Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Curse--Remembering Too Much

Perhaps the greatest curse is living too long--living too long to see the mistakes of the past return in the present. The Great Depression left little impact on my infant memories, but World War II left a deep imprint on an impressionable child. Herr Hitler wanted to take over Bohemia to protect the German-speaking Czechs from themselves.  Now 80 years later Господин  Putin wants to protect Russian speaking Ukranians from themselves.  Я не знаю. Я не понимаю. I speak both languages--they are nearly the same.  I do not think this is a language issue.  What am I missing? The mistakes of the past return.

The 1950s was a jumping off time--the military was integrated during the Korean Conflict, oddly so were most American professional sports. The decade was a hatching ground for the reform efforts of liberation that erupted in the 1960s.  Somehow I seemed to find myself deeply involved in most of them.  From the freedom rides and my work with Dr. King, it was a small leap into the growing antiwar movement of the late 1960s and 1970s.  I stood on a platform at Drake University in 1968 with Mark Rudd of the Weatherman movement.  I believe that he was the scariest person that I ever met.  Abbey Hoffman had nothing on Mark Rudd. I was radical, but Rudd was.... well, I am not sure what he was.  The Chicago Democratic National Convention that year helped to focus the movements of liberation--civil rights, anti-war, the growing feminist movement; despite the hatred and fear that the change we sought engendered (more beatings and arrests), the year of the convention highlighted the strides that had been made.  The Voting Rights Act had passed Congress, the Fair Employment Act had passed Congress, the Fair Housing Act had passed Congress.  Even universities in the South were integrated. I had met James Meredith when he was assigned to Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska, quite by accident, while I was working in the base education office recruiting for a local Omaha Institution. Meredith used his GI bill money to enroll at the University of Mississippi. A year or two later, I remember working with several NAACP chapters visiting homes for sale in White neighborhoods as a prospective buyer, telling the sellers to expect an offer, and then taking the real buyers (African Americans) to the private closings to get their homes--Bless those brave realtors who cooperated and helped integrate many all-White neighborhoods.  America seemed to be growing up.

The Anti-war movement at this time had converted even the National Television Networks to opposition to the war--it is from this time that the so-called "liberal bias" charge against the national networks originates.  It is still a mystery to me how my fate and the Kent State murders came together, but I watched the event from a faculty office that finally turned the nation around and, I firmly believe, forced the President to end the war (out of fear that he would be removed from office if he did not--of course, he was removed by his own stupidity, not by anti-war activists).

It seemed like a small success at the time, but the seeds that we planted in the 1960s and 70s bore fruit in the early 1980s when conservative President Reagan after the attempt on his life allowed the law that limited gun ownership to pass.  Not a big victory, but assault weapons were outlawed. Many large cities followed suit and passed stringent gun control laws.  Considering the origins of a country born out of an armed revolution against a "foreign" power, these steps were pretty big ones.

As I look back now, I remember the pain that I endured during those days, always believing that I was making a difference, that society was improving, that America was becoming a more decent, peaceful place.  I thought, I thought.  By the 1980s, most American television shows were integrated--thank you Norman Leer.  The one blip in the road was the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment in the mid 1970s.  Ironically, Betty Friedan had turned down my offer of assistance telling me that I was too radical and would probably hurt the effort more than help it.  But still strides were made.  Choice was legalized; women gained control over their own bodies. New job opportunities were available for women.

But now--now the America that I had so much hope for seems to have disappeared. Voting Rights are under attack. Since money talks, the Fair Housing Act is safe, but property prices and the increasing disparity in income levels are once again making home ownership difficult for many. Hatred and prejudice is on the rise, fostered by the polarity in the American Government. The values that I for which I fought, no longer seem to be the values of my compatriots.  One name summarizes my fears and pain--the undoing of much that I thought that I had helped accomplish--Charleston. Not even Nathan Bedford Forrest would have been proud of what happened there. Hatred, guns, death. My despair. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Imminence, eminence, and reverence--the story of Siegmund's Sisters, his Father, and What It Is Like to Look in the Looking Glass

