Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wagner's Cosmic Family Drama

Each of the operas (okay, "music dramas) of Richard Wagner's “Ring Cycle” has a certain focus and nature of music characterization. “Das Rheingold” is a fairytale of gods and mythic figures in which mortals figure hardly at all. “Siegfried” is a coming of age story about a boy becoming a man through struggle and realization, communion with nature and an encounter with a woman; “Götterdämmerung” is a tragedy that begins in brief hope and darkens finally into global conflagration. “Die Walküre” is the most human--its focus is an extended family whose success or dysfunction, reconciliations and conflicts begin as domestic squabbles. 

In a house that was never really paid for, after a business deal with giants, who are informed they didn't read the fine print and sets in motion abduction and murder, a family is under siege. The types are universal: a father who is both loving and unfaithful , a wife , both jealous and malicious with whom he endlessly argues; a daughter headstrong and rebellious; rival siblings - the whole nine yards of the most popular television drama raised to cosmic conflict. At the heart of the drama is a dispute about the fate of a young couple, Siegmund and Sieglinde. They are in love , but she is already married (and they may be more than kissing cousins...)  and the question that all the world argues is is love stronger than tradition, than contracts and oaths, familial obligations. Fricka, the wife says no, Wotan the husband says yes, but tradition and law dictate that this cannot be. In the balance hangs the fate of the whole world.

For many opera lovers and concertgoers this is the most beloved and familiar of all Wagner's works. Its melodies, leitmotifs and theme-complexes are the stuff of cartoons, radio advertisements, orchestral renditions and piano transcriptions, movie music and recital encores. A stormy orchestral prelude sets the scene, then in rapid succession comes “Winterstrume wichen dem Wonnemond” and “Du bist der Lenz”; the “Ride of the Valkyries”; the pleading “War ist so schmalich,” and finally the piece du resistance, "Wotan's Farewell.” 
Leb'wohl du kuhnes herrliches Kind!

Du meines Herzens heiligster Stolz!   


Farewell, you dauntless, glorious child!

You the chief pride of my heart.


For daring to disobey him, Brünnhilde is deprived of her immortality and put into a deep sleep, but as an act of pity and love, Wotan surrounds her with a ring of fire which only a great hero can breach. Will they ever be reconciled? Will the lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde find true love? Will the heroine Brünnhilde ever escape her prison of fire and be rescued by a handsome Prince?
To find out, please tune in this Saturday at 11 a.m. to the Metropolitan Opera's presentation of Wagner's “Die Walküre,” here on KPAC and KTXI.

--Ron Moore

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