Friday, August 7, 2009

Still Ringing in the Ears

Since last Saturday night I have watched a grand total of 2.5+4.5+5+5.5 = 17.5 hours of opera. This was my third time seeing Wagner's Ring Cycle, and my first since finding a complete box set of the operas on LP at the Library Book Sale (for $4!!!!). It gets better each time, and rewards the effort put into it. Not only am I beginning to identify the major musical motifs Wagner uses for different characters or emotions, but I'm also connecting the dots between this and Tolkien (and, a little less, C.S. Lewis and Neil Gaiman). Tolkien's curt dismissal of Wagner's work is often quoted ("Both rings were round and there the resemblance ends" or something like that). But there is an important way in which Tolkien's work is a direct repudiation of Wagner's, each a collection of four stories based on Norse myth. Tolkien writes during World War II and sees a Germany saturated in Wagner's myth, to the point that Hitler killed himself while listening to Gotterdamerung and his death was announced with Siegfried's Funeral March. The importance of pity, and not killing, and not being strong, is perhaps THE underlying theme of Tolkien, and it stands in direct opposition to Wagner's need to end with basically killing everyone.

Yet there is a lot of beauty and genuine emotion expressed in Wagner better than anywhere else. It helps me that C.S. Lewis liked Wagner quite a bit! What's funny is how, as a parent, you project a bit onto what's going on for the sake of your children rather than yourself. And there is a lot of parent-child emotion in The Ring, that's one of the reasons it's better than, say, Tristan und Isolde or Wagner's usual focus on just the romance.

Another interesting connection is, if Tolkien was reacting to Wagner, my favored author Tad Williams was reacting to Tolkien! So things continue ... who will react to Williams?

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