Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde

Giovanni Piranesi, le Carceri d’Invenzione

Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde                         

Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, Bayreuth Festival, Germany, directed by Katharina Wagner, conducted by Christian Thielemann, Thursday, 16 August 2018, reviewed by TONY COOPER

This production of Tristan und Isolde by Katharina Wagner first came to the stage in 2015, the 150th anniversary of its world première at Munich. It immediately found favour with the cognoscenti on the Green Hill.

Wagner himself rated Tristan as one of his ‘favourites’ and Katharina Wagner – artistic director of the Bayreuth Festival, daughter of Wolfgang Wagner and great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner – tapped into the opera’s emotional strength to deliver a powerful and compelling production that drifted at times away from its traditional staging, especially at the end.

In the highly-impressive first act, not just musically but also visually, Tristan and Isolde frantically search for each other with Kurwenal and Brangäne struggling to keep them apart. When they eventually meet it, proved a powerful and compelling scene. The lovers stare longingly at each other in total silence and they immediately discard the love potion that Brangäne had prepared for Isolde.

Frank Philipp Schlößmann and Matthias Lippert’s brilliantly-designed set comprised a three-dimensional labyrinth of stairs evaporating into thin air influenced, as the programme notes, by Giovanni Piranesi’s engraving – Il ponte levatoio: Le Carceri d’Invenzione (The drawbridge: the Imaginary Prison).

The visual impact of the opera was enhanced by Thomas Kaiser’s strikingly-designed costumes ranging from medieval to futuristic styles, while Reinhard Traub’s lighting reflected the dark and moody nature of the piece but was seen to its best effect in the last act.

The scenario of act two was played out in a prison exercise yard with hints of the DDR, as Stasi-styled guards (King Marke’s henchmen in this case) constantly checked the lovers, forced into a tiny cell, intimidating them with piercingly-bright searchlights. Eventually, Tristan, blindfolded, is stabbed in the back by Melot (the role memorably sung by Raimund Nolte) who played the part with a suggestion of nervousness and uncertainty. Was he just carrying out King Marke’s orders or secretly jealous of Tristan’s relationship with Isolde?

In the final act, the staging is dark, atmospheric and cloaked in a thin hazy bluish-grey mist (aided by a semi-transparent curtain) with the tension rising to breaking-point as Tristan tries in vain to reach out to his beloved Isolde one last time by seeking her through a series of triangular mirrors. Appearing and disappearing at whim the length and breadth of the stage, the mirrors reflected a profusion of distorted images of Isolde, eventually driving Tristan mad.

The casting was excellent. American heldentenor, Stephen Gould, sang Tristan forcefully and passionately. But Georg Zeppenfeld, like René Pape last season, another superstar of the Green Hill, matched his performance as King Marke, while Petra Lang – a former mezzo but now hitting the soprano range – delivered a brilliant reading of Isolde. Handpicked and coached for the part by Bayreuth’s well-respected music director, Christian Thielemann, Ms Lang excelled, notably in that great love-duet with Tristan towards the end of act two, known as ‘Liebesnacht’ – a long, eloquent moving expression summing up a Transfigured love which prefers night to day and death to life.

Ms Lang is no stranger to Bayreuth. She sang Brangäne in Tristan in 2005 and 2006 and Ortrud in Hans Neuenfels’ production of Lohengrin. Her vocal command and dramatic characterisation speak for themselves. In the ‘Liebestod’ (Love-Death) which ends the opera, Isolde softly cradled her dead Hero, while King Marke, now showing a tinge of humility, looking on. A well-loved scene indeed but reinterpreted by Katharina Wagner in a bold way as Marke (during the final bars of the opera) drags the body of Isolde (very much alive it seems in this production but perhaps only an apparition) across a bare stage thereby claiming his rightful bride kidnapped by his nephew. Here, Ms Lang delivered a brilliant and illuminating reading of this dramatic piece of composition that stamped her credentials on this most demanding of Wagner’s female roles.

Maestro Thielemann tackled the score with gusto, getting from his charges in the pit some rich, imaginative and warm playing. In this opera, the orchestra plays a dominant role by commenting on every psychological and dramatic development through a series of leitmotivs and the endless melodising that Wagner substituted for arias and duets.

Tony Cooper is QR’s Opera Critic

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The Professor versus the Philosopher

George Parkin Grant

 The Professor versus the Philosopher

by Mark Wegierski

In recent years, the Canadian establishment media have relentlessly criticized George Parkin Grant (1918-1988), one of Canada’s pre-eminent thinkers. Some years ago, an editorial article in Saturday Night, at that time a leading magazine, decried the supposed prevalence of “the Creighton-Grant nationalist thesis.” Donald Creighton was Canada’s long-deceased, pre-eminent, conservative nationalist historian. In response to the publication of Grant’s Selected Letters, edited by William Christian, University of Toronto Press, 1996, the well-known literary figure, Robert Fulford, wrote a snide review “Re-evaluating praise for George Grant.” (The Globe and Mail, September 11, 1996), in which he expressed surprise at Grant’s religious beliefs. Thomas Hurka’s column of March 17, 1992, also in The Globe and Mail– entitled “Thomas Hurka laments George Grant’s ideas on the morality of technology”, was another pointed example of this harping against Grant. It seems to have become a Canadian “tradition” to deride Canada’s genuine achievers — from philosophers and literary critics, such as Northrop Frye, to business people and even pop-stars (such as Bryan Adams) – while elevating “politically-correct” mediocrities.

