Winter 2007 - The Boston Wagner Society
Denn hör’ es die Fluth—
so verfluch’ ich die Liebe!
Volume 4, Number 1
From the Editor
On October 23 the ever-prolific writer, actor, and singer Donald Arthur returned to the Boston Wagner
Society to speak about his translation and expansion of Hans Hotter’s autobiography, titled Hans Hotter:
Memoirs. Although the title of his book sounds simple, the presentation on that evening at the Newton
Free Library was anything but that. Arthur showed and played a delectable array of audio and visual
excerpts, including a perfect rendition of Don Basilio in Il barbiere di Siviglia and an eye-popping Wotan
broadcast on Belgian television. Hotter was both a superb singer and a marvelous actor. In his
autobiography he claims that he had no acting abilities whatever. The ease with which he learned the
craft (from his wife) shows what a terrifically gifted man he was. The Boston Wagner Society has a few
copies of Hans Hotter: Memoirs left at the discounted price of $28 (including shipping). If you would like
to order your copy, please contact us. A review of the book appears on page 9.
In preparation for the Met Opera’s production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, we are pleased to
bring you Harvard scholar Yvonne Nilges, who will give a talk with an audiovisual presentation on
January 18. For more details, see the enclosed flyer.
Welcome, New Volunteers!
We are pleased to announce a new Web master: Thomas Kwei, who took over from Karl Wee. Mr. Kwei
has also volunteered to be our publicity coordinator. Angelo Mammano, secretary of the New England
Opera Club, is Wagneriana’s new assistant editor, and Erika Reitshamer is our new proofreader. We are
most grateful for the help of these volunteers!
Concerts on Hold
The Board of Directors has voted to place concerts on hold for the time being. We regret having to make
this decision. We hope that in the future we will have an opportunity to resume our musical
performances. We need at least two volunteers to make this happen.
In This Issue
This issue of Wagneriana brings you numerous reviews. In fact, we have an embarrassment of riches.
Those of you who are planning to attend the Kirov’s Ring Cycle this summer can get a preview in a
review by two members who attended it in Cardiff, Wales (see below). We hope you’ll enjoy it.
The Kirov Ring Cycle in Cardiff
Marrinsky Theater, cond. Valery Gergiev
November 30–December 2, 2006, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff
Das Rheingold: Woglinde: Margarita Alaverdian; Wellgunde: Lia
Shevtsova; Flosshilde: Nadezhda Serdiuk; Alberich: Edem Umerov;
Wotan: Yevgeny Nikitin; Fricka: Svetlana Volkova; Freia: Irina Vasilieva;
Fasolt: Vadim Kravets; Fafner: Mikhail Petrenko; Froh: Yevgeny Akimov;
Donner: Eduard Tsanga; Loge: Vasily Gorshkov; Mime: Alexey Popov;
Erda: Anastasia Bulyaeva
Die Walküre: Siegmund: Oleg Balashov; Sieglinde: Mlada Khudoley;
Hunding: Gennady Bezzubenkov; Wotan: Mikhail Kit; Brünnhilde: Olga
Savova; Fricka: Larissa Diadkova
Siegfried: Siegfried: Leonid Zakhozhaev; Mime: Vasily Gorshkov; The
Wanderer: Vadim Kravets; Alberich: Edem Umerov; Fafner: Mikhail
Petrenko; Erda: Olga Savova; Brünnhilde: Olga Sergeyeva; Woodbird:
Götterdämmerung: First Norn: Nadezhda Vassilieva; Second Norn: Svetlana Volkova; Third Norn:
Tatiana Kravtskova; Siegfried: Viktor Lutsyuk; Brünnhilde: Olga Sergeyeva; Gunther: Yevgeny
Nikitin; Hagen: Mikhail Petrenko; Alberich: Viktor Chernomortsev; Gutrune: Valeria Stenkina;
Waltraute: Larissa Diadkova; Woglinde: Margarita Alaverdian; Wellgunde: Irina Vasilieva;
Flosshilde: Nadezhda Serdiuk
wo things primarily attracted us to the performance of the Ring Cycle by the Mariinsky Theater at
the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, Wales. The first was the chance to hear Valery Gergiev
conduct this marvelous orchestra (we had already seen him conduct Falstaff earlier this year in St.