The mirror is a fascinating yet terrifying invention.  It shows us ourselves, but not our true selves.  It shows us reversed, so we never see ourselves as others see us.  It shows us what we fear about ourselves and with a little projection, what we want to see ourselves to be.  It becomes a maze that presents endless images if we put another mirror between the original and ourselves--the depths are endless and frightening.  We are told that because it is not alive, it cannot but tell the truth, but when we look to see ourselves, we are looking at a lie, we are looking at something that is not real, we are looking at our left-handed doppelgänger. Ultimately we are seeing a "what if?"  But why be scared, why be frightened--we are only seeing a reflection.  Perhaps that mirror is the gateway to the noumenal world where all things seek their roots in the one, the universal, the oversoul that connects all living things.

Richard Wagner's second opera of the great Ring Cycle presents us with a series of mirror images that lead us from the imminence of the living force that drives us all, through the eminence of great power, to the reverence that misleads us at first, but then allows us to provide something that will be revered in and of itself.  The focal point of Die Walkure is Siegmund and Nothung.  Between them, they create what Wotan, the one who is to be revered, cannot. They are the key to unlocking the mirror images. Just as Alberich takes a mortal woman to bed to create his champion, Wotan takes a mortal woman to bed to create his champion, someone free of his bidding who can remove the curse.  Whether it is by accident or through forethought, he creates twins (the male and female mirror images of each other).  Fricka exposes the mistake that Wotan has made--as his creation, Siegmund cannot be more than a pawn--he can never remove the curse that Wotan's lust for the ring has caused.  That will be up to the image that emerges from the mirror of the twins when the gateway between the phenomenal and the noumenal opens.

The sisters of Siegmund are foils--essentially another kind of mirror image of each other.  At the opening of the opera, Sieglinde is the timid, frightened slave-wife of Hunding, terrified of her husband.  When Siegmund arrives collapsing in weakness on Hunding's hearth, he brings the spark that will awaken her courage and her true feelings.  She becomes the key actress, drugging her husband and leading Siegmund to the hidden sword.  The only one able to remove the sword that Wotan thrust into the Ash tree, Siegmund reveals himself, his true name, and the name of the sword promised him by his father.  As he does so, Sieglinde declares herself, and the brother and sister are united in the spring moonlight as they rush away together from the house of slavery and death--somehow the mirror images have merged and will produce one.

Sieglinde's foil Brunhilde opens the second act as the daring, brash young goddess, full of her own godhead, but yet reverent of her eminent father.  Her opening moments are the exact opposite of Sieglinde's opening moments.  Despite her lack of understanding of her father's commands after Fricka intercedes and exposes the flaw in Wotan's plans, Brunhilde agrees to carry out Wotan's wish to give the victory to Hunding and to bring Siegmund's body to him.  She goes to carry out the plan only to come face to face with the mirror that will change everything.  Just as Siegmund's love for Sieglinde led her to a character change, so seeing the love and its result causes Brunhilde to change. From the fierce shield maiden, she becomes Aphrodite protecting the lovers and defying her father's wishes as she sees the individual will and strength of her brother, who stands up to her and defies her.

In the struggle between Hunding and Siegmund, Brunhilde stands by allowing the battle to take place. At this point a new foil or mirror image foreshadows the future.  Wotan appears on the scene and uses his staff--the staff with the laws carved on it, the laws he broke when he tried to keep the ring and cheat the giants--to break the sword he made for his hero.  Ironically, the product of the mirroring twins will reforge the sword and use it to sever the same staff as he makes his way to awaken his aunt.

Brunhilde flees with the pieces of the sword and her mirror image step-sister.  One sister carries the hero who will eventually save Brunhilde from her humiliation; the other faces the wrath of their father and the loss of her godhood.  Brunhilde now has turned into the helpless  woman that we saw in Sieglinde at the beginning of the opera.  She faces her father fearfully, and he metes out his punishment to her.

