So, this is new! Completing an entry twice in one month! But I think I can explain the urge: it feels like every day might be the end of the world, kind of. All you have to do is go to a news channel and read the news. Somehow it seems that we are only one tweet away from a nuclear holocaust, so, I guess, since I have nothing else to leave behind, at least I should try and finish this list. And, my subject today speaks of a doomsday, so it is somewhat fitting. And by saying that, I have already spoiled the story for everyone, so today, breaking with tradition, I will not warn you about spoilers.
The other week I went to see “Thor: Ragnarok”, which was a very pleasant film, even though the subject is not. And it reminded me of a beautiful scene from “Penny Dreadful” (canceled after three seasons and just as things were really heating up) between Vanessa and Cat (yet another phenomenal casting of both characters, with chemistry that went through the roof, but cancellation…) where the newly introduced thanatologist Cat (played by Perdita Weeks, who, next to Sasha Alexander’s Maura Isles somehow succeeded in making death sound sexy) enlightens Vanessa Ives thusly: “The end of days is the one universal constant in thanatology. All men… all cultures that have ever trod the earth, have foreseen the apocalypse. But, no matter the language, the drama always ends the same way: the curtain falls on a stage bedecked with bodies and there is nothing but silence, and Death holds all dominion.” Which, in essence, is what happens in Richard Wagner’s fourth installment of his Ring-Tetralogy “Götterdämmerung”. Now, I will not go into details about what happens in this opera, because this, along with pretty much everything that Wagner has composed, I truly hate. I will however advise you to watch the following video of Anna Russell, who was a brilliant performer and could make even Wagner sound fun!
Now, here’s the deal: As I’ve mentioned, I hate Wagner. And I know I am not alone. Wagner is one of those things that are black or white – there is no in-between. Or is there? If Wagner were alive today, he would probably be considered a perverted eccentric with anti-Semitic views. But, aside from his very problematic character and position in the history of music, one has to acknowledge a few contributions he made: first of all, no movie soundtrack (especially the ones that accompany science-fiction and historical epics) would ever exist – and, yes, one iconic scene of film would also not exist without Wagner’s input (https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=apocalypse+now+helicopter+attack). He also solidified the musical idea of the “theme song”, officially called the “leitmotiv” and used it extensively in his operas.
Barring these accomplishments, Wagner’s operas – because let’s face it, that’s pretty much everyone knows of him (the Wesendonck cycle being a possible exception) – are terrible on a number of points. First, and this is quite surprising, since he was such an ardent lover of the fair sex, his female characters are incredibly weak and stupid. Even Brünnhilde, the infamous Valkyrie, doesn’t come off unscathed, especially in the third and fourth installments of the Ring cycle. And what’s with the name “Elisabeth” and its variants? From a man who fell in love with a “Cosima”, one might expect more when it comes to naming his female protagonists! And don’t get me started on his male heroes… They are the absolute epitome of the patriarchy and those that fall through the cracks (just the one, really, Tannhäuser) are no fun, at all! They demand fidelity from their women, they hate change (and those that try to promote it, are clear misfits, e.g. “Meistersinger von Nürnberg” plot, and yes I know that Wagner saw himself as the misfit in this plot) and they are cunning, cruel and pure egotistical bastards – essentially, Wagner himself. Then, of course, we have the poetry, which Wagner wrote himself, because no one could do it better (or so he thought). As a result, his operas, even the early ones, easily clock at a three and a half hours of music, because Wagner had never heard of an editor… As for the plots themselves, well, you saw the video with Anna Russell – it doesn’t get any better, believe me.
Now, here’s the deal: Wagner may have been a lousy human being (he was), but he was a talented composer. The problem I have with his music, however, is that for the really phenomenal moments, you have to wait for a very long time. Case in point: “Götterdämmerung”. If there is one piece of orchestral music that contains all the gravitas and pain of death in it, then it is the funeral march for Siegfried. I mean, even I get misty eyed and goosebumps when I listen to it! Forget about the silly plot, the moment this starts playing, all you can do is let yourself go in its darkness.
So, there you have it: Wagner makes the “end of days” sound… important, I guess? But this excerpt (and a few others) will never make me like him, period.