Professor Hurka’s by-line states that he “teaches philosophy at the University of Calgary specializing in ethics.” However, judging from his Grant piece, as well as his last column during this major stint at The Globe and Mail, “Thomas Hurka explains why academic writing is so boring and the musings of journalists are so shallow,” March 24, 1992, he seems unaware of certain developments in modern philosophy.

The latter is now heavily influenced by subjective and hermeneutic approaches, as Hurka’s citing of Nietzsche as well as Derrida in that last column shows. However, the paradigm of scholarship Hurka describes in his last piece appears outdated. Much of modern philosophy has abandoned the goal of attaining pure objectivity, and no longer posits that it is readily accessible to the practitioner.

The academy is in no way immune from the passions of political polemic which Hurka thinks confined to the worlds of journalism, business, and conventional politics. Indeed, university professors are renowned for their hair-splitting quarrels, their Machiavellian intrigues to advance their status and their willingness to damn to scholarly oblivion anyone who diverges from their various pet-theories. Today, it is widely considered that all arguments outside the purest “hard sciences” are in fact “interested” and “clouded” by subjective and emotional responses. The positivist consensus of the 1950s is long-gone — and it is generally accepted that, even in the physical sciences, paradigms are postulated first, and then the appropriate facts are found to support the paradigms.

Many thinkers point to the deep problem of the all-devouring nature of the subjective approach in philosophy and other areas of study outside the physical sciences, and that the philosopher must admit to being a sort of polemicist. The issue of the inaccessibility of an absolute grounding of one’s philosophical position, especially in its ethical dimension — and on what basis one can make such “truth-claims” — is arguably the central issue of modern philosophy.

The position of classical moral theory (as described by Professor Hurka) — that “what’s good and evil is independent of our will and should guide it” — clearly does not correspond with the picture of the human personality as it is understood today. We generally desire that which we think to be “good,” and we in most cases do that which we find in some sense “pleasurable,” or which helps us avoid “pain,” but the ultimate roots of our behaviours and beliefs — although they can be endlessly speculated upon — can never be fully uncovered. A sharp line of distinction between behaviour motivated by human reason and behaviour motivated by human desire cannot be established. The notion of an objective external ethical absolute is arguably a fiction — however necessary it may be for the functioning of human personality and society — and that ultimately, for every person, “right and wrong are whatever we want them to be,” though what we “want” is based, in varying degrees, on our place in society and history, family conditioning and biological make-up, as well as other, less discernible and perhaps unknowable factors.

Professor Hurka’s triumphalist “trouncing” of George Grant as a philosopher can be viewed as an appeal to Hurka’s own “authority” as a paragon of Western Aristotelian logic, and also on his prestige as someone who teaches philosophy at a prestigious university, and writes a newspaper column.

In regard to modern technology, which Hurka says we choose to construct in a way which serves human purposes, Grant would riposte that it ends up creating drives and tendencies independent of human control, and that these drives and tendencies, generally-speaking, have a negative effect, from the standpoint of premodern notions of the good. The computer ultimately imposes on us the ways in which it will be used — and these are frequently maleficent directions!

Although both Grant and Hurka espoused a similar epistemology (one that recognised the possibility of a discernible, objective standard), Grant had thought deeply about the problem of subjectivity in late modernity. He had retained a belief in a transcendent God, as Professor William Christian reminds us, in his March 18, 1992, “Feedback” piece “The philosopher, the vacuum cleaner and the perfection of God”, in The Globe and Mail.

Moreover, Grant was aware of the dystopic nature of late modernity. He did not repose — over-sanguine, content, unalienated, and without serious reflection — in the bosom of this late modernity. George Parkin Grant was a person who, confronting the near-insanity and surreal texture of life in our period, the repudiation of nearly all hitherto-existing notions of the good, anchored his hopes on the idea of an absolute, transcendent standard in the heavens, which he called “God.”

Other possible positions of resistance are some types of “immanentism,” which see something like human nature — as understood by the thinker — itself constituting a standard; also, some types of “historicism,” which see human history and the rooted communities derived therefrom, as a standard; or “existentialism,” which, while it realizes that there are no ultimate standards, makes the struggle a choice of will, and of commitment to one’s own posited humanity and genuine inner freedom.

