Gotterdammerung

I’ll start by admitting up front that I am a fan of a number of operas. Verdi and Puccini particularly, with a side of Mozart here and there. Not, unless taken in small doses, Wagner. At opera length, Richard Wagner gets rather blow-hard and tedious.

Still, current days have a definite “twilight of the gods” feel, which is not in any way a good thing.

For a start, if you think living in a novel plot would suck, living in an opera plot is way, way worse. There are typically two options – comedy, where everyone gets made fun of but true love usually wins out and the leads (always a tenor and a soprano – if you have any other kind of voice you’re doomed to either villainy or supporting character-ville) get to live happily ever after; and the much, much more common drama where at best one of the leads ends up dead, and more often than not all of them do. Although sometimes everyone but the villain dies and the villain gets left with the physical or symbolic ashes of his victoy (and it nearly always is a he).

The plot of Gotterdammerung, such as it is, very much falls into the “everyone dies” range. Well, everyone except the neutral/chaotic beings that represent forces of nature, anyway (If you’re interested and know your Ring Cycle, Anna Russel’s take on the thing is worth listening to. It’s got some cringey bits, but mostly it’s a 20 minute giggle fest, which beats 20 hours of Mr Wagner torturing his singers. And yes, I’ve sung a small amount of Wagner and he does torture singers. So does Beethoven, which is why I’m thankful Ludwig Van B has almost no memorable vocal works to his name and lots and lots of other works. But that’s a whole different beastie).

So yeah, feeling like the hubris and deliberate blindness of certain folk out there is well on its way to bringing whatever the mortal equivalent of Ragnarok is down on the heads of all the ordinary folk who don’t need, don’t want, and certainly don’t deserve this shit is not a good thing.

Of course, plotlines, operatic or otherwise, necessarily draw what’s not directly relevant to the main character in a broad brush. Who cares what happens to the side characters when the leads get to survive and have their happily ever after? (Incidentally this is part of the brilliance of Les Miserables (the musical which is actually an opera). All the deaths of minor characters are wrenching. Every last bloody one of them. Something the movie managed to keep despite the… ahem… less than stellar vocal performance of Javert). They tend to forget that after the chaos is done, there’s a crapload of fixing to do.

Yay for generation fix it, the permanently exhausted lot that came after the boomers. Not that I’m generation-bashing, mind you. The boomers were such a big demographic bulge they were always going to break things without intending to, and happening as they did at the start of the global information era, with an unprecedented amount of wealth and free choice for kids, well… Based on the advertising trends of the last 70 years or so, the world really does revolve around them, poor bastards.

Nobody survives that kind of distortion intact, and all the infrastructure choices that were made with the assumption that each succeeding generation would be larger than the one before and therefore able to support the oldest in their personal twilight are turning to ash right about when they need the security they were promised.

At least my generation mostly never believed there’d be anything but what we worked for and built ourselves. (And people wonder why I’m cynical? My whole life I’ve watched good things dry up and blow away right about when I should be getting them. Usually because someone screwed up.)

Of course, unlike opera, where the horrific ending is predetermined no matter how beautiful the music (Puccini’s Turandot: stone cold bitch tortures most of a city to death to find out the name of the guy she wants, but because the music is magnificent nobody cares. As Anna Russel put it, opera is where you can do anything as long as you sing it), we can change things.

I don’t know how, or what it will take, but we do have the ability to make choice that improve our lives. Even when there’s a category five shitstorm heading our way.

Personally, I learned long ago that it’s a bad idea to sit back and say “well, it could be worse.” That encourages whatever perverse imps of fate are out there trying to turn all of us into opera plots. It’s much better to say, “It could be better” and work to make it that way. Even if you are tired all the bloody time.

(Rerunning an older pic of Buttercup occupying the computer carry bag)

54 comments

  1. Obviously, we are in Fimbulwinter right now. a) three years without a summer b) public violations of morality, such as kin sleeping with kin c) China and Russia are Musphelheim and Niflheim d) Batman is obviously Frey e) this isn’t any worse than the analysis that you can read in mainstream publication.

    1. Pretty much, yes.

      Mainstream publication analysis is, well… It kind of helps to have a long memory for that, so you can remember that two years back it was likely the opposite of what it is now, just because it’s always better if the current president has a D after his name.

  2. I’m convinced that Beethoven had a bad break-up with a soprano, and decided to get even with the rest of us. That, or he thought sopranos and violins were interchangeable.

