Sunday, April 19, 2009

Siegfried in Salzburg

I have been to Salzburg quite a few times, visiting my very good friend Gustav Bernroider at the University of Salzburg. The stroll in the greens as you approach the University Natural Sciences campus from the old town is very comfortable and reveals something to the soul. This time, my journey had a special purpose. I would have the opportunity to experience the Salzburg Easter Festival. Naturally, I was filled with great expectations, as my previous visits never coincided with the periods of festivities.
The festival theater is famously flanked by the rocky cliff. I had my tuxedo, with a handkerchief in the pocket. As I strolled into the hall, I noticed that the audience had a special air around them. The general manager of Salzburg Easter Festival, Herr Michael Dewitte, told me that it is a family-like group, many people coming continuously over the years and consequently getting to knowing each other.
Sir Simon Rattle conducted Siegfried, the second night of the Ring cycle by Richard Wagner. The orchestra was the Berlin Philharmonic. For the record, Siegfried was Lance Ryan. Brunnhilde was Katarina Dalayman. Mime was Hartmut Welker. Erda was Anna Larsson, The Wanderer was Sir Willard White. Alberich was Dale Duesing. Fafner was Stephen Milling. The performance took place on the 13th of April, 2009.
My seat was in the very front row. As a consequence, Sir Simon Rattle's famous hair was just in front of me, with the impression of an angelic lightness. This was my first experience of his live performance, and I could not but follow his movements with great interest. Rattle was conducting with the baton in his right hand. Occasionally, his left hand would also stick out above the screen, to give direction to the singers, cue to the concert master, etc. His movements were lively, as if he was a five year old playing with his favorite toy. And yet there was a unmistakable mastery and elegance in his bodily expressions. The music was sublime.
My fellow travelers were two magazine editors, a writer, an opera critic, a photographer, and a public relations man. The photographer was based in Paris, while the others were from Tokyo like myself. Before the performance, I confided to my companions my personal view of this particular piece of Richard Wagner. It is all about the third act. The dialogue between Siegfried and Brunnhilde at the final scene is the pinnacle of Wagner's music. Its jubilant and luminous procession really belongs to the 23rd century, when the enlightenment of the human spirit would have progressed to such a degree that men are not afraid of life's uncertainties any more but would laugh heartily at their own mortality. The dialogue actually ends with the enigmatic exclamation of "Leuchtene Liebe, Lachender Tod" ("shining love, laughing death"). These words are in deep resonance with the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, although the philosopher parted ways with Wagner later in his life.
Next to me, a lady was seated by herself. She appeared to be from the U.S., judging from her accent and manners. She had two paperback books with her, which she put on the rim of the screen flanking the orchestra pit during the performance. Before the 1st act and during the breaks, she would read the paperbacks. Actually, she kept reading just before Rattle came swinging into the view to a loud applause from the fully packed audience.
Soon after the performance began, I regretted my condemnation of first two acts. It is after all a story of soul searching of a young man. There is a particularly poignant passage where Siegfried confesses to Mime that he has seen his own reflection in the water. He noticed the visual dissimilarities from Mime, who was "supposedly" his father as well as something akin to mother. The self doubt and longing for own identity is a common experience of the young. I remembered my own youth, which was like a period of blue moon in its nature of anxiety and yearning.
Wagner was a man of the theatre, and knew how to affect people's emotions. The entire 1st act and the majority of the 2nd act of Siegfried are dominated by the male voice. The first female voice heard in the opera is that of the bird which tells Siegfried of the existence of Brunnhilde, sleeping in a ring of fire, only to be awakened by a man who did not know fear. Then, in the third act, Erda is awakened by Wotan. Erda is a divine and somewhat abstract figure, so that her voice, although certainly soothing, does not invoke a full impression of the feminine in the mind of the listener.
The stoic use (or non-use) of the female voice prepares the mind of the audience in such a way that finally, when Brunnhilde is awakened by Siegfried's kiss, and sings the breathtakingly beautiful phrase of "Heil Dir, Sonne! Heil Dir, Licht!" (Hello, you, the Sun! Hello, you, the Light!), its effect is literally devastating. Just like the dry sand absorbs water avidly, the audience's ears are thrilled by the touch of the first female voice with a personal touch of warmth.
It was precisely at this moment that I found the American lady secretly wiping her eyes. It was certainly a moving scene. The performance of the Berlin Philharmonic was meticulous and energetic, with a platonic beauty of the harmonious. Sir Simon Rattle's conducting was superb. It was all about music. And the music made the lady from the States cry.
Just before the third act, when Sir Simon Rattle was responding to the spontaneous applause from the auditorium by making the orchestra stand up, I jokingly made a gesture of massaging Rattle's angelic hair. Noticing my stupid action, the lady from America laughed, and said "are you going back to 10 year old?!".
That same lady, who just minutes ago was reading a paper back, and jokingly reproached my childish behavior, was weeping like a little girl, moved by the musical manifestations of emotions that should come with the awakenings to your first love.
That is the power of art.
Well, times should proceed. no matter what. All was over. We strolled out into the cool Salzburger night. The music was still resounding in my ears.
"After attending experiencing such a great performance," I confided to one of my fellow travelers, "the question is not to indulge in a pedantic analysis, but try to live up to the experience." That is the most difficult part. To appreciate the art is meritable. To live the art is rare and divine.


In front of the Festival House in Salzburg, before the Siegfried performance. The man (to the left) in the tuxedo is me.

5 comments:

Christine said...

Wow, I am glad you had a good time. I went to Salzburg once in 2000 and I liked that city. It was so beautiful. I do agree that living an art is something that is for the few. I once saw a billboard for an art institute in Worcester, Massachusetts that read "Do people create art or does art create people?".

砂山鉄夫(Tetsu Sunayama) said...

This essay in itself is superb like the live performance of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Exquisite,feathery and powerful!

This interlude with the lady from the U.S. is very amusing to me.

Occasionally,I think I'd like to go back to my 10 year old boy days.

Great art(music) might make me go back to that days...

jyunko said...

How exciting opportunity
you had!

While I was reading this essey,
I could hear your hamming.

Though life is complicated,
never forget such a wonderful
moment.

I was enchanted by the charming people,because of your comical
expression.

The harmony between nature and art
is fantastic.

Petrusa de Koker said...

Indeed, "the question is not to indulge in a pedantic analysis, but try to live up to the experience"! I agree with you there wholeheartedly. I recently was part of a choir-theatre production which received mixed reviews, in the Newspapers over here, from various critics. That made me ask myself, why are we analysing entertainment (or rather the Performing Arts) so? Isn't it more to our benefit to just live the experience?
It is so good to see that you write on your English blog again. I trust that you and your family are well.

Dave said...

This quote by Sir Simon Rattle is my favourite one: "It’s an unkickable drug habit. And I’m happy to be a junky till the end of my days."