Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Wagner of My Year

“In 2006 and 2007, Pluto will align with the Galactic Center three times, ushering in an unprecedented period of cosmic awareness and healing. Pluto’s conjunction with the Galactic Center occurs only once every 248 years.

How each of us experiences this transit will depend on our consciousness.” From

Which is all by way of offering some explanation for this being the year I take the plunge on Wagner.

Tonight Steed and I are headed to Lincoln Center to see the Tristan Project—the concert version of the great Wagner opera Tristan und Isolde, as envisioned by Peter Sellars and video artist Bill Viola, with Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angelos Philharmonic. The performance is 5 hours (with two intermissions)—it is not for the faintheated. We were attracted by the idea of Viola’s work complementing the transcendence of Wagner’s music.

July will see us at Lincoln Center for what’s being called the rare Russian Ring. We’ve never seen any version of the Ring, so to see it with Valery Gergiev, director of the Kirov Opera, made it all the more compelling. You’ve got to love a city where one series for the performances sold out in 2 days—last July.

Wagner is a fathomless well that can be intimidating by the immensity of conflicting things you need to process about him: the staggering beauty of the music itself, the tantalizing intellectualism, the relentless anti-Semitism, the Tristan Chord alone, the mythologies of his worlds. It’s not so easily accessible. It could constitute a life-time of study. Yet study feels antithetical to the truest essence of Wagner. He had only the most minimal of formal musical training himself. He was talent personified, and I can only hope to find him on that abstract landscape—to let his work wash over me, to hopefully connect within me.

Two years ago Cadfael and I were on the Amalfi Coast, and we went inland up to Ravello. Wagner had summered there in 1880, in the Villa Rufalo, whose gardens he used for the model of Klingsor’s garden in Act II of Parsifal. The grounds are now the setting for the Ravello Festival, with that gorgeous stage that floats high above the water. [Their site has a gorgeous flash intro, worth a click.Pick a language to launch.] It was a thrill to ramble around what’s left of the old castle, to walk out to “terrace of the infinite”—those Roman busts that line the low wall on the grounds of the Villa Cimbrone (where Great Garbo honeymooned with Leopold Stokowski). Ravello is an other-worldly setting.

The experience of Wagner is other-worldly. It’s a way to break from the pedestrian cares of everyday life, to try to connect to the primal forces and truths of being human, if only for as long as it takes that last chord to completely decay.