As we move to the third opera of the Ring, we have the mirror images fully revealed.  Just as Wotan broke Nothung in the hands of Siegmund with his staff (causing Siegmund's death), now in Siegfried, Siegfried, who has reforged Nothung, uses the sword to break the staff, leading to Wotan's final sacrifice and loss of godhood as Valhalla will eventually crumble beneath him.    And just as Siegmund found the fearful woman at the opening of Walkure and through love awoke her, now his son, will find a fearful human woman and through love will awaken her.  All of the images have been reversed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Insanity Remembered

With my days working for Marshall McLuhan well behind and my freedom riding days with Dr. King well in the past, I arrived in Kent, Ohio, in 1970 to work with Dr. Bernard Jerman, the great Disraeli scholar and text specialist at a time when the University was about to become a mecca for literary studies.  Dr. Bernard Benstock, the leading American scholar of James Joyce was there; Howard Vincent, the great Melville scholar was there; Dr. Sidney Krause, a leading scholar in American realism and naturalism, was there; and Dr. Lawrence Andrews, a young comparative literature and Russian scholar had just arrived. These were just a few of the faculty that attracted me and others, such as Dr. Sanford Marovitz, who became an important figure in American literary studies.

The University student body numbered over 24,000 students, which was also approximately twice the population of the town of Kent and neighboring Ravenna combined.  The Vietnam anti-war movement had forced Lyndon Johnson out of the Presidency two years earlier.  Dr. King was dead from an assassin's bullet; Robert Kennedy was dead from an assassin's bullet, and Richard Nixon was President.  When it became obvious that Nixon, despite his promise to wind down the war, had fallen into Johnson's trap of not being the first American President to lose a war and had sent forces and air strikes into Cambodia, widening the war rather than reducing it, the anti-war movement was re-energized--especially on college campus in America.

During April, the fervor grew. Kent State was involved in research on liquid crystals.  Many of the students mistakenly took this effort as war research.  To protest their university being involved in war research, they burned down a wooden ROTC building situated on a field below the new student center-library tower buildings.  A large group students then walked the seven blocks to Main Street to hold a protest march.  The march grew beyond what the organizers wanted (beer has a way of doing that), and some store fronts were vandalized and some fires were set.  The tiny town whose residents were far outnumbered by the student body panicked and the mayor frantically called the reactionary Governor asking for state aid.  Governor Rhodes sent a weary National Guard Unit to Kent calling them away from an angry truckers' strike.

The students organized an on-campus demonstration for May 4. College President Robert White and Governor Rhodes forbade the demonstration, but it went on any way.  The guard was on campus and confronted the protesters ordering them to cease and desist.  When the students responded with epithets and rocks, the guardsmen threw tear gas at them.  They then marched on the students attempting to disperse them. They marched into the group and suddenly found themselves surrounded.  They conversed among themselves; then retreated. When they cleared themselves, they turned and opened fire --some shooting into the air, others shooting into the ground, and others firing on the students. I watched from Dr. Jerman's office window in disbelief as students fell to the ground.  Anyone with any past has seen the pictures of the bodies on the parking lot atop Blanket Hill.  Jeff Miller, Allison Krause, Bill Schroeder, and Sandra Scheuer were murdered.  Nine others were wounded.  Murder implies intent.  The guardsman, some of them at least, shot to kill.  Sadly many of those killed and wounded were not involved in the protest--they were simply walking to class.  Two of the wounded were over 300 yards away from the guardsman.

The repercussions were many.  The University was immediately closed and locked for the rest of the school year.  Students were sent home (and were allowed through the efforts of their faculty members to complete their courses--usually through papers [I soon learned that grading research papers, though not a bad thing, after 200 or so becomes a tedious thing]).  There was no graduation that year--diplomas were mailed to seniors who completed their courses through the efforts already described.