The notion that contemporary society is “inclusive” or “pluralistic” — that it does not strive to impose a single, ultimately narrow vision of the good on everyone — is a delusion. Mass-marketing, mass-media, mass-education and state-therapeutic systems have conferred an unprecedented power to supersaturate a person with their views. And although we are ostensibly free to make choices concerning sexual practices, luxury foods, market-labels, retirement options, or conventional entertainments and amusements — which is often mistaken for “pluralism” – it is increasingly difficult to articulate any alternative notion of the good.

Professor Hurka believes that in the liberal order, technology can be used in a “positive” way. Grant’s thesis, in contrast, is that the development of modern technology, however initially attractive, is ultimately destructive of people’s humanity. George Grant argued furthermore that “liberalism is the perfect ideology for capitalism,” i.e., that there is a powerful nexus between the development of a certain type of liberalism and the development of a hyper-technological economy. Social liberalism, basically coterminous with increasing consumption and the economic conservatism of the corporations, go hand in hand. Herbert Marcuse and the chairman of General Motors are travelling on the same road to Huxley’s “liberated” Brave New World. The apposite metaphor here is a never-ending orgy in which “all of our various orifices are incessantly satisfied,” but everything of real human worth and meaning has been lost.

As modern Western technology encroaches upon the world, our fate is most likely one of three alternatives: the relatively near-term extinction of human beings through some massive technologically-derived and/or ecological disaster; the extinction of human beings over the next few hundred years in grotesque satiation (if technology does indeed “solve” all of our problems, but without our ability to set any kind of limits on it); or the annihilation of the West and choking off of technological over-development by more vital, prolific peoples possessing a greater measure of life-instinct. The possibilities of Western cultural and social renewal, and of the West’s own taming of its technology, now seem remote.

In a world of genetic experimentation, of carrots with the genes of mice, of flies engineered with eyes in places where they never naturally occur, of mice with genetically human blood, all of which are violations of the natural order, Professor Hurka’s criticism of George Grant is petty.

Only by reflecting on technology and about the way the world is going can anything recognizably human be salvaged from the wreck to come. George Grant was a brave and authentic thinker who gave to these issues the most serious consideration.

Sociologist Mark Wegierski writes from Toronto

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The New Oxford Annotated Bible

Arch of Titus, spoils of the Roman plunder of Jerusalem 

The New Oxford Annotated Bible

5thedition, Oxford University Press, fully revised and expanded, NRSV with Apocrypha. Pp. xxiii, 2416, ISBN: 978-0190276096. $95.00., reviewed by Darrell Sutton

When Early Modern English was becoming the vernacular speech, Edward VI (1537-1553) removed restrictions on the printing of the Bible. Mary Tudor (1516-1568) later reversed these changes. Once again, the Crown looked favorably on Catholicism. So Reformers went into exile, during which time a Church of England was formed in Geneva. There, the “Marian Exiles” agreed to undertake a new rendition of the scriptures. The Geneva Bible of 1560 was the fruit of their extensive labors. It was unique, seeing that it contained not only a new translation, but also over 300,000 annotations to the text. The exiles’ popular interpretations of the English text and alternate renderings of Hebrew and Greek terms opened the minds of citizens whose thoughts had been inured to established beliefs. Since that time, new interpretative ideas and arguments have been received; closed-mindedness has gone out of fashion.

From its inception in 1962, The Oxford Annotated Bible provided students of scripture with non-traditional insights into the contours of the development of the canon. The transformation of the New Oxford Annotated Bible (NOAB) is now complete. Originally edited by Herbert May and Bruce Metzger, cutting edge scholarship on the text and context of scripture was popularized. May was a distinguished Old Testament specialist; Metzger was a recognized doyen of New Testament textual criticism. May and Metzger found various facets of select biblical books dubious and legendary. They were broad-minded; but they still maintained sympathies toward the salvific work of Christ outlined in the New Testament. Scholarship advanced in profound ways through their researches. But in light of some of the notes now accepted in the Bible under review, both May and Metzger could be considered somewhat conformist.

Containing sixteen Apocryphal/Deutero-canonical books, the NOAB 5th ed. is advertised as “An Ecumenical Study Bible”. Edited by Michael D. Coogan, along with associate editors Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom and Pheme Perkins, the ripest fruit of biblical investigations is presented. More than 50 respected scholars were involved in the elucidation of the books. Several of them also supplied scholarship for The Jewish Study Bible (2004). The NRSV text remains essentially the same except for the inclusion of information from United Bible Societies Greek New Testament, 4thed. (see Textual Criticism, p.2246); notes at the bottom of the page have been revised. New interpretative essays were commissioned.

The Editor’s Preface (p.xiii) states:

The editors recognize that no single interpretation or approach is sufficient for informed reading of these ancient texts, and have aimed at inclusivity of interpretive strategies.

