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CLASSICAL  October 2007

CLASSICAL October 2007

Subject:

Wagner (Siegfried division)

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 8 Oct 2007 15:42:24 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Siegfried Wagner
Rainulf und Adelasia

*  Hana Minutillo (Albriria)
*  Roman Trekel (Osmund)
*  Frank van Aken (Rainulf)
*  Elisabeth M. Wachutka (Adelasia)

Die Stuttgarter Choristen; Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Werner
Andreas Albert.
CPO 777 017-2  Total time: 204:11 (3 CDs)

Summary for the Busy Executive: Lohengrin-o-Rama!  Not the real thing,
but an amazing simulation!

Being the son of a genius is rough enough, but the son of an icon of
Western Civilization has it even rougher.  The son of a driven dingbat
like Cosima Wagner has it even worse.  Given the weight dumped on Siegfried
Wagner's shoulders by simply the fact of his father, he bore it remarkably
well.  An active (as opposed to repressed) homosexual, he married mainly
to avoid scandal and sired four kids, including the directors Wieland,
Friedelind, and Wolfgang.  Unfortunately, he married Winnifred.  Sexual
orientation wasn't their only point of disagreement.  Winnifred became
involved with the Nazis and a particular friend of Hitler.  Indeed, for
many years they were romantically linked.  Siegfried, who died in 1930,
kept the Nazis out of Bayreuth as long as he could.  Friedelind, who
idolized her father, fled Nazi Germany and became a dedicated anti-Fascist,
although out of her concern for her family, she kept quiet during the
war.  She wrote a fine autobiography, Heritage of Fire.

Siegfried has a claim on history if only because he inspired his
father to write one of his few mature non-operatic works, the ecstatic
Siegfried-Idyl.  He directed the Bayreuth Festival from 1908 to his
death.  He also went into the family business and composed operas.  In
fact, he wrote more operas than his father -- 18 in all, of which at
least 8 have made it to CD -- but not one of them has entered the
repertory.

Friedelind always maintained that her father's titles were so ridiculous
that they sank the operas.  It seems a bit far-fetched.  However, we now
have the chance to sample Rainulf und Adelasia of 1922.

Like his daddy, Siegfried wrote his own libretti, and for the most part,
Rainulf und Adelasia's, though based on the history of the Normans in
Sicily, pretty much qualifies as a mess.  It has more characters and
plot lines than a Keystone Kops comedy.  I would have welcomed a little
humor, but Siegfried is too caught up in noble thoughts and deeds.  The
son is really no dramatist.  As unintentionally hilarious as Papa Wagner
can sometimes get, at least he has a strong sense of theater and of
libretti that work.  At his best, he has an appreciation of the roundedness
of a character.  Even something as tragic as Tristan has amusing moments.
Die Walkure sustains an epic drama with essentially five characters,
three of which have an act to themselves.  The father creates conflict
and tension with an economy the son lacks.

Throughout his life, however, Siegfried never got a truly fair shake
from the critics, most of whom couldn't judge his work without reference
to Richard, just as I've done above.  Very few opera composers come up
to Richard Wagner's level, but that doesn't necessarily make their work
terrible or even ignorable.  Siegfried is a personality in his own right
and deserves that kind of regard.

Despite the son's persistence with opera, he's not really a dramatic
composer at all, but a lyric one.  The story, in its essentials and
stripped of a few subplots, concerns a woman who proves the man for whom
she harbors an unrequited love innocent of theft and murder.  You can
see the lack of dramatic focus in the very title.  Adelasia is the
heroine, but Rainulf is not the object of her affection.  Rather, he is
the villain whom she pretends to love so that she can get him to confess.
Oy.  Talk about indirection.  Nevertheless, these are the two strongest
characters in the opera, or at least the two who get most of the stage
time.  Rainulf, by far, counts as the most interesting: a villainous
mama's boy of enormous wit, political skill, and as neurotic as a hamster
on crack.  Concentrating on Rainulf might have made for a drama as
emphatic as Macbeth, but Wagner's attention seriously wanders by building
up Adelasia to no good purpose.  If he had portrayed Adelasia with
anything near the psychology he gives to Rainulf (not to mention his
crazy mother; who says art doesn't imitate life?), he might have had a
minor Tosca or Fidelio.  Meanwhile, the other characters add up to little
more than plot devices.  In many ways, Rainulf and Adelasia seem to carry
on different aspects of an interior monologue the composer holds with
himself.  I myself read it as a psychological drama of Siegfried Wagner's
life: a pathological concern for succession, a fear of illegitimacy, a
stifling of true love, and a dark, Freudian portrait of the relation
between two sons -- one good, one bad -- and their crazy mother.

The music shows Richard Wagner's influence -- hardly a surprise, since
Wagner affected many composers of Siegfried's generation.  What does
surprise, however, is that it's early Wagner, somewhere around Der
fliegende Hollander.  The liner notes refer to the influence of Meyerbeer
grand opera, which I think legitimate, since Richard at that point takes
the essential structure of Meyerbeer but disguises the separateness of
the numbers with extended transitions.  By the time we get to the Ring,
this scheme has given way to a through-composed procedure, yielding a
dramatic musical framework of enormous suppleness.  Siegfried uses musical
tags for characters and ideas but within the older approach.  The thing
is, it's 1922, for heaven's sake.  Strauss's Elektra's about fifteen
years past, Die Frau ohne Schatten (to name two relatively conservative
operas) four.  And yet both sound part of the new century.  At this
point, did anybody really need another Flying Dutchman?

Furthermore, it doesn't pack Dutchman's dramatic punch.  The villainy
operates at the Friml-operetta level, as does the heroism.  Characters
are forever explaining themselves, at great length, rather than revealing
themselves through action.  At one point, the villain gloats that "he
who talks the biggest, gets away with the most," but, really, this is
Siegfried Wagner's quasi-dramatic method.  He loves to set Big Talk.
The most convincing moments are the purely lyrical parts of the score
-- Rainulf's cynical lightness early in the first act and his apostrophe
to Greece at the end of the second.  Even so, some of the music comes
across as second-hand: the moments praising nature from Siegfried's
"Forest Murmurs," and the praise of Hellas from Das Rheingold's Rhinemaidens.

This live performance tells you how good the opera is without convincing
you that you've been missing another Don Giovanni all these years.  It
gives Siegfried Wagner a fair hearing.  There are a few ensemble and
intonation problems at the beginning, but these iron themselves out
fairly quickly.

Steve Schwartz

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