When the University opened for its fall quarter, the student population numbered less that 17,000.  Almost 7,000 students had disappeared.  The faculty lost its enthusiasm for the place.  Dr. Jerman had turned to me on that day with tears in his eyes as he sobbed, "They killed them--they killed them."  For the next four years he worked on, but the box of Disraeli letters that he had been working on--letters that other scholars would have sweat blood to get their hands on--sat on a shelf in his office untouched.  Within two years, Bernie Benstock had taken his reputation and merits to the University of Buffalo, where he worked with John Barth, the novelist and theorist of the "literature of exhaustion."  Sidney Krause retired a few years later.  President White was sacked (we were told he retired) immediately and replaced by a member of the Nixon Administration, Glenn Olds, who knew less about running a University than almost any man on the street did.  I was there for six more years, but the place was never the same.  The 1970-71 school year was a nightmare--the towns people were terrified of anyone who had anything to do with the University (ironically, many of the towns people worked for the University in food service, maintenance, and campus-related occupations).

When the war finally ended, the Kent State tragedy certainly played a role.  The events so traumatized the White House that President Nixon feared that Washington would be besieged by college students who would seek to oust him from office.  They didn't have to--he made enough stupid mistakes to oust himself.

As I look back at that time--the 1960s and 1970s-- I almost weep--weep at the memories of what I saw and weep more that the problems that I thought I had helped to solve 50 years ago have returned with more hatred, more overt hated that in those days.  From New York, to Chicago, to Baltimore the authorities cannot control their actions or conduct themselves without prejudice.  The insanity lingers.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

So What? It's Only Wagner!

I realize that I am an old curmudgeon who inevitably shouts at the children to get off of his grass; however, the time has come to defend the sacred turf of the artist--get off of his grass.

Posit the following:

Excuse me, but you should slow down--the speed limit is 35.

      So What?
Excuse me, but you shouldn't throw eggs at that house--you are defacing someone's property.
         So What?
You shouldn't misquote or mis-paraphrase that selection, you have changed its entire meaning!
        So What?
Why are you breaking off pieces of that sculpture and putting clay moles on its face. You are defacing it.
        So What?

Or consider this Twitter exchange:
Famous Musicologist--
I'll be gnomic and say that's the most intriguing, sinister portrayal of Titurel I've seen. He certainly isn't what he has seemed.
Heard yes; seen, no. Wagner gave clear directions on this.

Famous musicologist--

So what? So What? SO WHAT? So This:

Jacque Derrida may have declared that forcing one's own personal experience, ideas, or philosophies onto a work is fitting and proper, but he neglected to add that such an interpretation is appropriate only for the person who is doing it. It is meaningless to everyone else. Whether one is a "deconstructionist," a "Marxist," a "feminist" critic, that person's interpretation falters and fails when others realize that it has been imposed on the work rather than growing organically out of the text.

Every work of art--novel, poem, painting, play, opera--has themes and ideas that are true throughout time--they are universal; however, that same work is conceived, nourished, grown, and matured in a culture and time in which philosophies and ideas circulated "in the air," to be inhaled by those who were alive and creating at the time. Morse Peckham describes the change in thinking that took place at the beginning of the nineteenth century as the second greatest change in human history--the first was the change from hunting and gathering to farming. The second was when imagination replaced reason as the most valued mental function and humans began to envision a universe that was not static, uniform, and set; but organic, dynamic, and diverse. The tree replaced the clock as the symbol of the universe--the forest transformed from the Puritan's view [as the home of the devil] to the gateway to enlightenment and rebirth. One only had to kill off the ego through sacrifice and merge with the great life force that connects all things--from the phenomenal to the noumenal.

Wagner inhaled all of these ideas during his lifetime. He worked with Bakunin, whose ideas of love and sacrifice enraged Engels. He knew Kant's work, he corresponded (unsuccessfully) with Schopenhauer, he freed his mind with Fueurbach. He wrote his operas as open statements of these Romantic ideals. To impose other fanciful concepts onto his words, is to deface his works. This has happened in Berlin with the recent production of Parsifal.

First, to move Parsifal out of the forest is to eliminate one of the key points that Wagner sought to impress upon us--that the forest is the gateway to the Grail Realm--the world of the noumena--beyond space and time. To eliminate the transformation scene in Act I defies the text and makes a mockery of the separation of the phenomenal and noumenal. The scene is one of the great mystical moments of the opera and the dialogue between Gurnemanz and Parsifal becomes senseless, pointless, and silly without the scene.