Yet academics who hold Low Church views or Evangelical positions are absent from the list of contributors on page v. Consequently the editor and associate Editors do not appear to have achieved the inclusivity for which they aimed. The volume is thick at c.2400 pages. Each contributing editor to individual books was free to pursue his or her own lines of inquiry. This liberty takes them in different directions. And their independence of thought is refreshing. The historical critical method is the main tool employed in the analyses of texts; the use of typology as an implement for demonstrating that Jesus Christ was the realization of ancient Jewish longing, and the messianic fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, is regularly overlooked; but typology is mentioned in the essay ‘Christian Interpretation in the Premodern Era’ (p.2267).

Evidence for literary allusion is strained at times: e.g., competent Hellenists may doubt that Paul had Plato’s Phaedra 245c-257d in mind when he wrote his defense of Jesus’ resurrection in I Corinthians 15. And the editors are sensitive, indeed almost apologetic, about accounts in the New Testament that put Jewish parties in a negative light, but they are not so touchy about ancient Jewish warfare against the inhabitants of Canaan’s districts.

Few should doubt the perspicuity of the editors. But after two centuries of critical studies, better grounds are needed for solving difficulties than the inclusion of the quip ‘what so and so writes in the text of scripture is untrue.’ As for commentators, the claims of naiveté that are leveled so readily at holders of conventional views today, seem to fit equally well those erudite persons whose scholarship has not proceeded beyond the “assured scientific results” of yesteryear’s Teutonic studies. Parsons and laypersons today who disallow critical remarks into their spheres of interpretation, usually do so after consciously weighing those remarks against statements made by persons in the New Testament whose recorded speeches consist of allusions and quotations from the Old Testament, a body of documentary literature that was believed to have been properly conserved and passed down.

Biblical writers who cited wording from biblical texts composed in previous centuries believed that the MSS from which they quoted were trustworthy and reliable. It remains an inexplicable wonder that Jesus and other New Testament authors seem wholly unaware of the most rudimentary claims made by modern biblical critics, i.e., that Jewish ancient texts were incorrectly preserved, that their origins and compositional forms were attributed to the wrong writers, and that they were habitually misunderstood by successive generations of rabbis and readers.

Upon those unsuspecting convictions, customary views of Christians were based, from the literate circles of the early sects of Christendom up to Medieval and Renaissance times. Since the Enlightenment, induction in the fundamentals of “critical” scholarship of the Bible has produced academics that now may be rightly labeled ‘traditionists’. The traditional texts and interpretations they revere are also numerous, being visible everywhere to close readers of this new study-bible. Below, a few of the NOAB editors’ opinions are presented;

Genesis: note at 3:1-24: Of Adam and Eve – ‘Though the story is often taken by Christians as an account of “original sin”, the word “sin” never occurs in it. Instead, it is a sophisticated narrative describing how God’s acts and their aftermath lead to the formation of fully adult, mortal humans to till the earth … .’

Exodus: note at 12:29-52: Of the flight from Egypt, ‘like virtually every stop on the journey, they cannot be clearly identified and do not reflect accurate or actual memories. Six hundred thousand men is hyperbole … .’

Daniel: p.1249: ‘According to ch 1, Daniel was taken to Babylon at the beginning of the Babylonian exile and was chosen to serve in the royal court. This setting, however, does not necessarily reflect the realities of the book’s historical context and composition. Several major historical errors in ch 1 suggest that the author wrote long after the Babylonian conquest of Judah and very likely was not attempting to write a historical account at all, but rather a series of historical fictions set in that time period.’

Jonah: p.1320: ‘Jonah is not a historical book in the sense of recalling events that actually occurred.’

The above quotations illustrate the low view of scripture by all of the editors. Their observations deserve to be read carefully because, as is apparent, thorough going “skepticism” is now the dominant mode of approach to the study of the Bible in universities and divinity departments in which they teach.

The editors supplied the NRSV with a superb apparatus. They did so as they kept nearby the source-texts in their original languages. All of the scholarly devices (footnotes and essays etc.) equip students with resources necessary to agree or disagree with specific annotations. Here and there the notes contain gems of historical details about the ancient near east.

In the main, the footnotes develop ideas on the crucifixion and resurrection in a clear-cut manner. Greek and Roman literature is cited in ways that are commensurate to the discussion; but every note on same-sex relations misleads readers, except the one at I Corinthians 6:1-11. Though I disagree with much that is written in various book introductions, each editor writes clearly and adeptly. The editors are well aware that there are elements of truth in the Apocryphal books. Dates and figures are discussed fairly in Kings and Chronicles. The “Dead Sea Scrolls” and Septuagint are used to explain several textual variations. The former of the two frequently is treated as if they were much more true to fact than the “canonical” texts to which some editors are appending notes.

