Dick Shawn as Lonrenzo St. DuBois in Mel Brooks' The Producers
Ah, California. The state you love to hate is at it again. From the people who brought you the Twinkie defense, Ronald Reagan, and wrongheaded voter initiatives too numerous to count, now comes a new installment of remarkable idiocy to marvel at. This time the primary source is one of our not-so-illustrious Los Angeles County supervisors, Mike Antonivich (A Republican, natch!) who has broken his long-standing disinterest in the arts with a new pet project. According to the Los Angeles Times, Supervisor Antonovich intends to introduce a motion for the County to send a letter to the board of the Los Angeles Opera about their upcoming presentation of Wagner’s Ring Cycle
and the concurrent "Ring Festival"
that will accompany it. The Festival will sponsor a variety of events examining Wagner's life and music and will involve several other arts organizations around town. But this is Hollywood baby, and the Board of Supervisors has got notes for the opera company. You see he loves what LA Opera is doing with the whole Ring-thing and all. Really, it’s great and they’re doing some fabulous work. But you see, it’s just that, well, he was wondering if maybe we could keep the whole cycle and festival but maybe have, you know, a little less Wagner in it.
Apparently, some of the crack research staff in his office have discovered that over a century ago, the composer expressed some rather anti-semetic sentiments. And I know that may come as a surprise to many of my readers, but apparently of the millions of people who’ve admired Wagner’s work in the last century or so, one of them happened to be Hitler. As hard as it may be to believe, the fact remains that one of the worst despots of the 20h century admired Wagner's art. Antonovich suggests, according to the LA Times report, that a broader focus of the festival on other composers such as Puccini, Verdi, and Mozart may make Wagner more palatable to the reportedly legions of citizens in LA who will otherwise be offended out of their minds over any reflection on Wagner’s work. And while I’m impressed that Antonovich can actually name three other opera composers, it does seem a bit of an odd suggestion. But maybe he's right, Puccini and Mozart's racism and misogyny make Wagner much easier to stomach don't you think?
Of course, the Times article goes on to point out that Antonovich is apparently only responding to constituent concerns. But who those people are remains unclear outside of one apparently very media-hungry "journalist" by the name of Carie Delmar. We’re told she has a “blog” (which I won’t link to for obvious reasons) specifically devoted to protesting the LA Ring Festival and recently posted a long piece explaining her idiotic position. Apparently when she's not busy doing the hard core research into Wagner's moral shortcomings from over a century ago, she also dabbles in criticism. Elsewhere online, Ms. Delmar provides us not only with a lovely glamour shot, but also bestows the coveted Delmar award for Best Opera Production on the West Coast for 2008 to LA Opera’s production of La Rondine
with Patricia Racette. So it’s comforting to know that Ms. Delmar’s lack of sense may only be matched by her lack of taste. But hey this is a free Country and the beauty of it is that you can express your opinions as you see fit, regardless of how misinformed they may be.
What Ms. Delmar and Supervisor Antonovich fail to understand (and I realize that is a big category in and of itself) is that it is not a Festival examining Wagner and his Ring cycle that will make L.A. look foolish, but the fact that this city would have this “debate” at all in this day and age that does so. Wagner, like all humans, was a complicated person with both good and bad qualities. Some of them, like his anti-semitism are sadly quite common in people. Others, like his artistic achievements, are among the most rare in our species. To suggest that we should not discuss and focus on the life and work of a single person who did great things because some of his opinions from over a century ago don’t jibe with our modern day morality or that he shared opinions with others who much later on did unspeakable things is so myopic it begs reason. We celebrate “great” individuals every day who were anti-semities, racists, and frankly worse for far less than Wagner achieved. (Lincoln and Washington were not the nicest of guys at times either, believe you me.) To sort out only those historical figures who said and believed all of the things we feel most comfortable with today would leave us very little to talk about.
But you know what. I can comprehend that some people may not want to hear about Wagner and are just too offended by the man to see any value in anything else he ever did. So be it. And if you feel that way, I would suggest that you don't spend your time attending the festival events or Wagner's operas. Save your money and stay home. Or better yet, start a festival of your own to talk and hear about things you find less objectionable. And if you wouldn't mind, could you please let those of us who do want to hear and talk about Wagner do so.
Labels: opera rant