Sunday, May 02, 2010

Ending Wagner

At the very end of the Ring Cycle there is a brief moment when we see that the age of the gods is over and the age of humanity is beginning. It only lasts a couple of minutes but it is of vital importance to the piece - all the fighting of the gods leads to this, the making of humanity. After 17+ hours, the audience can finally exhale. The leitmotif that plays at the end makes this very clear. A production that doesn't recognize it makes a big mistake. I know - I saw one once: it was a deflating experience.

At the end of The Flying Dutchman, when the young woman Senta is shot dead, the music suddenly changes from dark and menacing to romantic and optimistic. It only lasts a moment, but that music ends the opera. It is clear that Wagner intends that Senta and the flying Dutchman are both saved by her death: he has been cursed to immortal life on the sea, and can only be saved by a woman who promises and delivers on loving him until her death. She promised him her love, and continued loving him until her death.

It is unfortunate that the COC production of The Flying Dutchman, mounted in 2000 and currently being revived at the Four Seasons Center, misses the ending - either misses it, or handles it so subtlely that the audience misses it. Senta just falls down dead, and the Dutchman walks up a staircase holding her wedding veil, but that's it.

I can see that it's difficult to do justice to these brief but monumental Wagner endings, but opera productions must.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, as has often been said, the best thing about Wagner is that it's not as bad as it sounds.

Thanks for the review!