The place in the road to which scholars have come is an intersection. A new course is needed. The road to here has been long. The old findings, although redressed in new questions, seem commonplace. Literary exposition is an ever-developing field of study. Invention and reinvention creates new ways of looking at texts, and refurbishes old models, renewing them for the next generation. There are examples – 19thcentury German scholarship forever altered the way academics dealt with cuneiform, Hieroglyph, Sanskrit, Greek and Latin literature and the Bible. Biblical scholars in the west, whose criticisms were founded on rationalist thought and not on any objective appreciation or treatment of supernaturalism, still have been unable to emancipate their researches from German cynicism. In these studies, miraculous occurrences are downplayed. Such investigations are carried out with clinical solemnity and do not inspire confidence in Christians, Jews or in some cases, Muslims.

So in NOAB, Genesis through Deuteronomy is still regarded as a patchwork of accounts, some true and some false, arranged in their present form by prejudiced editors. And Joshua is thought to contain reports of a conquest that are unquestionably erroneous (see p.322); in Judges, the literary redactor is said to have represented northern heroes in an apostate culture, but showed a positive bias toward the tribe of Judah in the southern Kingdom (p.359). The NOAB editor for Samuel doubts that it is ‘a narrative of history’ (p.405). Evidently ‘Esther contains some folktale motifs’ (p.715). Job is described as a ‘naïve narrative’ of a ‘folktale world’ (p.779). Isaiah wrote chapters 1-39, then an editor composed 2nd Isaiah, chapters 40-55 and later the redactor of 3rd Isaiah, chapters 56-66, came to collect the speeches of several unknown prophets (p.977). Moreover, Zachariah wrote chapters 1-8 of his scrolls, but someone else compiled 9-14 (p.1357).

As for how the New Testament should be understood, in the opening essay, which is entitled ‘The Introduction to The Gospels’, we encounter these words:

Scholars who reject biography as a description of the Gospels often overemphasize the ideological or legendary elements found in the narratives. They prefer to read the Gospels as etiological legends explaining the emergence of a new religion or as ideological representations of the Christology of particular early Christian communities. Such writings … operate like myths and symbols to support Christian beliefs and practices (p.1777).

Authorial inscriptions in the NOAB that are attached to several New Testament epistles are doubted. Nothing new exists in that regard. Aside from titular statements ascribed to the Church Fathers, no one can definitively show epistolary origins anyway. For some reason, however, the Pax Augusta assigned to the period of Augustus’ rule (27BC-AD14) is routinely interpreted by biblical critics to have been a time of peace (see note at Luke 2:1-7). Untrue: keep in mind the Pannonian Revolt in 6-9AD. Oddly, John 21:1-25 is considered to be a later addition to the Gospel. How one could know if the chapter was written 1 year or 125 years afterward without any identifying markers in the text is anyone’s guess.

This edition has its merits. A number of individual books deserve notice. Among them, the technicalities of Leviticus are handled well. And readers of the Psalms will not be left in the dark as obscure idioms of hymns are expounded. The notes to Proverbs are encyclopedic and constitute an excellent compendium of insights. Jeremiah and the Maccabees exemplify the results of superlative researches. The Commentaries to The Gospel of John, Hebrews and Revelation prove that a theology ensconced in metaphors can be agreeably managed.

This Bible will likely find an abundance of readers. Politically correct churches will urge it upon their parishioners. But it will not dissolve the doubts that people have about the verity of the religious beliefs of Jesus Christ. One hopes that serious students of the Bible will not presume that the published researches in the NOAB are representative of the views of mainstream scholars or of adherents to Judaism and Christianity around the world. Depending on how it is used privately, the volume is to be recommended for purchase, but it should be read with caution alongside study editions issued by Christian committees of other traditions.

[On page 2293 Israel is misspelled “Irael”]

Darrell Sutton resides in Red Cloud, Nebraska (USA), where he oversees multiple congregations and writes on biblical and classical literature

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, 2018

Haus Wahnfried

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, 2018

Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Bayreuth Festival Germany, Saturday 11th August 2018, directed by Barrie Kosky, conducted by Philippe Jordan,reviewed by TONY COOPER

An innovative, flamboyant and quirky director, Barrie Kosky (artistic director of Komische Oper Berlin) delivered a brilliant and entertaining production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, first seen at last year’s Bayreuth Festival.

Born in Melbourne in the late 1960s, the grandson of Jewish emigrants from Europe, his name in now indelibly linked to Bayreuth’s glorious history as he is the first Jewish director in its illustrious 142-year-old history. He is also the first person outside of the Wagner family to direct Meistersinger at Bayreuth’s Festspielhaus, built to stage Wagner’s mighty canon of Teutonic works, especially Der Ring des Nibelungen.

That constitutes a significant step by Katharina Wagner – artistic director of the Bayreuth Festival and daughter of Wolfgang Wagner and the great-grand daughter of Richard Wagner – in acknowledging Wagner’s anti-Semitic stance and his family’s later association with Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. Ditto, the revamped exhibition focusing on the Bayreuth Festival housed in the newly-restored Villa Wahnfried, complete with a new extension, where Wagner lived with his wife Cosima and their children from 1874 to 1882. A museum since 1976 (it reopened to the public just over three years ago) this is the first time that the era of the Third Reich has found a place in the exhibition.

