I grabbed this book from the stacks without any guidance, hoping it could serve to steady me through a week of performances of The Ring. In it, Lee lays out the synopsis of each opera scene by scene (in Das Rheingold) or Act by Act (in the other three longer operas). Then he muses on philosophy, art, Schopenhauer, Liszt, Wagner, etc.
Wagner got the story from bit here and there, a little bit of medieveal myth, Norse/German saga, early pagan sources mixed in with his thinking awakened by Schopenhauer’s Will and Representation. Some parts originated with him, like Alberich’s stealing of the Rhine’s gold. “The idea for the Ring, then, did not spring full-grown and armed, lke Athene from the brain of Zeus, from Wagner’s endlessly seething, outsized head.”
Thomas Carlyle called the Ring “our northern Iliad” and cautioned European to see its opposition to materialism as a way to save industrialized nations from the insane power grabbing wealth hoarding path they were on.
Famously, Wagner wrote the texts in reverse order, starting with the 3rd and then writing the 2nd and 1st to fill in the gaps of the story. He took five years to just write the words, publishing them in 1853, then began to set them to music which ends up totaling about fifteen hours.
The fundamental insight of the Ring, Lee argues, is that everything that exists has evolved from one primal substance and that man had to separate himself from nature by evolving into consciousness.
Lee claims that half an hour into Act II of Die Walküre the music shifts to become palpably pessimistic. It’s at this point that Wagner began obsessively reading cheery old Schopenhauer, and it affects the rest of the music. The world is an illusion. As Wagner writes Liszt, “the world is evil, fundamentally evil!”
Myself, I wonder how feminists are able to sit through this non-stop worship of the patriarchy. Women being used as currency to pay for Valhalla’s building. Freia’s humiliation in the act of her body erased by the sacks of gold in exchange for her freedom (and by the way, why on earth does she seem to yearn for Fasolt, her captor who has just released her? Stockholm syndrome?). Why couldn’t Loge’s character be a woman? These are just some thoughts while listening to Das Rheingold last night after enduring the disparaging remarks of the huge elderly man squeezed into the seat next to me about how Wagner is pompous and how he prefers Italian and French operas. Great thing to hear right before settling in for fifteen hours of German opera! I’m excited about tonight’s Die Walküre but less enthused about Friday’s Siegfried after reading this book (Lee: “Long stretches of dialog fall in musical invention below the level of anything in the other parts of the cycle. More than two hours elapse before we hear a single female voice, and then we hear only an occasional chirp from the forest bird.”)