Wednesday, 7 July 2010
Holy German art
Yes, that would certainly include - and right at the top of the list alongside Wagner - Gustav Mahler, whose 150th birthday we celebrate today (and I still haven't got to the omphalos, Jihlava).* As Paul Steinberg's brilliant dropcloth for Richard Jones's still simmering-in-the-mind production of Wagner's Meistersinger left us in no doubt, 'heilige Deutsche kunst' extends from Bach and Beethoven to Brecht and Bausch, embracing all German-speaking 'imaginers', as Jones calls them. You can enter the Welsh National Opera competition to guess (or know) all the faces in the collage by e-mailing the answers to firstname.lastname@example.org or post them to WNO. As the above photo seems to be cropped you'll need to get hold of the original postcard. And I confess I still haven't by any means sussed them all.
Great Jones, only visionary of our British theatre (as I keep saying, and I mean it), came to talk to me and the students on Monday. He raised so many interesting points I hadn't even thought of, and here's no place to ennumerate them, but I will add that he told us - in response to one of many articulate questions from my bunch, of whom I was inordinately proud - how a couple of German intendants who came to see the show found this all-inclusive perceived 'apology' for Wagner's definition harder to swallow than we Brits. While we heave a sigh of relief and say, at last we've moved on from the Wagner-and-the-Nazis question, they still seem to be mired in it, perhaps because they haven't been able to discuss it in their own art properly until recently. And then what do you get? Stodgy, trad films like Downfall. Hate to sound superior, because it's their issue, but they still have some way to go.
Had to raise the old 'is Flieder lilac or elder' question again. Richard didn't face it directly, but by talking of the heady sex-magic - my phrase, not his - which the scent seems to work on Sachs, he would seem to incline to the elder-as-aphrodisiac theory. Anyway, having been in enchanted Visby, I can tell you that Sweden, or at least Gotland, is a place where lilac and elder DO flower simultaneously around midsummer; everywhere else, including Nuremberg, lilac is over. But here's the ocular proof:
My thanks to the quietly brilliant Jan Brachmann for drawing my attention to the lilac as I walked around Visby in a bit of a daze.
Can anyone identify this plant, another heady smeller, high on the hill above the Baltic?
I reckon Visby would make a marvellous setting for an outdoor production of Meistersinger, moving from venue to venue. We could start in the Domkyrkan (seen behind the elder in the first picture) - though the modern glass might be a bit of a problem - and move on to Transhusgatan near the botanics for Act 2. No linden is close to hand, but I do think Magdalena-as-Eva could appear at this rose-flanked window.
Then it would be out on to the flowery heath for the final pageant.
And if you want to celebrate Mahler's birthday, what better way to do it than to watch what is bound to be the deepest, most meaningful First Symphony, a just-released DVD of last summer's Lucerne Festival/Abbado performance. Better not enlarge on it now, since my BBC Music Magazine review hasn't yet appeared, but I'll just say, buy it and watch it over and over: you won't regret it.
The third in the great triumvirate, Richard Strauss, also deserves a mention. I hadn't intended to see the revival of David McVicar's very bloody, Salo-esque Salome, but as I was talking before it last night and the Arts Desk hadn't covered it in my absence, I went on to the show after my half-hour Linbury 'performance', and marvelled, as with the ENO Tosca, how a great performance makes you respect the score as the real mover and shaker. Angela Denoke redeemed the tonally awful Nadja Michael performance from the first run, too. More over on The Arts Desk.
Led me to think of all the Salomes I've seen. In a crude nutshell, the ones I can call to mind are: Behrens (goddess), Barstow (goddawful), Tierney (not bad at all), Barker (vocally lustrous, good acting too), Some American in Wales (forgettable, but did bring a bit of tenderness to the final scene), Ewing (dreadful), Gwyneth (vocally tops, acting less good), Malfitano (squally, bit wild in the acting too), Michael (vocally the pits). And now Denoke (almost as good as Behrens, not quite, but probably the most detailed characterisation I've seen).
Finally, on a sobering note, my NBB (New Best Blogfriend) Minnie reminded me in the most eloquent way possible that today may be Mahlerday, but it's also an occasion of sober commemoration. Her focused anger is, at least in my opinion, fully justified. Do take time to read what she has to say.
*but hang on - is it just me or is Mahler really missing from that assemblage of just about all Austro-German greats? Unmoeglich!