Tag Archives: Wagner

Germany rocks opera

bayreuth lohengrin

Increasingly, young opera singers from all over the world are moving to Germany, drawn by the prospect of steady work—even full-time employment.

In 2013 Germany saw 7230 opera performances, one-third of the world’s total. German opera houses employ 1270 soloists and 2870 chorus members on full-time contracts.

An American soprano who will be joining the Deutsche Oper in Berlin next year says “There aren’t as many opportunities as there used to be for up-and-coming singers in the U.S. If you’re a lesser-known name, American opera houses often don’t take a chance on you because they need to sell tickets. When I return to the U.S., people will say ‘She must be good, she’s sung at the Deutsche Oper.’”

This according to “If you want to sing opera, learn German” by Elisabeth Braw (Newsweek 17 July 2014; online only).

Above and below, a recent German opera production that provided numerous employment opportunities.

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Filed under Opera

Iconoclastic romanticism

Although the pedagogue and author Wilhelm Heinrich von Riehl (1823–97) was not formally trained in music, he wrote extensively about the social significance of music making, and he argued for an approach that treated music history as cultural history. He criticized music histories centered on great composers, and advocated a more inclusive cultural approach that appreciated the unsung heroes and everyday life of the past.

Riehl was even more critical of his own time, lamenting the costs of transforming Germany into a modern industrial society; while he called for a more encompassing definition of Germany’s musical heritage, he rejected all of the art music of the day, and particularly railed against the works of Wagner. Riehl, therefore, is an ambiguous figure: He championed the idea of music as culture, but he explicitly rejected a future for music as art.

This according to Sanna Pederson’s “An early crusader for music as culture: Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl”, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Literature, Musicologists, Romantic era

Operas as graphic novels

Graphic novel_0002

With their dramatic action and vivid characters, operas have inspired a number of graphic novels, including books by P. Craig Russell and a series (now out of print) produced in collaboration with England’s Royal Opera House. The most noteworthy examples of this genre are not just illustrations of libretti; they are autonomous works of art in the graphic novel tradition.

Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen is particularly suited to the treatment it receives in The ring of the Niebelung by Roy Thomas and Gil Kane; set in a mythological time, with illustrious characters who can alter their physical forms, defy gravity, and survive without oxygen, it fits naturally into the medium’s world of fantasy and superheroes.

In some cases this drammata in pittura brings a powerful new dimension to Wagner’s drammata in musica—for example, the action that the audience must imagine during the Vorspiel of Die Walküre is fully depicted over the course of four textless pages. The cycle was first published in four installments by DC Comics.

Above, the opening of Act II of Die Walküre (click to enlarge); below, part of the 2011 production by the Metropolitan Opera.

Related article: The Ring recast

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Filed under Dramatic arts, Opera, Publication types, Romantic era, Visual art

Souvenir books

Often souvenir books are considered ephemera: Most libraries do not purchase them. Sometimes, however, they take the form of a book of articles by notable authors; these are treated as essay collections by libraries and by RILM. For example, the souvenir book published by New York’s Metropolitan Opera for their 1988 production of Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen includes contributions by the musicologists Carolyn Abbate and Barry Millington and the poet and literary critic Richard Howard.

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Filed under Dramatic arts, Publication types, Reception, Romantic era

Caricature

Caricature is a type of iconography that involves distorting the features of recognizable people to exaggerate some aspect of their demeanor.

Opinions differ regarding the term’s applicability to other than real-life subjects; for example, Walt Disney considered his animated animals to be caricatures because in creating them he blended animal features with human ones, an inversion of the practice of caricaturing people by merging their features with those of animals.

In the caricature reproduced above by Albert Douat (1847–92, signed with the pseudonym J. Blass), Liszt consoles Wagner over the Parisian reception of Tannhäuser in 1861 and Lohengrin in 1891; both productions were disrupted by elements hostile to the composer. Liszt’s imposing stature and paternal attitude—particularly apt since by the time the drawing was produced he was Wagner’s father-in-law—contrasts with the dejected, little-boy look of the creator of Gesamtkunstwerk.

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Filed under Humor, Iconography, Reception, Romantic era