Friday, May 24, 2013

Multi-Media, May 24, 2013

My Wagner
Cosmic connections, music/man/myth, nine T&I's, Mahler

We asked friends to write us a small piece on the theme "My Wagner" to celebrate the composer's 200th anniversary this week. Enjoy!

Axel Van Chee (former opera critic for The Charlebois Post)
I remember my first Wagner, I was 22 and it was on the first night upon arriving in Sydney, Australia. After checking into the hostel, I went immediately to the iconic opera house to see what was on offer, it was Tannhäuser. The only seats available were the expensive front rows where you can observe the beads of sweat dripping our of the pores of the singers, I told the kind lady that I would just get a standing room ticket. She looked at me and replied in a concerned tone, "you do know that this is a Wagner right? I really don't think you want to stand though it." I told her that I was just a student backpacker with a tight budget and reaffirmed my decision. She took pity on me and gave me a seat in the box at a price slightly above standing room, then wished me a great time in Australia. 

I remember the opera vividly: it was an avant-garde production, and incidentally, my first avant-garde opera ever. Venus came on stage bathed in neon green lights while wearing a skin tight silver lame dress, complete with spiked high heels and a whip. The chorus pranced about her in S&M costumes and tormented each other. There were giant mirrors and lots and lots of lasers. Throughout the opera, men in post-modern, gothic crow/bat costumes were suspended above and about the sets, perched in precarious positions, and observed the going ons on the stage. They occasionally expended their wings to reconfigure into grotesque and unfathomable shapes. 

I promptly fainted for the first time during an opera

I remember hating almost everything about the production: from the outlandish costumes, to the non-sensical intellectual reading of the piece, I simply did not understand it. But I do remember it was the very first time that I cried in an opera. I was moved by his music, and the words. I was bawling my eyes out and we were not even halfway through Act 2. The sinewy old lady sitting next to me was so impressed by my burst of emotions that she took me on a tour of the opera house during the intermission. 

I also remember my very last Wagner: I was in the standing room at the standing room-only performance of Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House where I promptly fainted for the first time during an opera, giving a fright to all those around me half way though Act 2. At the ROH, the standing room is on the top two floors with nothing but a thin bar separating you and the floor fifty feet below. Not wanting to commit suicide, I sheepishly excused myself during the intermission, and for the first time in my life again, walked out leaving an opera unfinished. In my defense, it was within the first six hours of me landing in London after a 14-hour flight, and I had been travelling on the road for two days straight. And yes, I did head straight to the opera house to check things out the moment I drop my bags. 

Thank you Wagner for providing me so many memorable virgin experiences, and thank you The Charlebois Post without whom I would not have realized my cosmic connection with Wagner. I seriously look forward to my next Wagner now. Maybe I need to fly somewhere...

JOEL IVANY (Artistic director, Against the Grain Theatre and frequent CharPo contributor)

The man who changed music. 

His music has gripped me like no other classical composer.  He wrote his works from the depths of music making.  He was given a gift of putting notes together that few have ever come close to achieving. 

The music, the man.

The man was just as complex as his music.  His image, his name, they conjure different images of hate, prejudice and anger. 

The myth. 

You feel on one hand that you have to “get” Wagner in order to be a sophisticated classical music listener. 

You don’t.

You simply have to listen to him and if it gets to you…it will hook you for life.

GAËTAN L. CHARLEBOIS (Publisher, The Charlebois Post)
I came to Wagner late. I wanted to see a production at the newly refurbished Covent Garden and the only one they were showing was Tristan und Isolde. I went to Sam's, asked the young man who worked there (who knew classical music...those vendors existed then) and he pointed me to the Birgit Nilsson/Wolfgang Windgassen T&I (still the best, and I've listened to nine others). I hated it, hated it, hated it... Then I loved it. Within five months - before I even got to London - I owned every Wagner opera, even the bad ones (Rienzi) and early ones (Feen) and in most cases several versions (the nine T&Is, four Rings, three Meistersingers, two Tannhäusers...). For two years I listened to virtually nothing else. I don't argue about Wagner. (My operaphile uncle, for instance, keeps telling me he is saving Wagner for "my old age" - he's heading towards 80...). I feel if you get hung up on the shithead of a man which is Wagner, you are not getting the music which is also Wagner. 

ARDEN RYSHPAN (Executive director, Canadian Actors' Equity Association)
My Wagner?  I don’t listen to Wagner… Now, if you want to talk to me about Mahler, that’s a different story.

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