In Kosky’s riveting production of Die Meistersinger – a work that is essentially a hymn to the supremacy of German art – Wahnfried takes centre stage and features prominently in the first act, replacing the traditional setting of St Catherine’s Church. Here we meet Herr Wagner and his wife Cosima entertaining friends in the book-lined drawing-room, engaged in a ‘read-through’ of Meistersinger in which the Jewish conductor, Hermann Levi – who conducted the first performance of Wagner’s Christian-based and final work, Parsifal, in July 1882 – is portrayed (and humiliated) as Sixtus Beckmesser.

The pivotal role of Walther von Stolzing, portrayed as Young Wagner, was sung by a ‘favourite’ of the Green Hill, Klaus Florian Vogt. His entrance into Wahnfried’s elegantly-furnished drawing-room was unorthodox as he came by a precarious route tumbling from a model of Wagner’s Steinway Grand. Waiting for him at the other end was Eva (portrayed as Cosima) eloquently sung by American soprano, Emily Magee.

The Master Singers arrive by the same precarious route with the chains of office denoting their trade dangling from their necks, and robed in traditional processional gowns, inspired, perhaps, by the Nuremberg painter/printmaker Albrecht Dürer.

Rebecca Ringst’s sets captured the correct scale and detail of the opera’s respective scenes. For instance, Wahnfried – created as a doll’s-house box set – was as accurate as one could possibly get. So, too, was room 600 used for the Nuremberg Trials of 1945-46, while costume designer, Klaus Bruns, was just as thoughtful in his ideas and produced a good wardrobe.

Kosky gave a dramatic and stylish ending to act one as Wahnfried slowly retracted to reveal room 600 with a single GI on duty. The same set was cleverly adapted for the second act but the courtroom floor, free of furniture and completely grassed over, found Wagner and Cosima enjoying an al fresco lunch.

One of the highlights of this act was the formidable tête-à-tête between Hans Sachs (Old Wagner) – sung and brilliantly acted by Michael Volle – and Sixtus Beckmesser – sung by Johannes Martin Kränzle, whose performance was imbued with humour, trepidation and uncertainty. The scene was well executed with Sachs as always interrupting proceedings and greatly upsetting Beckmesser in the process by bumbling away with his old cobbler’s song while hammering the soles of Eva’s half-made shoes with Eva (in fact, her maid Magdalena in disguise) looking completely disinterested from the first-floor window. That inspiring Austrian bass, Günter Groissböck, stamped his authority on the role of Veit Pogner, Eva’s wealthy (and dominant) father.

When David, sung by Daniel Behle, sees Beckmesser – who in Kosky’s thinking is an epitome of everything that Wagner hated – serenading his girlfriend Magdalena (Wiebke Lehmkuhl) all hell breaks loose.

And with Kosky portraying Levi as Beckmesser, a disturbing scene brought act two to an unsettling close as Beckmesser became the target of a pogrom-style attack. The townsfolk flared up in arms egging on the forces of evil and the Bayreuth stage  was dominated by an inflatable caricature of a Jew, reminiscent of Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer. Only the lone figure of The Nightwatchman (Tobias Kehrer), calling out the hour, restored peace and tranquillity to the neighbourhood.

The Morgentraum Quintet, arguably the composer’s greatest ensemble piece, celebrates the radiance of love and art. It was beautifully sung by the opera’s five main characters in the confines of the empty Nuremberg courtroom with the flags of the four occupying nations – the Soviet Union, Great Britain, the USA and France – unfurled and lining the back of the court.

Another great moment in the opera’s scenario was Hans Sachs’ ‘Wahn Monologue’ – a tribute to Holy German Art – also sung on a bare stage with no pageantry and colour whatsoever. It would have been different, of course, in Wagner’s day but, nonetheless, it seemed appropriate within Kosky’s staging.

Later in the same act, Sachs, in the guise of his mentor and creator, Richard Wagner, finds himself in the witness-box of courtroom 600 facing the music. Mr Kosky sprang a huge surprise here that had the audience mesmerised when an entire symphony orchestra (and chorus) – an ending of Wagnerite proportions – arrived on a slowly-moving platform to the front of the stage. The ‘musicians’ were acted but it was hard to define and became a talking-point. However, as they came into view, the walls of the courtroom slowly vanished out of sight reminiscent of the retraction of Wahnfried in the first act with room 600 slowly coming into view.

Mr Kosky has produced a Meistersinger to be proud of, which puts Richard Wagner – who considered Jews as enemies not only of German culture but of humanity – firmly in his place. But whatever brickbats you throw at him, he left a great musical legacy.

The man in charge of the pit, Swiss-born Philippe Jordan, who takes over as music director of the Vienna State Opera in 2020, made his Bayreuth début with this production last year. He kept the right balance between the pit and the stage. In the famous C major overture he let rip but in the rich and tender opening bars of act three he reigned in the orchestra enough to capture the essence, richness and beauty of Wagner’s wonderful score.