Petersburg at the Mariinsky). The second attraction was the unusual opportunity to see the entire Ring
Cycle in four days. Given these two facts, going seemed an extremely appealing proposition. Others
must have thought so too, since the fully priced tickets sold out in just four hours. An informal poll at
dinner revealed that some of our fellow Wagnerians had seen 13 or more Ring Cycles. The audience was
a fascinating jumble of London opera cognoscenti,
Welsh locals, Prince Charles and Camilla, various
members of Wagner societies, and the usual mixture
of the chic and the eccentric. A section of six seats in
the front row went to what seemed to be the Beijing
delegation, for the production goes there next.
The Mariinsky Orchestra under Gergiev did full
justice to the music. They performed at a consistently
high level, as well as we have ever heard. Gergiev
has been criticized by some for conducting at a rather
slow tempo, but we didn’t notice this, nor did musicians we spoke to during the week. Not being
professionally trained musicians, we used the “raise the hairs on the back of my neck” test, and it passed
that with flying colors. The audience’s response was apparent, and it was clear that Gergiev’s
charismatic presence was one reason why many people made the effort to be there. The quality of the
orchestra and singers to bear up under difficult circumstances was clear; almost all of them had flown in
to Cardiff on the same day as the opening of Rheingold.
The singing was a slightly different matter, and here one must start with the fact that this was a
repertory ensemble performing on four consecutive nights. This meant, of course, that the principal roles
had to be shared. Thus, Wotan was sung in Rheingold by Yevgeny Nikitin and in Walküre by Mikhail Kit.
Fricka was played by Svetlana Volkova in Rheingold and Larissa Diadkova in Walküre. The greatest stars
of the Mariinsky had long since gone on to careers on the international circuit. Given those limitations,
the singing and acting ranged from good to very good—sometimes even remarkable, with the female
roles generally sounding better than the male ones. The Wotans and Brünnhildes were certainly
satisfactory, but the brightest sparks emerged from outstanding performances by Diadkova (Fricka) and
Khudoley (Sieglinde) in Walküre, Vasilieva (Fricka) and Umerov (Alberich) in Rheingold, and Gorshkov
as an extraordinary Mime in Siegfried. Some critics cavil about the German pronunciation by the Russian
singers. Our lack of German prevents us from making any observations on this point, so in this case it
did not detract from our enjoyment.
While some degree of musical expertise is a prerequisite for a definitive critical evaluation of both the
orchestra and the singing, none but attention to the libretto (or just the idiosyncrasies of personal taste) is
required with regard to the manipulation of sets and costumes. Naturally everyone has an opinion on
the visual aesthetics of the production, which should, in theory, enhance rather than detract from the
action on stage. And, frankly, one of the pleasures of such an event as this is the opportunity to compare
notes with fellow opera goers at dinner and at the intervals about other Ring productions. So, in addition
to the usual serious discussions on the music, an analysis of the production’s aesthetics provided us all
with delightful dinner conversations each evening.
The principal elements in the staging were three or four (depending on the scene and the opera)
enormous humanoid figures made to look like gray stone and used to frame the action in all of the
operas. In Rheingold these monster-beings hovered horizontally over the action; in the other three operas
they were usually placed upright around the periphery of the stage. The figures first appeared headless,
and, to the extent that they remained so, they seemed an unobjectionable abstract concept. According to
the designer, George Tsypin, “I had this strange epiphany and I saw these enormous creatures—I don't
know if they are giants or gods. I don’t remember why I thought there must be four, but somehow it
became this magic number. To me, with four giants, you can shape the space—it is already Valhalla. So it
became this amazing device where you could, without really illustrating every scene, create a different
atmosphere.” Well, perhaps. However, when Tsypin attached heads to these creatures, both human
and/or animal, they became excessively cartoonish and a distraction from the action. Oddly, instead of
Nothung’s being buried to the hilt in the World Ash Tree, it was merely pricked into the lower leg of
one of the humanoid creatures, which some interpreted as Tsypin’s not giving proper due to the
metaphorical significance of the World Ash Tree.