    I agree on the sense of operatic unreality. And that our generation has come to the conclusion that we’re going to be the ones holding the bag when everything unravels. *sigh* I think we’re gonna need a bigger pair of knitting needles.

    1. I’m fairly sure Beethoven thought sopranos didn’t need to breathe.

      And yes. I agree we’re going to be left with the bag and probably the blame as well. Definitely need a bigger pair of knitting needles.

        1. Nah. Bach is easy if you can hold your part while the person next to you is singing a different line. The fast, florid stuff takes a bit of practice, but it’s nothing like as bad as trying to sit forever on some ridiculously high note at full power.

          Joe Green is more challenging, but still doable.

          It’s the difference between a composer who understood singers and one who didn’t, really.

          (I will treasure, always, the memory of our choir-master’s face during a rehearsal for the Bruckner Te Deum. We’d been belting out “Aeterna fac cum sanctis tuis” and the man stopped with a pained expression. Then asked if we could please try singing with a little less of an Australian accent. Long pause. Everyone mentally goes over exactly how that phrase sounds in an Aussie accent. It took nearly half an hour before we could sing without breaking into giggles.)

          1. Maybe our choir master used a slower tempo. 😉 He would cut us off in rehearsal *just* before the soprano entrance so many times we suffered from *chorus interruptus*. Now, you want to talk about eternal trills, arpeggios and a tessatura that caused PTSD, my boi Handel is right up there.

            1. Chorus interruptus is an issue, yes…

              And dear Handel… There was a time I could practically sing the entire Messiah chorus line (soprano) from memory. All 2+ hours of it… And another fond memory. “We like sheep” from the Messiah, being sung by the same choir as the Bruckner incident. Same choir master. We finish, and get the pained look. “Ladies, do you think you could be a little more repentant and less cheerful?”

          2. After rehearsing Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” for nine months, Mozart, Bach, Handel, and Hayden are all comparatively easy. Yes, the articulation is a challenge, but none of them require the sheer stamina of Beethoven. (He has two volumes, it feels like. Really loud and impossibly loud.)

            1. Bach St. Matthew Passion + West Texas accent = “Give us Barabus release,” became “Give us Buh-rabbits.”

            2. Yes, _exactly_. Beethoven is a long slog. Even the 9th Symphony is a long slog for the chorus.

              Verdi has challenges, but he understood choirs. (Hint: singing in French _sucks_. Far too many half-nasal vowels. By comparison, once we got the transliterations, Russian was easy.)

              1. UGA Symphony Chorus provided the choral parts for the Verdi Requiem for a concert in Savannah. We rehearsed in the theater on risers with a director but only a piano as accompaniment. After traveling to Savannah for a last rehearsal with the symphony orchestra, somebody snuck the instruments in behind the risers 😃. The first time I heard the Dies Irae as written I almost fell into the tympani.

                1. I can believe it!

                  Every requiem I’ve sung (except Brahms, because he chose not to follow the standard format) has a powerful Dies Irae, but Verdi’s beats them all. Just thinking about it gives me goosebumps.

                  I’m particularly fond of the version of it I own – the soloists are Elizabeth Scwartzkopf, Christa Ludwig, Nicolai Gedda, and Nicolai Ghiaurov (My memory for the first names and spellings may be off) – about as close to an all-star set of singers as you can get in real life.

          3. Bach tortures his musicians, if not his singers. Give the flutist a chance to breathe? Ha! There are some pieces I remember where there were black spots floating in front of my eyes at the end of a phrase, and I don’t mean the sixteenth notes.

            1. Bach does require excellent breath control from everything that needs breathing. Although I’m not entirely sure that modern flute was what he originally wrote for… (I’m quite certain at least some of what usually gets played by bassoon was written for serpents)

              1. At least when you are singing Bach, there’s no stale breath left to expel during the 32nd rest allotted for breathing.

          4. I think the difference is Bach’s day job was running a church choir, made of enthusiastic amateurs.

            That’s largely why his music breaks down into math puzzles for his own, and other virtuoso’s enjoyment and very robust stuff.

            I’m sure he’s had the times when things went so far off the rails that the priest popped his head out of the alter area and says “Normally the priest’s for this part are done silently, but I believe for today it would be edifying for the hear them.”

      1. I’m fairly sure Beethoven thought sopranos didn’t need to breathe.

        *crosses that with bad break up and “she has a great set of lungs” meaning ‘vast… tracts of land,” eyebrow wiggle, and giggles*

        1. This is one reason why operatic sopranos (and contraltos even more so) are rather renowned for their… vast… tracts of land.