The chorus director, Eberhard Friedrich, came up trumps, too. His choral forces enjoyed their own curtain-call. The audience roared their approval for several minutes and then carried on for another 25 minutes in true Bayreuth style for the main curtain-call.

The Quarterly Review is a free, online journal. We have no source of income other than readers’ donations. If you enjoy reading QR, please consider making a one-off or regular contribution today in order to secure our future.

Go to the Donations page from the Home page and use the PayPal link.

Tony Cooper is QR’s Opera Critic

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How the Left Stole Liberalism and Betrayed the West

Ludwig von Mises

How the Left Stole Liberalism and Betrayed the West

by Ilana Mercer

Liberals have taken to promoting socialism, which is the state-sanctioned appropriation of private property. Or, communism. In communism’s parlance, this theft of a man’s life, labor and land is referred to as state-ownership of the means of production.

Liberals are less known for misappropriating intellectual concepts. But they do that, too. Take the term “liberal.” It once belonged to the good guys. But socialists, communists and Fabians stole it from us.

Having originally denoted the classical liberalism of the 18thand early 19th century, “liberal” used to be a beautiful word. However, to be a liberal now is to be a social democrat, a leftist, a BLM, antifa and MeToo movementarian; it’s to be Chris and Andrew Cuomo.

A French classical liberal, Benjamin Constant (1767-1830), explained what liberalism stood for:

Individuals must enjoy a boundless freedom in the use of their property and the exercise of their labor, as long as in disposing of their property or exercising their labor they do not harm others who have the same rights.

This is the opposite of communism aka socialism.

By harm, likewise, classical liberals mean aggression, as in damage to person or property. But to contemporary liberals, “harm” encompasses anything from Donald Trump’s delicious tweets to the economic competition posed by a kiddie lemonade stand.

In the UK, those in-the-know still use the word liberal in the right way. The august Economist—essential reading, because unlike American news outlets, it covers The News—has recently lamented that democracies are drifting towards “xenophobic nationalism,” and away from liberal ideas.

At the same time, the magazine allows that “liberalism is a broad church.” It mentions the “Austrians” as being among liberalism’s “forerunners”—a mention that gave me, a devotee of economist Ludwig von Mises, the opening that I needed.

So, let me ask the following. Have the Economist’s left-liberal editorializers (excellent writers all) read what liberal extraordinaire von Mises had to say about nationalism vis-à-vis immigration?

Mises was a Jewish classical liberal in the best of traditions—a political economist second to none. He escaped the Nazis only to be treated shoddily in the American academy, by the Fabian “forerunners” of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Another formidable, younger classical liberal thinker and friend is David Conway. Dr. Conway has argued most convincingly and methodically—he’s incapable of arguing any other way—that nationalism is in fact a condition for the emergence of liberalism.

To that end, Conway invokes Mises. In  “Liberalism: In the Classical Tradition,” published in 1927, Mises warned that,

In the absence of any migration barriers whatsoever, vast hordes of immigrants … would … inundate Australia and America. They would come in such great numbers that it would no longer be possible to count on their assimilation. If in the past immigrants to America soon adopted the English language and American ways and customs, this was in part due to the fact that they did not come over all at once in such great numbers. … This … would now change, and there is real danger that the ascendancy—or more correctly, the exclusive dominion—of the Anglo-Saxons in the United States would be destroyed.

Mises was not only a true liberal, but a master of the art of argument. Still, he didn’t imagine he needed to explain why the West had to stay Western to be free.

And in “Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War,” published in 1944, Mises could not have been more emphatic:

Under present conditions the adoption of a policy of outright laissez faireand laissez passeron the part of the civilized nations of the West would be equivalent to an unconditional surrender to the totalitarian nations. Take, for instance, the case of migration barriers. Unrestrictedly opening the doors of the Americas, of Australia, and of Western Europe to immigrants would today be equivalent to opening the doors to the vanguards of the armies of Germany, Italy, and Japan.

As Conway surmises, “Mises feared a massive immigration into the liberal democracies of peoples of vastly different ethnicity, culture and outlooks. Without strict immigration controls, Mises thought, host populations would rapidly become national minorities in their own lands. As such, the hosts would become vulnerable to forms of oppression and persecution at the hands of new arrivals.”

Way back in 1927, when the seminal “Liberalism in the Classical Tradition” was published, Mises, a gentleman from Old World Vienna, understood the following: once illiberal, unassimilable people gain “numeric superiority,” they will turn their population advantage into a political advantage, using the host population’s liberalism against it.