In Rheingold, instead of the Nibelungs simply piling up the treasure for the giants, Freia was placed
inside a large lattice-work ball of gold colored yarn one wag likened to a 1950s lampshade. This was
constantly rotated to indicate the accumulation of the treasure. Everyone felt sorry for Freia, who must
have been pretty dizzy and queasy when the Nibelungs finally finished. It brought to mind one of the
earliest Bayreuth productions where the Rhine Maidens threw up due to the undulating movement of
water machinery. Later, as Wotan led Fricka into Valhalla, they inexplicably donned headpieces of
Egyptian deities. The Valkyries were outfitted with Aztec-like headdresses, and Erda sported a
headdress the size of a canoe that was faintly northwest Indian. Odd, but perhaps this was Tsypin’s
genuflection to multicultural gods? Other strange quirks: Siegfried had dark hair in Siegfried but became
a blond in Götterdämmerung. And the glittery beach sombrero Tarnhelm in Rheingold became a rather
butch leather and cord creation in Siegfried and Götterdämmerung. Of course the implementation of the
ring of fire around Brünnhilde was awaited by all, but when it finally came was sadly found to be rather
underwhelming (i.e., no fire at all), as was the same with the finale of Götterdämmerung.
But these are minor quibbles in what was a major experience overall. Anyone who has the chance to
see this production when it comes to the Metropolitan Opera should do so. You will enjoy it on many
levels, and the Mariinsky with the massively talented Valery Gergiev at its head deserves our support
for the tremendous effort that went into this.
–Carol Coe and Gilbert Verbit
Carol Coe and Gilbert Verbit, members of the Boston Wagner Society, live in England.
Inside the Ring Offers Some Golden Nuggets
Inside the Ring: Essays on Wagner’s Opera Cycle, edited by John Louis
DiGaetani, 252 pages, with illustrations, McFarland, 2006
tarting from the premise that recent decades have witnessed an
upsurge in Ring productions, John Louis DiGaetani has assembled
15 essays by scholars, four of which are DiGaetani’s own. The
reason for this renewed interest, according to contributor James K.
Holman (in the chapter titled “The Golden Ring in a Golden Age”), is that
before 1951 Wagner’s operas were overshadowed by the composer’s
personality and distasteful philosophy. We are now sufficiently removed
in time to allow ourselves to enjoy his operas without any of the
“shadows” that the man and his philosophy have cast (33). Holman
writes, “Opera houses are now offering more and more Wagner, and it
has become a commonplace that Wagner performances sell faster and
more reliably than the rest of the repertory—a stunning reversal. . . . Der
Ring des Nibelungen has become, in our time, the superstar of the performing arts” (46–47). Hence, this
book is meant to enhance the enjoyment of both the Wagnerian neophyte and the experienced Ring goer.
The problem, however, is that this assortment of essays has no overarching theme; instead, it is an
awkward agglomeration of haphazard topics without much continuity from one chapter to the next.
Even the part titles are of no help. For instance, under “The Language and Music of the Ring” (part 5),
we find an interview with soprano Jane Eaglen about the meaning of the Ring and the evolution of
Brünnhilde’s character—nothing about the language and very little about the music. Similarly, under
“The Ring and Germany” (part 3), there is a chapter titled “Transgression and Taboo: Eros, Marriage,
and Incest in Die Walküre,” which devotes a good chunk to Greek myth, namely Oedipus’s predicament.
Despite the allusion to Germany in the part title, we find that incest is not a specifically German theme
but a universal one.