Second, to have Titurel appear on stage further contradicts the mystery that Wagner was trying to create. Look at the text--the directions are clear. Titurel's voice comes to the audience unseen--he is already in his tomb--he is all but spirit linked to the Knights by the power of the Grail.

Third, a recent review of the Berlin performance praised the genius of the director for exploring the degradation of adolescent love and pedophilia in the second act. Searching the text and directions of the second act reveals no clues to this in regard to the Flower Maidens. This is an imposition of a warped twenty-first-century mind on a nineteenth-century work. Make the scene as lurid as one wishes--there are plenty of clues for that, but do not impose things that are not there. Further, the confrontation between Kundry and Parsifal in this act is climactic, but not sexually so. Parsifal is not Amfortas. He does not succumb to Kundry's wiles. Her attempt to use his memory of his mother in the seduction is based on the nineteenth-century reconnection with the divine female of the natural world--we see her in Erda in the Ring. The climax is their kiss that awakens Parsifal from his dream--his epiphany is triggered by it, and he is prepared to make the sacrifice necessary to return to the realm of the Grail. The review seemed to suggest that Klingsor was sexually involved with the maidens and lusted after Kundry. Did no one read the text--Klingsor, in his attempt to be pure when he sought to join the Grail Knights, eliminated this side of his character. That is what caused Titurel to banish him.

Fourth, the review suggests that this is a story of a dying religion--Titurel is God, Amfortas is Jesus. What? Let us look at the text. In the final act, Wagner used familiar imagery to characterize the participants. The scene at the sacred spring (Does anyone suppose that this could be a baptism, cleansing, and rebirth scene?) has a Mary Magdalene figure anointing the feet of Parsifal, while a John the Baptist figure anoints his head and declares him King. It seems that this new production has lost sight of the central images of the opera--the Grail and the Spear--the symbols of male and female completeness. When Parsifal returns the spear that Amfortas has selfishly lost [out of ego, he sought to be the one to defeat Klingsor], the innocent fool now made wise restores the realm and heals the sinner. If we want to ascribe biblical roles, then the return of the anointed one (the translation of Messiah) recalls the dead one back to his living faith--does that make Amfortas Lazarus, since Parsifal is clearly Jesus (if we push this) as the Holy Spirit in the form of the dove visits him at the end of the opera. I have argued before that more important than the religious echoes of the opera are the echoes of Romanticism--the imagery provides the audience (at least in its time) with ready made qualities associated with the figures. I have my doubts that many are aware of the connotations being provided by figures they do not recognize. Try to talk to a college audience about biblical allusions--many will have no idea.

Finally, perhaps the most grievous marring of this new production is, as the review describes, Gurnemanz stabs Kundry in the back. Does this make Gurnemanz represent Peter? I do not think that Wagner had read the Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which describes Peter's jealousy of her. To have her die by violence defeats the end that Wagner desired for her--release through forgiveness by the chosen one. The text clearly describes Kundry's joyful death when the Grail is revealed. The Masons might tell us that she is the Grail.

I think I will hack into that review and make the appropriate changes so that it more closely agrees with my interpretation of the opera.
So What?

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Why We Fight for Copyright

The battle over intellectual property has been recounted multiple times in the various comments that this blog seems to attract, and despite the dictates of Proudhon, the act of creativity is sacrosanct and must be protected.  Yes, art is for the people or rather for the people to enjoy, but unless those who create the art are protected and their visions safeguarded, there is no incentive for them to continue.

Art for Art's Sake is a fine concept; however, the creator's right to make a living from his work is the driving force throughout the history of art.  The great Greek tragedians wrote their plays to win the Dionysian prize.  Leonardo sold his works to the highest bidders and those works for whom there were no bidders, he kept secret. Shakespeare published his poems, but not his plays--he did not want competing companies to make money from his works--damn actors betrayed him and published the works on their own. In the nineteenth century, Dickens led the fight for stronger copyright laws to prevent his works being pirated and published in a variety of bastardized forms worldwide.

