Thursday, November 3, 2011


Tonight I sat in the dark as Stephen Gould, Christian Thielemann, and the Vienna Phil brought the Forging Song to brilliant life. Fire flamed up and flickered in the orchestra, metal glared, the maestro coolly held the forces in hand so that the tenor could ride the waves with gusto. "Ho hei!" sings the tenor, while hammering away at the newly forged Nothung, the sheer joy and effort of his work taking him beyond language into pure music.

Wagner brings out the hammers when there's work to be done. Rheingold's Donner (Thor, really, but in this story a much less awesome god than Wotan), eager to dispel the confusion left by Alberich's curse, gathers the winds to him with a "Heda, hedo" before he deals his thunderous Schlag. In the second act of Meistersinger, Hans Sachs  is also moved to nonsense syllables and hammer blows as he tries to take care of business. "Jerum, jerum, hallo hallo he!" he cries, whatever that means, slogging away over a pair of shoes and drowning out a troublesome rival. 

The act of working itself lifts the characters out of their lengthy Wagnerian discussions into an act rhythmic, repetitive, and purely melodic, unbound by syntax and meaning. The exertions of labor seek and find their release. Some of Wagner's characters are part magical, pure expressions of nature, and their voices leave human hammerstrikes behind to dwell in a deep world of mysterious meanings. Their syllables bear no explanation, nor do they need one. The Rheinmaidens in the water, the Valkyries in the air call to us as the birds or the wind called to us in childhood, when we could still understand everything. Weia, wala, heia, hoyotoho. Siegfried will later drink dragon's blood and understand the woodbird's speech, but in the Forging Song he is on his way, a lumbering, powerful bird himself with his wordless song. 

Good, honest, simple work, the way to bliss, one seamlessly connected to the other. It is that easy...until the neighbors spill out into the chaotic street, until you put in on the wrong shore. Because, legends teach us, beauty and peril dwell together, the search will lead you astray, and dark oblivion will mask itself in a friend's chalice or a sweet song. The pull of desire, the gleam of the gold - are these the real treasure, found at last? Is it your true love calling to you, or is it Lorelei?

Where is your wisdom? 

The strong work of rowing the boat slows and calms to a gentle rocking. It feels so like the good release after honest exertion. Is it not the same, have you not earned it? You notice your own face reflected in the waves, more beautiful than ever.

Stay with me. Whose voice calls you?

The oars are idle at your side. Can you still decide to pick them up again? 

Halb zog sie ihn, halb sank er hin. 

Oh, Lorelei will take you down to the bottom of the river, and you will want to go.

Wehe, wehe. 

Nights like these, in the darkened theater, the Rhein swirls up at me from out of the orchestra pit, takes me, drowns me. I know it's not Lorelei, because I know her song. I'll never take the journey without sharpening my gaze into the blackness, scanning the shore for danger. But the journey, yes, absolutely, above all things: for the navigation, for the work, for the wordless joy.

Weia, leia, hei ha. 

3 years

1 comment:

Jamie B. said...

So, what you're saying is... the next time I speak in tongues, I can also practice my Wagnerian text? ;)