Having said that, I can aver that I found much to enjoy and learn here. For instance, the interview
with Eaglen alone is worth the price of the book. Eaglen, who prefers Wagner’s operas to all others,
seems to have an intuitive understanding of the Ring, particularly of Brünnhilde’s development from a
fun-loving, naïve girl to a human being capable of deep love and devotion. Eaglen says that the free
agent Wotan is looking for is his beloved daughter, but he is blind to it. This topic is worth exploring
further. Also of interest is Steven Cerf’s essay “Wagner’s Ring and German Culture.” Here Cerf, a
professor of German at Bowdoin College, draws fascinating parallels between the Ring Cycle and
Thomas Mann’s tetralogy, Joseph and His Brothers.
One heart-warming tidbit is that an opera-loving American G.I. was the first person to redeem the
Festspielhaus from the Nazis. When World War II ended, Joseph Wechsberg entered the undamaged
building and “found Hans Sachs’s workshop on the stage, sat in the cobbler’s chair, and sang the
‘Wahn!’ monologue. He would be the first but not the last Jew to redeem Wagner over the next sixty
years” (43). Wechsberg went on to become a distinguished reviewer.
In the chapter titled “The Ring on Disc and on Video,” by Geoffrey Riggs, we learn that Wagner’s
conducting style was fluid and that he communicated “through the use of an evocative gaze, a subtle
shift of the hands, and so on” (229), which I found fascinating.
In part 1, ambiguously titled “The Foundation,” we find a chapter titled “Selling the Ring: Richard
Wagner’s ‘Enterprise.’” Here Nicholas Vazsonyi, a professor of German at the University of South
Carolina, discusses at great length Wagner’s attempts at selling himself and his music, claiming that
today’s Wagner societies continue this commercial enterprise. He admits that many of Wagner’s
contemporaries were equally “publicity conscious,” but “the pop stature these artists enjoyed was tied to
their activities as performers and faded after their deaths. Not so with Wagner” (55). However, one quick
look at other societies’ stated goals reveals that they, too, are in the business of promoting. For instance,
in the introductory comments to the Friedrich Nietzsche Society on-line, we find the following words:
“Its aim is to promote the study of the life, work and influence of Friedrich Nietzsche”
(http://www.fns.org.uk/fnsintr.htm). In the music field, we find the following statement of the Mozart
Society of America: “[This is a] Society for the encouragement and advancement of studies and research
about the life, works, historical context, and reception of Wolfgang Amadé Mozart”
(http://www.unlv.edu/mozart/). And the Franz Liszt Society in Budapest states: “The Society aims to
make the life’s work and personality of Liszt familiar and to nurture and propagate his noble ideals”
(http://www.bmc.hu/lisztsociety/index2_en.htm). Note the words “promote,” “encouragement and
advancement,” and “propagate.” Hence, this phenomenon is not unique to Wagner societies.
In the conclusion, written by the book’s editor John Louis DiGaetani, a professor of English at Hofstra
University, there is the following startling statement: “The flaw is, of course, that Wagner’s operas tend
to be too short. Wagner just did not know when he needed to continue with something marvelous he
had stumbled upon; instead, he had the unfortunate habit of cutting off too quickly characters, musical
ideas, and even whole operas” (227). I would be hard-pressed to find a single Wagnerian who thought
Wagner’s operas too short!
Despite its glaring flaws, Inside the Ring contains many nuggets of gold, not the least of which is the
bibliography, which lists audio and video resources, books, librettos, and music.
This book is available from the Wagner Society of New York at the discounted price of $35. To order your copy, go
Wagner Museum at Tribschen, Lake Lucerne
or six years (1866-1872), Wagner resided in a
lovely manor house located on the shore of Lake
Lucerne. The house is now the Richard Wagner
Museum Lucerne (www.richard-wagner-museum.ch).
The Museum contains photographs, paintings, letters
and musical scores; a fine collection of period musical
instruments; and the grand piano on which Wagner
composed Die Meistersinger and other works. Ludwig
of Bavaria, Liszt, and Nietzsche were among the
visitors to Tribschen. The Siegfried Idyll was first
performed in 1870 on the manor’s stairs, and at the
first Lucerne Festival in 1938, Toscanini conducted the
Idyll at the same Tribschen venue.