Ilana Mercer has been writing a weekly, paleolibertarian column since 1999. She is the author of “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa” (2011) & “The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed” (June, 2016). She’s on Twitter, FacebookGab & YouTube

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Parsifal, Munich Opera Festival

Parsifal, by Rogelio de Egusquiza

Parsifal, Munich Opera Festival

Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, Bayerischen Staatsoper, München, Germany, directed by Pierre Audi, sets by Georg Baselitz; Bayerischen Staatsorchester conducted by Kirill Petrenko, Tuesday, 31 July, 2018; reviewed by TONY COOPER

In Pierre Audi’s strange but compelling production of Parsifal, the Great Hall of Montsalvat Castle – the home of the Knights of the Holy Grail – has drifted away from its original setting. It is now a strongly-built, wooden-constructed building located in the Holy Forest of the Knights of the Grail, with members of the Brotherhood attired in dark monastic robes as opposed to the tough leather or chain-mail shirt and embroidered tunic favoured by medieval knights. Parsifal closed the Munich Opera Festival on a high note and was conducted by Kirill Petrenko, artistic director of Bayerischen Staatsoper and the new chief conductor of the Berlin Phiharmoniker.

At the opera’s première at Bayreuth in 1882, the set was conservative, based on a traditional German wooden-beamed roof supported by four heavy-duty stone columns. But with Audi, the incoming general director of the Aix-en-Provence Festival, you can expect to be challenged – and he duly obliged. Continue reading

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Talking Pictures

Still from Rebecca

Talking Pictures

by Bill Hartley

Anyone in search of tedious game shows, threadbare repeats and sales of junk jewellery is well catered for on British television. The sheer number of channels is bewildering and difficult to navigate. More means worse but persistence can pay off and for those willing to work their way through the wilderness of multiple channels there is one gem to be found.

‘The past is another country they do things differently there’: the quotation might well have been written for the Talking Pictures channel (Freeview 81), which has been in operation for three years. Welcome to a world close in time yet which shows how enormously life in this country (and indeed in the United States) has changed. Everyday life, manners, opinions and prejudices are perfectly preserved on film. In an era of on demand television and encouragement to binge on box sets, this channel takes us back to an era when cinema dominated and television was the new upstart. Continue reading

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ENDNOTES, August 2018

Sir Granville Bantock

ENDNOTES, August 2018

In this edition: a flourish, from Sir Granville Bantock on the Somm label; piano sonatas by Beethoven, and Elgar’s Second Symphony, from Chandos Records, reviewed by STUART MILLSON

Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946) was a noted composer, conductor and teacher in his day. He established an orchestra at the once-fashionable resort of New Brighton on the North-West coast of England, and presided over a new musical curriculum at the Midland Institute and at Birmingham University. He made many atmospheric arrangements of Tudor and old English tunes; wrote a Tchaikovsky-like Russian suite, alive with colour and local flavour; and penned Pagan and Hebridean symphonies. New from Somm Records comes a CD devoted to Bantock’s equally vivid piano music: Saul, Twelve Pieces– and best of all (and in the outdoor spirit of the Hebridean Symphony), Two Scottish Pieces. Played by the ever-sensitive and rare-repertoire enthusiast, Maria Marchant, the north-of-the-border scenes are delightful pieces of tone-painting, yet infused and animated by an authentic sense of Caledonian traditional music: TheHills of Glenorchy– a quickstep, that nevertheless conveys a sense of longing; and The Brobers of Brechin– a reel (possibly dedicated to whisky and good cheer), with a magnificent, mountain-torrent of an ending, resoundingly performed by Marchant. With a fine portrait of Bantock on the CD cover and a graceful, detailed recording quality, this is one edition which enthusiasts of rare British music will take to their hearts. Continue reading

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Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair


Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair

by Ilana Mercer

Once upon a time there were two politicians. One had the power to give media and political elites goosebumps. Still does. The other causes the same dogs to raise their hackles. The first is Barack Hussein Obama; the second Vladimir Putin.

The same gilded elites who choose our villains and victims for us have decided that the Russian is the worst person in the world. BHO, the media consider one of the greatest men in the world.

Obama leveled Libya and lynched its leader. Our overlords were unconcerned. They knew with certainty that Obama was destroying lives irreparably out of the goodness of his heart. Continue reading

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Practising Grant’s Philosophy

George Parkin Grant

Practising Grant’s Philosophy

by Mark Wegierski

2018 marks the centenary of the birth of George Parkin Grant. Thirty years since his passing, he remains Canada’s most prominent traditionalist philosopher. But is there still a place for Grantian-type traditionalism in current-day Canada? First of all, it should be remembered that Grant’s conception of conservatism is very remote from what is its more common definition today, as a predominantly tax- and budget-cutting ideology [Editorial note, see ‘In Memoriam, George Parkin Grant, 1918-1988’, QR, July 9, 2018]. Despite his impassioned writing, Grant did not offer much hope for someone wishing to be active in the social, political, and cultural arena. Perhaps a quietistic self-cultivation is the only path available for a traditionalist today. However, this is surely problematic for a philosophy that emphasizes public engagement and civic-mindedness. Continue reading

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