A terrific and informed wrap-up of the Sydney Symphony orchestra’s Tristan und Isolde concert is to be found in the Richard Wagner Society of SA Inc’s August newsletter. The Varnished Culture did not attend the evening in Sydney, but we commented on some of the issues in our wrap-up, Great Hall. The general consensus is that the placement of the singers at the back of the hall, behind the orchestra, was an acoustic mistake, and the video projections a profound artistic error. The adverse effect of this mucking about is obvious; the motive is unclear.
Lee Brauer’s perceptive account of the recent RWS discussion of these ‘innovations’ includes an opinion on a related matter, by Barbara Fergusson, that “she was developing a preference for opera in concert, as so many modern productions seem to have little reference to the composers’ visions.” We agree with the problem but respectfully disagree with the solution. We need more Wagner opera done properly, not Wagner pastiches et mélanges as compensation.
Wagner fought for total art; a combination of poetry, prose, music, drama, visual and plastic accoutrements (such as paintings, sets, costumes); the works. Just because modern productions of opera tend to flabby, chauvinistic revisionism, where major damage is done to text and scenario in order to render a work ‘relevant’; just because certain producers “are too intellectual and much too learned, to create warm human figures”* does not mean we should surrender to such ravages. What the Master called “purely artistic problems”** should be capable of solutions, and mere fashion must ultimately yield to true high art.
To continue our fulmination, Opera director Barrie Kosky, in a recent interview, claimed vis-à-vis Opera, “It’s art. There are no rules,” overlooking that this stance actually invokes a canon. You can argue about this stuff till the sun blows up but The Varnished Culture lays down a tenet of its own: create, to attain in your process, the extraction of emotion via technique.
* Wagner, “On German Opera”, 1834.
** Wagner, letter to Friedrich Uhl on the forthcoming Munich production of Tristan und Isolde, 18 April 1865.