The Museum is open from 10 to 12 and 2 to 5,
Tuesday through Sunday; it is closed on Mondays and from December 1 to March 14. From April to
October the Museum can be reached by a short, afternoon boat ride departing from docks just across
from the Lucerne main train station. While it is possible to walk back, the bus is preferable; for going to
the Museum, however, the boat is a must for the view of the manor and site. For a lakefront walk, the
shorefront path between the station and the national transportation museum is very pleasant. The train
station, boat docks, bus stops, and the new Lucerne concert hall are located all together on a single
lakefront plaza. From Zurich, the train to Lucerne (at least one every hour) takes less than an hour.
Edward Pinkus is the Secretary of the Boston Wagner Society.
Some Notes about Tristan und Isolde
This is the second in a series of articles given as a talk at a concert by Johanna Porackova and Jeffrey Brody on
September 10, 2006. The concert was sponsored by the Boston Wagner Society.
t was the happiest day of my life!” The speaker is Richard Strauss on the occasion of conducting the
first Tristan und Isolde of his career, in a letter to a friend.
Strauss had been strangely wary of Tristan for quite some while, uncomfortable with its
harmonies and disliking its dissonances, which is ironic given the language in which his own harmonies
and dissonances were received by some in the critical community—of which more later. It took the total
immersion required by preparing the score for a performance to fully open his eyes to Tristan’s
Wagner conceived of Tristan und Isolde as something that could be fairly quickly and easily produced
by theaters all over Germany and the world. With its small cast, tiny bit of chorus, complete lack of
magic stage transformations or special effects, it was meant to be an easy money-maker worth
interrupting the composition of the Ring for, so as to bring in much–needed income. Well, we all know
how that turned out. Tristan, even without extensive staging demands or a large cast, developed into one
of the most difficult operas to cast and render properly, its harmonic and vocal demands causing its
original performers great stress and, even now, no push-over to put successfully, let alone
transcendently, on a stage.
Does Isolde die at the end of the opera? I suspect that a majority of opera lovers would reply “Yes!”
without hesitation, perhaps citing the “fact” that Isolde’s valedictory over Tristan’s body is called the
“Liebestod”—“Love-Death”—or that Wagner states specifically in the score that she sinks down and
dies on top of Tristan’s body.
Except, neither statement is true.
When Wieland Wagner produced Tristan at Bayreuth with Birgit Nilsson and Wolfgang Windgassen,
Nilsson remained standing in radiant triumph as the music and lights slowly faded. In the early 1990s,
Heiner Müller directed an unforgettably beautiful Tristan, also at Bayreuth, in which Waltraud Meier
remained alive as a simple but magical light cue turned her formerly dull metallic silver gown into a
flaming golden shaft connecting her to the dead Tristan of Siegfried Jerusalem. Were these productions
acts of violence done to the composer’s wishes by disrespectful or willful postmodern directors?
First, Wagner did use the word Liebestod, not for the great apostrophe beginning “Mild und leise” but
for the orchestral introduction to the opera we now call the Prelude. Second, Wagner himself referred to
the passage as the “Verklärung”—the Transfiguration. A transfiguration isn’t a death, but rather a
radiant transformation into a higher state of consciousness or, as Webster’s would have it:
1. a change of form or appearance;
2. an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change.
Wagner does not say that Isolde dies on Tristan’s body but that she sinks into Brangäne’s arms,
Such a change is certainly what the Isoldes of Nilsson under Wieland Wagner’s direction, and
especially Meier under Heiner Müller’s direction, experienced at the end of the opera. And this way of
ending Tristan made sense of a passage I read once in discussing Kirsten Flagstad’s Isolde at the same
moment. The author had seen Flagstad, who sang in an era far more literal in observing the composer’s
written notes than our more metaphoric, or poetic if you will, era. He reported that she often concluded
Tristan standing, with her arms raised high over her head, as if reaching for the infinite. This seems far
more appropriate to Wagner’s exalted, glorious, and, yes, spiritual music than a prosaic pile of bodies in
the middle of the stage.
