Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Reclaiming the Nibelungs

One thing I really resent, as a Wagnerphile, is the constant assertion that his anti-semitism pervaded everything he did.
It’s really annoying, even when you take much worse things into account. No one likes to point out that Hitler designed the VW Bug. So why does Wagner’s anti-semitism have to account for EVERYTHING?
Designed by Hitler. You're welcome.

One of the worst casualties of this is the description of the dwarves Alberich and Mime, from “Der Ring Des Nibelungen.” Alberich, cockteased one too many times by a flock of Mermaids, steals their treasured Rhine gold, and renounces love to forge a ring that’ll give him absolute power. 

He terrorizes the other dwarves until the Gods rob him of his accumulated hoard, including the Ring. They pay that to the giants Fasolt and Fafner for their constructed castle, until Fafner kills his brother for the ring and hoard, and uses the Tarnhelm to turn into a giant and guard the ring.
Later, Mime raises Siegfried to kill the dragon, until Siegfried kills him for attempted poisoning, which was to offset a prophecy that Siegfried would kill him in the first place. OPERA!
Unlike Wagner’s late villains Beckmesser and Klingsor? Those were made when his thinking had kinda solidified.
Really, I don’t presume that he tried to make them Jews. If he thought Jewish things were evil, then obviously when he tries to create evil people, the ‘reprehensible’ traits that come to mind are traits of Jewish culture and stereotypes.

It’s a vicious cycle. He hated Jews, and his villains are evil and look Jewish, and so his villains must be Jews, and you can tell he hated Jews because the villains are so evil, and the villains had to be evil because he plays them as Jews. Really circular logic there!

However, I’ve been much impressed by Wagner productions that try to reclaim them from Jewish stereotypes. Beckmesser in the Lyric Opera’s 2012-13 production of “Meistersinger,” by Bo Skovhus (whose acting I already admired from his “Fledermaus”) plays him for comic relief – as a particularly nasty Thurber figure for whom everything goes wrong. Soles too thin, song bumbled, etc. He likes rules and can’t adapt. It’s not hatred of Walther, it’s love of tradition, and sputtering befuddlement when the world changes.

The Metropolitan Opera, however, did Mime as a fat, reprehensible slob who sweated profusely (which he would, in all that leather under stage lights). I don’t remember who the tenor was…

Compare to the Seattle Ring this year, where Stefan Vinke did him as muscly and exasperated.
Some of the evidence is the dwarves living underground and liking naiads; their greed; Siegfried’s complains of Mime’s “nodding and blinking” and general hunchedness and ugliness… 
They’re not total greedy jew stereotype thieves, bro. And, Sieggy, I think you’re the one being the asshole here. Wagner just assumed we would sympathize with you no matter what…

Alberich’s address of Mime as “die dummen dieb” (the stupid thief) – Alberich projects his own warped intentions on his brother. Mime (if he did want to steal the helmet) would have been doing it out of protection. “Nimm das fuer dein diebesgeluest!” (This is for your thieving thoughts). Voicing yourself, Alby?

His abuse makes me MORE inclined to pity Mime during “Siegfried’s” scenes of his twisted scheming… it’s not just sibling rivalry, but also self-protection and a bit of revenge. 

But if we’re gonna call them Jews, then the entire race of Nibelungs would have to be similar Jewish stereotypes.
And they’re really not! Just look at what Mime tells Loge:
mit ihm [der reif] zwingt er uns alle,
 der Niblungen nächt'ges Heer.
Sorglose Schmiede,
schufen wir sonst wohl
Schmuck unsern Weibern,
wonnig Geschmeid',
niedlichen Niblungentand;
wir lachten lustig der Müh'.
With the power of the ring, he has overcame us,
The nocturnal race of the Nibelungs.
Carefree smiths,
We once created
Jewelry for our wives,
Wonderful trinkets,
Dainty things for the little nibelungs,
And gaily laughed in our labors.

See, I don’t see many anti-semites describing Jewish culture like that. ^^

Incidentally, Wagner’s complaint against Jewish music in “Der Judenthum des music,” that the ‘Jew’ has “no true passion to impel him to artistic creation,” can be applied remarkably well to “Die Feen.”

 It has the same problem as a lot of student films – the artist doesn’t have any urgent need to say anything, so it comes out as trivial babbles. These kids had, as Henry Rollins said, “three meals a day and Charlie Brown bedsheets.”
I'm not gonna put an actual student film in here for you to make fun of...

I refuse to trust stereotypes I haven’t observed myself.
The only jewish stereotype I’m going to tell you guys –
The little kids seem to subsist MASSIVELY on a diet of goldfish crackers.

I went to a Jewish preschool, and I’ll be damned if I don’t remember all the kids having giant bags of goldfish crackers. My family’s Jewish friends with small kids, and the younger siblings of the Jewish guys I hang out with… it seems to be a requisite that the kid has their hand in a bag of goldfish crackers.

Not going to claim this as a stereotype, because my view is of course limited (being goyische). I’d love your stories about this.

(Seriously, this production was awesome. James Morris, Johann Boltha, and Bo Skovhus… what’s not to like?)

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