Ask an Opera Critic Baffled by a Contemporary Staging of Wagner’s Ring

Years ago, when Dial M was just starting up, Dan Sharp (an ethnomusicologist then newly graduated from the University of Texas, where I was working at the time, and now at Tulane University) contributed an unforgettable cult-studs reading of Kenny Loggins’ “Don’t Fight It.” In an homage to the Onion’s various advice columns from over the years (my favorite: Ask a High-School Student Who Didn’t Do the Required Reading), Dan now presents “Ask an Opera Critic Baffled by a Contemporary Staging of Wagner’s Ring”:

Dear Opera Critic Baffled by a Contemporary Staging of Wagner’s Ring,

I work at this coffee shop that shall remain nameless, and part of my job as a barista is to be friendly. But my boyfriend visited me at work last week, and I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m being a little too friendly with some of the customers. How can I tell him that it’s not like that without implying that he’s being possessive?

Fresno Flirt

Dear Fresno Flirt,

In the first act of “Siegfried,” which opened on Monday, the setting is supposed to show the forest dwelling where Mime, the Nibelung dwarf, has raised the orphaned Siegfried into brawny young manhood. Here Mime’s home is a trailer-park campsite in front of a stunning scenic riff on Mount Rushmore: The faces of the American presidents have been replaced by Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. But often the oil quest imagery just seems slapped on, literally: for no clear reasons, singers smear one another with crude oil.

Dear Opera Critic Baffled by a Contemporary Staging of Wagner’s Ring,

I’m thinking about buying an awning for my back porch. The only problem is that now it’s basically the end of summer, so I feel like I won’t really get a ton of use out of it. Then again, there are good sales now. What do you think? Should I hold off, or should I just do it now and get it over with so I don’t have to worry about it next year?

Awning In Akron

Dear Awning,

Mr. Castorf’s deeper fault, it seems, was cynically to undercut the musical drama during some of the most romantic, poignant and heroic scenes. My earnest attempt to be open-minded about this baffling “Ring” almost foundered for good near the end of “Siegfried” when (you can’t make this up) a monster crocodile swallowed the poor Forest Bird in one big gulp.

This last scene, of course, is the ecstatic love duet between Siegfried, our rambunctious hero (who, by the way, instead of forging a sword assembles a semiautomatic rifle), and the smitten Brünnhilde. In this production, at the most climactic moment in the music, the stage rotated to reveal two of those monster crocodiles busily copulating.

Dear Opera Critic Baffled by a Contemporary Staging of Wagner’s Ring,

Our son is four years younger than our daughter. Until recently, he’s been fine with his earlier bedtime, but now that he’s 8 and his sister’s 12, he’s asking more and more often to be allowed to stay up as late as she does. How long should we wait before instituting “bedtime equality”?

Double Standard In Des Moines

Dear Double Standard,

As the reptiles crawled closer, the Forest Bird, presented here as an alluring young woman (the soprano Mirella Hagen), burst upon the stage to save the day. Of course, the Forest Bird was not supposed to be in this scene, but who cares what Wagner wrote? This fetching Forest Bird bravely fought off one crocodile by jabbing a pole down its throat. But the other one opened wide and swallowed her whole. Throughout, Siegfried and Brünnhilde seemed only mildly concerned. But then, in Mr. Castorf’s staging, they also seemed only mildly concerned with each other, a much bigger problem.

Confidential To Tormented In Tempe:

Mr. Castorf undermines every passionate flourish in their performances during this crucial scene, which begins at the Marxist Mount Rushmore, then moves to an almost-reproduction of the Alexanderplatz, the Socialist-era transit hub and shopping center in Berlin. 

By the way, just before the opera ends, Siegfried opens the jaws of the crocodile and pulls out the Forest Bird, with whom he had a little tryst in Act II. (Don’t get me started.) First, however, Ms. Foster scurried up a stairway to consult a hairy-chested man, who wheels a baby carriage down the stairs, spilling its contents — potatoes — everywhere. At least they looked like potatoes. If you are expecting me to explain this (or Wotan’s being orally serviced — one Rhinemaiden sucking oil off the finger of another as they look longingly into each other’s eyes), I am sorry to disappoint you.

(Though Dan doesn’t mention it, I believe “Ask an Opera Critic Baffled by a Contemporary Staging of Wagner’s Ring” is syndicated in more than 250 newspapers nationwide.)

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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