William Fregosi is Technical Coordinator for Theater Arts at MIT. On January 10, 2004, he gave the
Boston Wagner Society’s first presentation, titled “Wagner and Postmodern Production.”
New Tristan und Isolde Turns Its Back on Eurotrash
Tristan und Isolde (2005)
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande; cond.: Armin Jordan
Chorus of the Grand Théâtre de Genève
Stage Director: Olivier Py
Tristan: Clifton Forbis; Isolde: Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet; Brangäne:
Mihoko Fujimura; Kurwenal: Albert Dohmen; King Marke: Alfred
Reiter; Melot: Philippe Duminy; Seemann/Hirt: David Sotgiu;
Steuermann: Nicolas Carré
Studio: Bel Air Classiques (distr. by Harmonia Mundi)
Video: 16/9 / all zones
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1; PCM Stereo
Length: 274 minutes
2 DVDs (including documentary), 32-page booklet
t last here is a modern production of a Wagner opera that is both accessible and easy to enjoy.
There is the usual symbolism (a skull, flowers, a crown) and a few extraneous people (a boy, a
woman in white, a ghostly knight), but this is well integrated with the stark stage design and the
dynamic acting style. Both the plot and the music are accorded great care and respect. Olivier Py, an
intense, youthful director, emphasizes the dramatic contrast between night and day (a major
philosophical theme in this work) by using only two colors throughout the music drama: black and
Act 1 opens with Isolde and Brangäne on the deck of a nondescript black modern cruiser, with stairs
winding up and down like in an Escher drawing. Both women are red-haired, though their acting styles
are a study in contrasts. Jeanne-Michèle Charbonnet as Isolde is fierce, defiant, and queenly. Mihoko
Fujimara (who sang Erda at the 2006 Bayreuth Festival) as Brangäne is restrained and looks upon
Isolde’s emotional upheavals with a skeptical eye. Their hairstyles reinforce these differences. Whereas
Isolde’s is wild, curly, and unruly, Brangäne’s is carefully coiffed and utterly soigné. Vocally, the
American soprano Charbonnet is a full-throated and passionate dynamo. Yet she is also capable of
softness. Isolde’s Narrative, for instance, is sung with sweet expression. Fujimura’s lighter and more
pleasant voice is a departure from convention, but it
doesn’t mar the performance in any way. And
Clifton Forbis as Tristan displays unexpected and
interesting vocal colors in this act. The camera work,
with its odd angles, reenacts the vertigo of a sea
voyage. And after the principals have drunk the love
potion, the film temporarily turns into a negative,
giving the singers an unearthly, surreal look. There
are also numerous claustrophobic close-ups, which
become annoying after a while. And the
cameraman’s single-minded focus on the singers’
hands is puzzling.
Clifton Forbis as Tristan and Jeanne-Michèle
During the prelude to Act 2, Charbonnet gets up
Charbonnet as Isolde in the “white room”;
from her bed and places a white flower in her hair,
photo by GTG/Mario del Curto
which she then takes off. The black room she is in
(taking the place of the forest) is sparsely decorated,
with a black armoire and a black sink (surely an anachronism). Fujimura grimaces unpleasantly. Here
Charbonnet’s singing seems effortful and a bit uneven. While she waits on the black bed for Tristan’s
arrival, she hyperventilates to the beat of the music and clenches her fists. She seems to be having an
orgasm in anticipation of Tristan’s arrival. When Tristan appears, he takes off her long black dress,
revealing the white shift underneath. They walk to the left of the cavernous stage and enter a white
room. The décor here is exactly the same as the black one. She beckons him to join her in bed, and he
complies. At this point, it would have served them better to concentrate more on the singing and less on
the sexual act. Alas, they can barely get through the excerpt starting with “O sink hernieder,” surely the
most passionate in opera. Their performance is effortful, uneven, and heavy, with a wobbly vibrato in
the tenor. And for some reason, Forbis never takes off his black leather vest. So instead of becoming
immersed in this magical duet, the viewer/listener remains aloof from the action and retains a healthy
dose of skepticism. Alas, even Brangäne’s call does not produce the requisite frisson. Soon enough, the
two lovers are in a burnt room and lying on a heap of rubble. Presumably, their fiery passion has turned
everything to ashes. Fortunately, by now Forbis’s wobble has disappeared and only a heroic timbre
remains. What a change! Charbonnet gazes longingly at a white skull while Forbis sings of death. Their
voices don’t quite meld; there is no unity of sound here. Alfred Reiter as the aggrieved King Mark (in a
fur coat) is quite decent and sings sensitively. However, he seems aloof and evokes no sympathy for his
plight. Philippe Duminy as Melot sports a retractable knife rather than a sword.
