
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    Senior Member quack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by bigshot View Post
    I wonder if Solti had opinions about the quality of watercolors or writing?
    I'm sure he did, like most people, but as conducting was his main skill rather than cultural criticism his one line thoughts aren't especially notable.

    I actually got around to hearing that Dietsch opera Le Vaisseau fantôme it sounds a lot like Offenbach to my ears. Nice enough certainly but very much in the style of the Paris opera that Wagner would try escape in his works. The Wagner recording in that set I wasn't overly impressed with, Minkowski makes the Dutchman seem a little small and forgettable.
    The soft complaining flute in dying notes discovers the woes of hopeless lovers.

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    Die Feen is hardly great opera (the characters are too flat, and the drama’s stilted), but the music is surprisingly accomplished, given how young Wagner was. The soprano has several beautiful songs in full bel canto style, while much of the other music (including a comic duet) is brisk and tuneful. Exactly what you expect from Wagner! The best numbers:
    Overture (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=el3tuub2Nfs)
    The opening chorus
    Ada’s aria: Wie muss ich doch beklagen (I) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rHWhEa3kBs)
    Act I finale
    Lora’s aria & cabaletta: O musst du Hoffnung schwinden (II) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ulqawmi7oIQ)
    Ada’s aria: Weh mir, so nah die fürchterliche Stunde (II)

    The joys of internet translation:

    How should I interpret his mood, he pressed his prostrate so hard!

    (“Wie soll ich seine Stimmung deuten, die ihn so schwer dernieder drückt.”)

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  10. #23
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    (From a blog I started, and didn't continue)

    “The ‘grand opera’, with all its scenic and music display, its sensationalism and massive vehemence, loomed large before me; and not merely to copy it, but with reckless extravagance to outbid it in every detail, became the object of my artistic ambition.”—Richard Wagner, A Communication to My Friends (1851)

    The result is an elephantine, enormously bombastic monstrosity. Wagner’s idea of outbidding grand opera is to flatten the listener into submission. Listening to Rienzi is like being walloped around the head and yelled at for nearly five hours. To be precise, 4 hours 40 minutes. (The first performance, including intervals, lasted seven hours.) Act II alone goes for more than an hour and a half.

    The music is overwhelmingly forceful and strident, rightly described as “unashamed, bullying, hectoring hysteria” (David Pountney, Cambridge Opera Guide, 134). Because it’s pitched at a constant level of high excitement, it seems overheated, then exhausting, then deeply boring. It’s monotonous.

    True, there are moments of genuine beauty and effectiveness. The overture (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dq8PVVF0bo), with its majestic, beautiful theme from Rienzi’s Prayer, and its bouncy finish. The Prayer itself (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JumlyRCk33E), admired by Berlioz. The Silbergroschen part of the Act III finale. The opening, which is brisk and exciting (a street fight and an attempted kidnapping), before you realise that the whole thing is going to sound like this.

    Processions, marches, oaths, battles, and crowd scenes galore. The BRASS! Trumpets! Brass! Drums! Brass! The massed choral sound (which sounds nothing like Meyerbeer’s rhythm and ligne brisée). Brass! And then there’s the ballet (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oItIhF5kjiw). O God, the ballet. Do you think of ballet as graceful and elegant? Or do you think of it as 40 minutes of ffff that makes the walls of the house shake and your eardrums bleed? What sort of dancers was Wagner imagining? They certainly weren’t human.

    Despite the mass of sound, the opera itself feels small scale. There’s little in the way of action, and certainly not enough to justify this gargantuan expenditure of musical and scenic resources. In other words: effects without causes!

    To call this heavy, bloated, monstrous, metallic thing “Meyerbeer’s best opera” (Hans von Bülow) is an insult to Meyerbeer. True, Wagner surely had the Huguenots Act III finale in mind when he wrote the big choruses in Acts I & V (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCDrwdWSv1Y), just as the Adriano/Irene love duet in Act III is modelled on the Raoul/Valentine duet. But it’s hard to imagine anything less Meyerbeerian. Meyerbeer’s operas are well paced, ironic, full of inventive and often delicate instrumental colour, subtlety, charm and warmth, which Rienzi is not. Thematically, too, it’s unMeyerbeerian.* Rienzi glorifies strength, nationalism, and fanaticism—everything the cosmopolitan, liberal Meyerbeer detested.
    *: William Pencak argues that Le prophète was intended as a “riposte” to Rienzi and a critique of its fiercely militant nationalism. (William Pencak, “Why we must listen to Meyerbeer” (1999), in Robert Ignatius Letellier (ed.), Giacomo Meyerbeer: A Reader, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007).

    The characters lack interiority. Throughout the opera, political identity triumphs over private feeling. Rienzi is entirely a political animal, given to grandstanding, rabble-rousing, and declamatory rhetoric. Nearly all his lines are propaganda, spoken with an eye to their effect on his audience. He has a sense of purpose and complete conviction, but no inner life; the only time he is alone on stage is his prayer at the start of Act V, and even that is a plea to continue his mission. His greatest love is Rome (“Roma heißt meine Braut!”).

    His sister Irene (a fundamentally passive character) is given the choice between being a woman or a Roman (“Kein Rom gibt’s mehr, sei den ein Weib!”). Impossible to be both, according to Wagner. She unhesitatingly chooses her brother / Rome over her lover Adriano.

    Adriano is the only character who is motivated by private feelings, torn between his love for Irene, his admiration and then hatred for Rienzi, and his duty to his father Colonna. Rienzi’s decision to spare the noblemen (Act II), at the pleading of Adriano and Irene, is privately motivated and politically disastrous.

