Grumpy About Wagner

Yesterday I sat through the Seattle Opera's production of Richard Wagner's Tristn und Isolde (hereafter, T&I). And boy did it make me grumpy.

I suppose some of this is because I'm not a strong music fan in the first place and attend opera only because my wife would be very disappointed if I didn't accompany her to one.

The Wikipedia link above goes into a good deal of detail regarding T&I's background, plot and reactions to it over time. Apparently a number of well-known composers were enthralled by it and historians of music say the it was an influential work. Of course one can point to the artists who regarded Paul Cézanne highly and how influential his work was. That doesn't mean one absolutely must like T&I or Cézanne's paintings. I don't like either one.

My first problem with T&I was its length; with intermissions it ran four hours and 40 minutes. Three hours would be much more tolerable.

Secondly, the plot had very little action. Many important events were manifested in the form of characters singing about what had happened someplace or other off-stage: why couldn't those events have been dramatized?

Instead (point three), I had to suffer through a 40-minute stretch of the second act where Isolde and the love-potioned Tristan went through what I took to be a bunch of two-bit philosophizing and analogy-making about love. I quickly reached the point where I stopped reading the captions and gave serious thought to falling asleep, my time being cruelly wasted by matters that could have been disposed of in five or ten minutes.

T&I is a sung-through opera with no set-piece arias. No memorable melodies either, at least none that I caught. I also didn't pick up on leitmotifs that were supposedly there. So the music (which tended to underline sung thoughts or emotions) was lush, but to a large extent nondescript to my unmusical ears.

So for me T&I was basically a waste of time and money.

Many will disagree, and that's fine. I'm just venting here and don't expect to convert anyone to my point of view. Moreover I find that most operas are tedious, chewing up plenty of time where nothing much happens. And the songs about love strike the 2010 me as insipid even though they must have great appeal to 1880 others.

T&I was my third Wagner opera (after Der fliegende Holländer and Die Walküre), so three strikes and he's out, so far as I'm concerned.