So far, Armin Jordan’s conducting has been tame and uninteresting. In the prelude to Act 3, however,
it picks up and turns appropriately somber and moody, though still lacking in depth. Albert Dohmen is
a hefty-voiced Kurwenal, stern and unsympathetic. David Sotgiu as the Shepherd is fresh-voiced and
pleasant. Tristan’s blood-stained bed is surrounded by water. A woman in white emerges from the pool
and walks away. There is also a little boy, who wears a crown on his head. Presumably, the woman in
white is Tristan’s mother (who died giving birth to him), and the boy is Tristan as a child. The lighting,
water, camera angles, negatives, and bizarre people who dive in and out of the water are quite
distracting and disorienting. Forbis, soaked in blood and with hooded eyes, has a haunted, mournful
look, which serves him well here. Unfortunately, his singing is choppy. He has trouble with legato and
briefly loses control of his voice a couple of times. With Charbonnet, we are in more secure hands, both
vocally and in her stage presence. Her Liebestod is quite decent, and she looks transfixed at the end.
Perhaps the best part of this Tristan und Isolde is the 52-minute documentary by Benoît Rossel, one of
the best of its kind. Here Director Olivier Py describes (in French, with English subtitles) the opera as
“music that slowly poisons you. No one can resist it because it’s the most beautiful music ever written.
The peak of Western art.” We also see the enormous amount of work that goes on behind the scenes,
from the director to the technicians to the coat-check attendants to the stage sweepers. And we are privy
to Clifton Forbis rehearsing and practicing his blocking. All the while, we hear Wagner’s glorious music.
For anyone interested in stagecraft, this documentary is a must.
Dalia Geffen is the President and Founder of the Boston Wagner Society.
Hans Hotter’s Memoirs
Hans Hotter: Memoirs, translated, edited, and expanded by Donald Arthur; forewords by Dietrich
Fischer-Dieskau and Zubin Mehta, University Press of New England, 324 pp.
hen Hans Hotter died on December 6, 2003, one of the great operatic singers of the twentieth
century was laid to rest. He was especially known for the leading Wagnerian roles of Wotan,
Telramund, Pogner, Gurnemanz, Kurwenal, and the Dutchman, but during the course of his
long and productive career spanning over seventy years he was also a superlative Don Giovanni,
Scarpia, Amonasro, Iago, and even Gianni Schicchi. As a recitalist and concert singer, he was noted for
Schubert’s Winterreise and the Speaker in Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder. The collaborative biography Hans
Hotter: Memoirs by Hotter and Donald Arthur gives us a well-rounded and fascinating look into what
makes a career that withstood calamities both political and personal, and
that triumphed over almost insurmountable obstacles.
As a young man, Hotter was discouraged from attempting a singing
career, his parents feeling that music was fine as an avocation but likely to
be filled with disappointment and uncertainty as a career choice. He
received encouragement from various sources, especially from Matthäeus
Roemer. Herr Roemer was “a true intellectual.” Early on he earned a
doctorate in comparative linguistics and was a teacher to the royal
households of Germany. He studied voice with the great Polish tenor Jean
De Reszke and sang Parsifal at Bayreuth under the baton of Karl Muck.