Dickens' predicament leads us to the current state of movies, plays, and operas in the twentieth-first century.   Through some slight of hand or slight of mental trickery, this century has mistaken the concept of intellectual property for a concept of the personal right of egocentric producers to ignore the directions (and worse, the script or libretto) to produce their own bastardized versions of the original work--the result is usually something that the original artist would not recognize.

Psychologists tell us that our cognitive skills are combinations of the creative, the analytical, and the abstract. Obviously the artist who invents the original uses his creative skill give it birth, but he uses his abstract skills to conceptualize the main ideas of the work and his analytical skill organize and order the work.  Those of us who enjoy the visual spectacle of the work have had the creative work done for us, but we must use our analytical skills to dissect the qualities of the work and our abstract skill to go transform the visual into complex thoughts.  Everyone in the audience has these mental attributes--we do not need a pseudo-psychologist or ideologues to interpret the work for us.  The performing artists give us the work and give us an interpretation, but they do not change the words (or the notes).  Conductors may change the tempo and agree to cuts, but if skillfully done, those changes do not contradict the logic established by the work of the creator.

On the other hand, how do we account for a madman transforming a medieval allegory about a sinner being saved from his own desires by the loving sacrifice of a woman into the story of a videographer making a movie about the life of Jesus.   Aristotle once wrote about the unities of time, place, and action.  We have lost those virtues, but there is still a logic about maintaining the timeframe in which the story was placed, preserving the geographical realm in which the action occurs, and maintaining the themes the artist sought to convey.  Tannhauser could benefit from longer and stronger copyright protection.  But alas, even Wagner suffers from the indignities foisted on him by his heirs  and estate--the very ones who should be safeguarding his intellectual property.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The Roles of Parsifal and Kundry

Wagner stretched the limits--all of the limits.  As his skills and experience expanded and matured, the composer created harmonies, rhythms, and sonorities that his contemporaries considered unplayable: music that was beyond expectations, comfort levels, and first-hearing understanding.  He compelled singers to stretch themselves and their voices beyond the limits of health for many of them.  Yet he tapped into ideas, patterns, and tones that were archetypal, touching the deepest innate sensitivities of listeners, musicians, singers, and conductors--how else explain the devotion of so many who championed him after King Ludwig provided the world the opportunity to hear and see Wagner's works.  So strong were the connections that even those who Wagner mistreated and abused, championed his creations. Literature books in America introduce Willa Cather's "Wagner Matinee" by telling readers that "Wagner's music had as great an impact as The Beatles."

The musicians and conductors adapted and grew to meet the expanding demands that Wagner placed on performers.  Wagner actually forced them to adapt and improve their techniques. Manufacturers redesigned instruments and created new ones to fit the demands of his music. Ears adjust, fingers become more dexterous, endurance is built.  The weak link in this chain is the human voice.  Wagner's epic five-hour marathons put demands on the lead singers that only a few, magnificently strong vocal chords could or can endure.  As Wagner's writing for the heldentenor developed, the roles became longer, more extreme, and more punishing. Siegmund must appear on the stage in Act I, exhausted from his fight and flight through the storm, then sing full voiced throughout the act ending with the incredible recognition scene as he pulls Nothung from the tree.  For those readers curious enough to seek it out, there is a Walse contest of top historic tenors on You-tube demonstrating the strain of that final scene.

It is no wonder that most heldentenors sing themselves out in a few short years.  Not surprisingly, the tenor whose career spanned fifty years--Melchoir-- holds both "Walse" nearly 20 seconds here--nearly triple any of the other singers.   After this scene, Wagner gives Siegmund an intermission and half of the next act to recover before he must sing full voice against another nearly fresh-voiced soprano.  But the role of Siegmund is child's play compared to what Wagner demanded of Siegfried.  First the composer raised the fasch/fach.  Many tenors, including James King, would sing Siegmund, but pass on Siegfried, many because they could not sing the role.  Wagner makes Siegfried, a mere boy, sing through all three acts, and, of course, in the last act he has to sing full voice against a soprano who has yet to sing a note in the opera. The Siegfried role in Gotterdamerung is more challenging because the opera is longer and requires more singing.  Tristan presents as great a challenge.

