Paper Session
Nov 20, 2021 01:00 PM - 01:50 PM(America/Chicago)
20211120T1300 20211120T1350 America/Chicago Wagner and Cultural Politics AMS 2021
Honoring the Masters: The Wagner Stagings of Lothar Wallerstein
Individual Paper 01:00 PM - 01:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 19:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 19:50:00 UTC

In a career spanning four decades, Prague-born stage director Lothar Wallerstein (1882–1949) worked his way up from provincial opera houses to become a sought-after artist at major theaters in Europe, North America, and South America. He concentrated his efforts in Frankfurt, Vienna, and Salzburg, and he was a principal creative collaborator of conductors like Clemens Krauss, Franz Schalk, Bruno Walter, and Richard Strauss. Wallerstein's eclectic career embraced a wide range of operatic genres and composers, the most prominent figure being Richard Wagner. As a result, Wagner's creations and aesthetic philosophies were central to Wallerstein's approach to opera staging. By synthesizing core elements of theatrical expressionism with the work of designer Adolphe Appia, Wallerstein avoided the often-sensational production styles of his contemporaries in favor of stagings organically informed by and attuned to the score. Wallerstein's flight from the anti-Semitism of the Third Reich disrupted his European career, and his subsequent obscurity has regrettably limited both scholarly visibility and public appreciation of his achievements.

Using Wallerstein's published essays and interviews as guides, this investigation aims to reclaim the director's legacy for modern opera production history. A worthy case study exists in Wallerstein's 1929 production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg for the Vienna State Opera. Working from an earlier staging developed in Frankfurt, Wallerstein, together with Clemens Krauss and designer Ludwig Sievert, crafted Vienna's first entirely new production of Wagner's celebrated and revered operatic work. The results divided the city's critics and artists, with many accusing Wallerstein of striving for vain novelty. Others like Richard Strauss defended the production as an advance that was congruent with the aims and intentions of Wagner himself. Reconstructing the development and reception of the 1929 Meistersinger production reveals the tense cultural politics of opera production endemic to "Red Vienna" and the vitality of Lothar Wallerstein's belief in the power and potential of the operatic medium.

Presenters Ryan Prendergast
University Of Texas At Austin
Sustainability in/as Der Ring des Nibelungen
Individual Paper 01:00 PM - 01:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 19:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 19:50:00 UTC

In 1898, George Bernard Shaw interpreted Wagner's Ring as a "toxic discourse" of nineteenth-century capitalism.  Wagner's steam effects, powered by locomotives, materially captured the capitalist and industrialist impulses lying behind the tetralogy's primordial ecologies that, in turn, signified Wagnerian aesthetic ideations.  Patrice Chéreau presented a Shavian Ring at Bayreuth in 1976, while Stephen Wadsworth staged a "green" Ring in Seattle in 2009.  Stephen Langridge conceived the first sustainable Ring in Göteborg in 2019-21, exposing the tetralogy, Wagnerian thought, and even the opera house, as artifacts of industrialism-and the Anthropocene.

This paper asks what it means to think "Anthropocenically" about opera and the opera house, and how the Ring and its critical history instructively entwine opera with Anthropocenic conditions of possibility.   Drawing on production footage, critical responses, and directorial descriptions, I argue that the Ring could be read as diagnosing opera's Anthropocenic debts: Bronislaw Szerszinsky and James Davies argue that the false dichotomy of industrialism and Romantic "nature worship" underlies the Anthropocene's material and aesthetic conditions of possibility.  Chéreau, Wadsworth, and Langridge's Ring cycles make visible aspects of Wagner's tale that "show the consequences of using natural resources of personal power," each modulating the Anthropocenic dialectic of nature, capital, and power.  Reifying strains of Wagnerian eco-aesthetics within vernaculars of eco-power, these productions could be read as lodging not just the Ring, but dominant conceptions of "the stuff we call music," within the conditions of the Anthropocene. 

I begin by placing Chéreau's presentation of the Ring's Anthropocenic energy politics into dialogue with Wadsworth's "green" Wagnerism, an expression of "nature worship" gone wrong.  These productions appear contradictory but, as Szerszinsky and Davies imply, the conflict of industry and nature at the core of Wagnerian thought and practice is native to the Anthropocene's conditions.  Next, I show that Langridge's production thematizes this contradiction in an attempt to resolve it, embedding a sustainable alternative to Wagnerian materiality within the tetralogy's capitalist and "green" interpretive possibilities.  I conclude by arguing that he exposes the Ring's Anthropocenic debts as less of a Wagnerian phenomenon than one of operatic ontology, craft, and criticism. 

Kirsten Paige
Stanford University
Theater of Dislocation and Narratives of National Origin in Wagner's _Ring_ Cycle
Individual Paper 01:00 PM - 01:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 19:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 19:50:00 UTC

Samuel Weber's concept of theater of dislocation refers to a kind of performance that disrupts the process of identification and self-recognition at the heart of the traditional theater of representation. Theater of dislocation takes on a new meaning and urgency in the performance and reception of Richard Wagner's _Der Ring des Nibelungen_, which sought to circulate Wagner's ideas about the racial origin of the German people and white supremacy to a broader audience. Wagner's understanding of the German people as the oldest race of the Indo-European language family was by no means new in the mid-nineteenth century, an understanding that he adopted from philological debates starting with Friedrich Schlegel's _On the Language and Wisdom of the Indians_ in 1808. Yet Wagner's opera played a crucial role in popularizing these ideas outside the narrow circle of philological discourse, thereby contributing to the invention of whiteness through Aryan myth--a myth of common origin that spoke of a glorious past and promised a triumphant future of German national unity.

This paper examines how the Frankfurt _Ring_ cycle (1985-1987), directed by Ruth Berghaus and conducted by Michael Gielen, enacted a theater of dislocation by means of gesture, choreography, and stage and costume design. The concept of theater of dislocation is especially relevant here since Samuel Weber served as a dramaturg for the Frankfurt Opera and its _Ring_ cycle. As the crowning achievement of Gielen's ten-year artistic directorship of the Frankfurt Opera (1977-1987), the Frankfurt _Ring_ cycle is a revealing case study of Weber's theater of dislocation, especially its anti-racism with respect to its critique of Wagner's narrative of racial, ethnic, and national origin.

By focusing on audio-visual entanglements--more specifically, how experimental and "non-literal stagings" (Calico 2008) of Wagner's _Ring_ cycle affect the perception of music--my paper brings a fresh perspective to the scholarship on Wagnerian performance and reception. Existing literature by Patrick Carnegy (2006), Barry Millington (2008), and Mike Ashman (1992) concentrates on the visual aspects of production without accounting for how the staging shapes the audience's overall musico-dramatic experience.

Alexander Rothe
Columbia University
Columbia University
Stanford University
University of Texas at Austin
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