Under his tutelage, the young Hotter was steered in the right direction. In
traditional fashion, Hotter began his career in the smaller theaters, first the
Stadttheater in Troppau, then later Breslau. His first role was the Sprecher
in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. Not too shabby for a beginner! He rose quickly
to even more demanding roles and was soon working in major houses
alongside well-known singers, conductors, and directors. For a time Prague was his principal house,
then Hamburg. On the very day he auditioned for the Hamburg Opera, he was offered—and accepted—
an invitation to sing Alfio in Cavalleria Rusticana and Tonio in I Pagliacci on that same evening. He
returned home with a five-year contract in hand.
In spite of these promising beginnings, all was not rosy for a singer caught in the vise of National
Socialism during the Nazi era. Although he decried the atrocities committed in the name of his own
people, he remained in Germany to provide a measure of solace to his fellow countrymen during trying
This autobiography is replete with marvelous anecdotes about the colleagues with whom he sang.
He was close to many of them. He treasured his experiences with the outstanding conductors Hans
Knappertsbusch, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Clemens Krauss, Eugen Jochum, Bruno Walter, George Szell,
and Herbert von Karajan, who inspired and taught him much about the musical and dramatic
possibilities of the many roles he sang onstage.
At the Metropolitan Opera in New York, under the new administration of Rudolf Bing, he made his
debut on November 9, 1950, in Der fliegende Holländer. It was a great success for him, and we are
fortunate to be able to hear his Met Opera Holländer on CD, from the broadcast performance of December
30. He remained at the Metropolitan for four seasons, singing mostly German roles, but also one Italian
one—the Grand Inquisitor in Verdi’s Don Carlo. The Grand Inquisitor was one of his most-performed
roles. In 1966, at a Metropolitan Opera Boston tour, I met the longtime Met chorister Carlo Tomanelli.
He had been with the company for many years and was now on the verge of retirement. When I asked
him his opinion of the many great singers he had seen and heard and which one impressed him the
most, he answered immediately, “Hans Hotter. As the Grand Inquisitor, he terrified me so that I couldn’t
bear even to look at him.”
Hans Hotter lives on not only in the memories of those who saw him perform but also in his many
recordings: the Ring Cycle, Der fliegende Holländer, Winterreise, and so many others. We will not forget
Note: The book is available from the Boston Wagner Society at the discounted price of $28.
In Memoriam: Thomas Stewart
One of the finest American baritones died on September 24, 2006. Thomas Stewart will be remembered
for the many roles he sang in the many houses in which he was in great demand. He was especially
noted for the Wagner roles he sang at Bayreuth and the Metropolitan Opera. At Bayreuth he appeared
in 1960 as Donner, Gunther, and Amfortas. He was said to inherit the mantle of Hans Hotter, especially
when he added the role of Wotan in 1967 and the Wanderer in 1969. His
performances at Bayreuth consolidated his reputation as one of the outstanding
Wagnerian singers of his time. Fittingly, at the Metropolitan, his debut role was
as Wolfram, and he sang many of his Bayreuth roles later in New York. With
the Opera Company of Boston, he sang the Dutchman with Phyllis Curtin as
Senta at the MIT Kresge Auditorium. His last appearance here was as the
Speaker in The Magic Flute. In retirement, he and his wife, Evelyn Lear, with
the collaboration of the Wagner Society of Washington, D.C., set up the
Thomas Stewart and Evelyn Lear Emerging Singers Program, giving a helping
hand to the next generation of young professionals.
Thomas Stewart and Evelyn
“Richard Wagner’s Midsummer Night’s Dream:
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”
Talk and presentation by Dr. Yvonne Nilges
January 18, 2007, 7 p.m.
Wellesley Free Library
530 Washington Street
Wellesley, MA 02482
Free to all
Talk on Parsifal by Paul Heise, an independent
scholar, with audiovisual illustrations
May 30, 2007
Details to be announced
Free to all
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