Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Goodall Ring Cycle

I have to take Wagner in doses.  About six months ago, I got back into one of my Wagnerite moods and listened to The Rhine Gold, The Valkyrie and Siegfried all in a row.  Tired of Wagner, I put off listening to The Twilight of the Gods.  It's taken me about six months to get back to it.

The Space Age staging of the English National Opera production

The Ring Cycle that I've been listening to was recorded at the English National Opera in the 1970s, with the orchestra conducted by Sir Reginald Goodall (1901 - 1990).  The really remarkable thing about this Ring Cycle is that it was sung in English from a translation by the music scholar Andrew Porter (1928 - 2015).

The Rhinegold: recorded at the London Coliseum March 19th, 25th, and 29th, 1975

Described at the time as a "space age" staging, the sets and costumes suggested a futuristic setting "a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away."  Critic Simon Thomas describes seeing this production of the Ring as an 18 year old at the London Coliseum:  "Of course, by today's standards, it was pretty straightforward, a bit updated but no clowns, Michelin men or camp cowboys in sight.  I was a little disappointed with some of the 'effects' the dragon was a bit lame, the Rhine was represented by coloured lights shining on the metallic strips of the set and the finale of 'Twilight of the Gods' saw Rita Hunter standing solidly out front with a film of a running white horse behind her.  Not quite what my imagination had conjured up."  The production starred Norman Bailey as Wotan, Rita Hunter as Brunhilde and Alberto Remedios as Siegfried.

The Valkyrie: recorded at the London Coliseum December 18th, 20th, and 23, 1975

I'm really a novice when it comes to high brow music appreciation.  I know what I like and what sounds good and that's about the extent of my skills as a music critic.  One of the criticisms of this Ring Cycle was the leisurely tempo adopted by Sir Reginald Goodall.  Apparently, this is one of the slowest Ring Cycles ever recorded and is several hours longer than other recordings by great Wagnerian conductors like Furtwangler and Solti.  I can say that it sounds fine to me.  Maybe it doesn't blow the stereo speakers out with loudness, but Goodall can jam when he needs to.

Siegfried: recorded at the London Coliseum August 2nd, 8th, and 21st, 1973

I think that part of the reason for the slow tempo is that the opera is being sung in a translation and Goodall worked hard with many rehearsals to make it sound just right.  Andrew Porter's paraphrase of Wagner's German poetry is masterful.  (I call it a paraphrase rather than a translation based upon what Porter himself says about his work in the preface to the book version of his translation.)

Twilight of the Gods: Recorded at the London Coliseum August 6th, 13th, and 27th, 1977

It also raises the question whether Wagner in translation is really still Wagner.  Obviously, the music is Wagner's.  If you're German, like mine, is non-existent, it certainly makes it enjoyable to hear the story sung in a language you can understand. Every translation is an interpretation.  Some translations, like the King James Bible, may even be better literature than the original.  To the extent that any translated work of the literature is still the work of the original author, this is The Ring of the Nibelung.   To the extent that War and Peace in translation is still Tolstoy, Porter's Ring translation is still Wagner.

Rita Hunter, Sir Reginald Goodall, and Alberto Remedios

Sir Reggie, who is acknowledged by most critics as one of the greatest Wagner conductors of all time, was apparently quite an eccentric.  Considering the fact that Der Meister himself was one of the most eccentric characters of all time, being an eccentric is appropriate for a Wagnerian.

According to Wikipedia: Passionate about all things German, in the 1930s Goodall openly sympathized with the Nazi regime, which he perceived as a defender of Germanic cultural traditions.  Goodall also actively supported Oswald Moseley's British Union of Fascists, and he eventually joined the party just five days after Britain's declaration of war on Germany.  He maintained his outspoken pro-Nazi views during World War II, the uninhibited expression of which once led him to be briefly questioned by the police.  Goodall was known to refer to the Holocaust as a "BBC Jewish plot."

True Wagner Fans Never Get Enough!

A celebrated Wagnerian who was a Nazi sympathizer and Holocaust denier.  I'm sure that somebody could write several shelves of books about the psychology of that!

Sir Reginald Goodall

Speaking of shelves of books, there are entire libraries dedicated to analyzing the meaning of Wagner's Ring Cycle.  Since this is my religion blog, I will concede that however much I love the work of Der Meister, the underlying philosophy behind it is probably pagan and anti-Christian.  As a 19th century Romantic, Wagner wanted to overturn the power of the Church and monarchies and advocated a secular humanism based upon art, music and literature.  The final destruction of the gods means that man is now free from the contraints of religion.  Man's spiritual longings will be fulfilled not by belief in the supernatural but with art, of which Wagner's "Musical Dramas" are the highest expression.  As I've said, Wagner was an eccentric of the highest order, and he certainly was not humble.

Der Meister: Richard Wagner

According to David P. Goldman in an article in First Things from December, 2010: "Das Rheingold premiered in Munich in 1869 under the patronage of King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who worshiped Wagner.  The First Vatican Council was in session. A year later, Italy's unification destroyed the Vatican's territorial power, completing what Napoleon began: the dissolution of the old regime of Church and Empire.  Wagner's contemporaries could have no doubt as to the content of his allegory. . . . That the old regime of throne and altar had fallen, Wagner's generation could have had no doubt.  Wagner told them to celebrate rather than mourn its demise, for in the Twilight of the Gods their impulses would be freed from the fetters of the law."

The Goodall Ring Cycle is worth a listen.  The Bad Catholic gives it five out of five horned helmets.

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