    For modern audiences, the opera is tainted by its association with Adolf Hitler. (Witness the furore when the Deutsche Oper scheduled Rienzi for Hitler’s birthday, 20th April, in 2012.) The idea for National Socialism came to Hitler during a performance in Linz, 1906 (“In jener Stunde begann es”). The overture was the theme for Nazi Party rallies. And when Hitler committed suicide in the Berlin bunker, the score (presented to him by Winifred Wagner) was in his possession.

    It is easy to see why Hitler loved it. The story of a charismatic demagogue’s rise to power, and his mystic unity with the people. The Nuremberg aesthetic: excessive visual display, communal expressions of nationalistic fervour, the worship of force, military processions, marches and heroic oaths… And then there are passages like this:

    RIENZI:
    Der Staat verbleibe seinem Haupt.
    Gesetze gebe ein Senat.
    Doch wählet ihr zum Schützer mich
    der Rechte, die dem Volke zuerkannt,
    so blickt auf eure Ahnen
    und nennt mich euren Volkstribun.

    VOLK:
    Rienzi, Heil dir, Volkstribun!
    Dir huldigt freier Römer Schwur!
    Wir schwören dir, so groß und frei
    soll Roma sein, wie Roma war.
    Vor Niedringkeit und Tyrannei
    sie unser letztes Blut bewahr’!
    Schmach und Verderben schwören wir
    dem Frevler an der Römer Her’!
    Ein neues Volk erstehe dir,
    wie seine Ahnen groß und hehr!

    (RIENZI: Let the state remain without a head, let a Senate make the laws. Yet you have chosen me your protector, the right man, recognised by the people, so look back to your ancestors, and call me your Tribune of the People.

    PEOPLE: Hail Rienzi, Tribune of the People! The oath of free Romans is your homage. We swear to you, Rome shall be as great and free as Rome once was. May the last drop of our blood protect us from subjugation and tyranny! Death and destruction we pledge to the blasphemer, and honour to the Roman! A new people shall arise before you, as great and magnificent as its ancestors!)

    And this (which is music to goosestep to):

    RIENZI:
    Der Tag ist ja, die Stunde naht
    zur Sühne tausendjähr’ger Schmach!
    Er schaue der Barbaren Fall
    und freier Römer hohen Sieg!
    So stimmt denn an den Schlachtgesang,
    er soll der Feinde Schrecken sein!
    Santo Spirito cavaliere!

    SCHLACHTHYMNE:
    Auf, Römer, auf, für Herd’ und für Altäre!
    Fluch dem Verräter an der Römer Ehre!
    Nie sei auf Erden ihm die Schmach verziehn,
    Tod seiner Seel’, es lebt kein Gott für ihn!
    Trompeten schmettert, Trommeln wirbeit drein,
    es soll der Sieg der Römer Anteil sein!
    Ihr Rosse stampfet, Schwerter klirret laut,
    heut ist der Tag, der eure Siege schaut!
    Paniere weht, blinkt heil, ihr Speere!

    (RIENZI: The day has dawned, the hour is approaching to expiate a thousand years of shame! May it see the downfall of the barbarians and the great victory of free Romans! So all join in the battle hymn, that it may strike fear into the enemy’s heart! Santo Spirito cavaliers!

    BATTLE HYMN: Arise, Romans, arise, for your homes and your altars! Cursed be he that betrayed the honour of Rome! May the shame never be forgiven him on earth, death to his soul, there is no God living for him! Let the trumpets sound and the drums roll to take part in the Roman’s victory! Horses stamp, swords loudly clatter, this is the day which will see your victory! Standards wave, brightly glint, spears!)

    One could suggest that Hitler’s conception of Rienzi may not have been Wagner’s (Verdi, after all, considered an opera of Cola di Rienzo, seen as a hero of the Risorgimento—but then Mussolini modelled himself on Rienzi). Nevertheless, as Thomas Grey (“Richard Wagner and the legacy of French grand opera”, in David Charlton (ed.), Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera, 2003, 327-28) and Paul Lawrence Rose (Wagner: Race & Revolution, New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1992, 25-26), Hitler was acting on what was in the text: “resentful hatred” and “messianic political revolutionism”, “mass politics, propaganda, the Führer-principle”. (It would be fascinating to stage it with Coriolanus as a study in demagoguery.) The fact remains that there’s something deeply and unattractively proto-Fascist about Rienzi.

  11. #24
    Senior Member Revenant's Avatar
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    An let us not forget that the basis for the libretto, and that of Verdi's unrealized Cola di Rienzi project, was not the historical record of the real Rienzi, per se, but Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel Rienzi: The Last Tribune. A lot of the mystic nationalist, back-to-Rome-of-old verbiage is in the novel. Then again, B-L was the writer who began one of his novels with "It was a dark and stormy night." So he inspired Wagner, Verdi, Mussolini, Hitler... and Snoopy.
    "No preluding! Piano pianissimo -- then all will be well." (Posted in the orchestra pit on August 13, 1876)

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  13. #25
    Senior Member Fritz Kobus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Itullian View Post
    To me, the length of his operas plays a large part in casting their spell.
    I dont think they would have that suspension of time feel if they were shorter.
    I like being swept away and engulfed by them.
    Wagner is best if you immerse yourself into it, bathe in it, totally give yourself over to it and let the music carry you along. It's a trip!
    "All of Italian opera can be heard in [Bellini's] "Ah! non creda [mirarti]."
    --Renata Scotto in "Scotto, More Than a DIva."

  14. #26
    Senior Member Sieglinde's Avatar
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    I've heard Rienzi on a recording (I think with René Kollo? it was very long ago) and founds it beautiful. Are there any good videos, preferably of a normal production?

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