          Now I’m having a flashback to one of Victor Borge’s classic routines – the Mozart opera. “She stabs herself between the two big…. trees.”

          1. I should probably not add that an awful lot of tenors have extra resonance where their brains ought to be.

            And I have it on _very_ good authority that Luciano Pavarotti was one of them.

              1. No, tenors have the extra resonance. Sopranos have the vast tracts of… land. At least that’s what I’m told. (Messy-soprano here. Not mezzo. Messy. If I had a decent voice and bothered to train I’d probably be a light soprano, the kind that handles the comic roles)

            1. A joke remembered from some forgotten classical music radio station:

              Q: Explain the degrees of stupidity in Italian.
              A: Stupido
              Stupidissimo
              Tenor

              Try the veal. I’ll be gone before the carp flies.

      2. There’s an idea – Beethoven meets anroid soprano. Call it ‘positronic melody’ or some such.

        1. That sounds rather cute. I’d say it explains Beethoven’s vocal works, but I think his deafness is a better explanation: he knew how it was _supposed_ to sound and no danged real life limitations were going to get in his way.

    1. Sucks, doesn’t it? But there’s no point bitching about it because we can’t change it, so we just get on and do what we can.

        1. Indeed so. Once upon an eon ago I was a naive, optimistic person. Life changed that… Now, I try not to be too sarcastic. It breaks things. Apparently I sail on straight past “acid” to “poison”.

  3. “They said Smile things could be worse so I Smiled and things got worse”. 😈

    1. Exactly.

      “Out of the blue a voice said to me:
      “Smile and be happy, for things could be worse.
      “So I smiled, and was happy:
      “And behold! Things did get worse.”

      There are so many variants on that… and all of them are true.

      1. “I tell you naught for your comfort, Yea, naught for your desire, Save that the sky grows darker yet And the sea rises higher.   “Night shall be thrice night over you, And heaven an iron cope. Do you have joy without a cause, Yea, faith without a hope?”

      2. Oh, jeese -I used that joke in my first-ever historical; OCTA pioneers working their way up the Truckee River, hauling their wagons through the ice-cold, rocky stream… and one of the Irish among them tells the joke, ‘Smile, Paddy – things could be worse! And so I did, and things got worse…”

  4. Because I think folks may be amused by it–
    My brain INSISTS, and always has, that gotterdammerung is the words “G*d d*mned ring.”

    And now, in the age of internet, adds a “prove me wrong” under it.

    1. I’m quite sure there are generations of choristers who will fervently agree with you.

      The literal meaning is apparently gods twilight, so the English name of the thing takes a certain amount of poetic license – but that’s pretty much the norm for opera anyway.

      And gods damned ring is an appropriate title.

  5. It’s irritating that so much of what makes an individual household much better off is what our culture strenuously disapproves of.

    Stability? Not going into debt? Self-control? Self-improvement? Staying married to one person and raising kids? Working hard? Showing up on time? Cleaning up after yourself?

    How bourgeois of you, like being bourgeois is something to be ashamed of.

    1. I blame the bowdlerize fairy tales.

      Original “Ant and the Grasshopper,” the ant works hard while the grasshopper plays, come winter the grasshopper starves. New improved version, the grasshopper survives because the ant shares with him.

      Original “Three Little Pigs,” the pigs who built their houses of straw and sticks get eaten. New version, they just run to the third pig’s house and hang out there.

      Moral of the stories? There’s no point in planning for the future, because there will always be someone to mooch off of. And that works for a time, but eventually the world runs out of ants.

        1. Oh, I’m sure there is. It would be an interesting one, too. You could take it many ways, everything from horror to comedy.

      1. I think I read the originals before I read the bowdlerized version.

        And yes… I believe Maggie Thatcher said it well. Eventually you run out of other people’s stuff to steal.

    2. Much better to be a leech on society, yes. At least according to some, anyway.

  6. “My whole life I’ve watched good things dry up and blow away right about when I should be getting them.”
    Think about how built up the old-age industries (nursing homes, care facilities, clinics, etc…) will get due to the boomers – and then all their customers die. I’ll have my pick of nice old-person things at reasonable prices!

      1. Very late boomer here too. Not sure it counts as being a boomer if during the Summer of Love you were practicing how to tell q from g.

        1. True that. I was seven during the summer of love (1967) with no older relatives acting the fool in tie-dye and beads. It meant nothing to me.

    1. With my luck, they’ll be falling apart by the time I get there. That or _I’ll_ be falling apart.

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