When he composed Parsifal, Wagner seems to have realized that there were other ways to stretch the vocal quality of his characters.  For all of its chromatic and diapasonic glories, Parsifal is also very much a "visual" opera.  Wagner wants his singers to act as well as sing.  Parsifal appears in all three acts, but the vocal part is in the lower tenor register (with exceptions of the really big scene in Act II).    Most of his role in Act I is "I don't know and Where is the Grail?"  However, Wagner wants Parsifal to be both the Pure Fool and Awakening Erloser as the scene unfolds. This is acting challenge number one. The Second Act presents the second challenge.  Parsifal must become a heldentenor while having his epiphany.  The mood changes three times in the act as Parsifal matures before our eyes from the foolish boy to the victim of seduction to the awakened ersloser to the controlled hero who faces down Klingsor while recovering the lance.  Act III presents the role with its biggest challenge: this is the Act that most affects the audience pulling on their emotions as the sacrifice is explained.  Parsifal is as reactive as he is active moving from guilt to reflection to understanding to redemption. The final scene as he redeems Amfortas and assumes the duty of the Grail is as visual as vocal and when well done, reduces the audience to tears, oxymoronically, of joy.

If the role of Parsifal calls for a special performer, so does that of Kundry.  The role requires the performer to be three different people. In Act I she is the all-knowing wild woman who serves the knights while seeking redemption.  In Act II she is the enslaved seductress whose kiss is the source of Parsifal's epiphany. In Act III, Wagner transforms her into Mary Magdalene and gives her only one word to sing in the entire act-to serve.  She is on stage and integral to the entire act--Wagner does not call her sing, rather he requires her to act.  She is the first instrument for Parsifal, the erloser.  Hers is the first salvation.  The kiss from Act II is now reversed as Parsifal kisses her on the forehead after baptizing her--another kiss that leads to an epiphany as Kundry realizes that she has been redeemed.  Anyone who has watched Waltude Meier in this role will understand how a powerful actress brings the role to fruition beautifully and emotionally.

The roles of Parsifal and Kundry are unique in the Wagner canon.  For once, even in his longest opera, he reduces the singing stress that he usually places on his main characters, but instead, asks them to emote physically and emotionally as actors.  Wagner provides many touching moments in his operas; after all, the dominant theme of his operas is sacrifice. However, the roles of Parsifal and Kundry are so multifaceted that they stand out from the other great Wagner roles.  Only Hans Sachs compares, but his sacrifice is on a more personal and less worldly level. Parsifal and Kundry ironically lift the universal to the personal level, relating the noumenal to the internal world of each of us.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dr. King

In the swirl of time, those events seem to have occurred just yesterday, but sadly they happened nearly fifty years ago.   I remember the late afternoon that I lost my friend.  I worked for him as a volunteer for several years.  We were not close acquaintances, but we were certainly brothers in a cause. In all my time following him, he probably said fewer than fifty words to me, but I remember them all clearly--they echo in my ears today.

When we talk about sacrifice, we have only to mention his name.  His is the picture that comes with the dictionary definition of the word. I love him now even more than I admired him then. The new generation cannot begin to understand who he was or what he did.  His detractors make fools of themselves. His admirers know only half the story. History has a way of clouding the truth--highlighting  and diminishing without real purpose.

We forget that his stance for civil rights went far beyond racial issues.  He stood up for all of the poor and he stood firm against the Vietnam War. He never took the easy road, but instead sought out the road that would lead to positive change. He chose not the stick, but the voice--a voice so skilled that his words resound today.  Those who have not read "Letter from the Birmingham Jail" recently should celebrate his day today by revisiting that work.  The genius of the man shines through as well as his compassion, skill, and philosophy. Caritas is not the answer to everything, but everything that is good results from Caritas. His compassion knew no bounds.