Monday, August 07, 2006

A requiem for Beckmesser

In this "featured past post," ACD goes off on one of his favorite topics, i.e., the bigotry-quotient in Wagner's operas.

I've dealt with this before, but have recently listened to Die Meistersinger again - and redrawn my conclusions. I'll ignore the evidence of Alberich in the Ring, because the licht-Alberich, Wotan, is really no better. In fact, with Alberich's willingness to forswear love (and Wotan's willingness to use only force), one might even feel sympathy for the Nibelung. Though, admittedly, that was likely not Wagner's intent. Damned modernity and the anti-hero, but I digress. The fact that Wagner would subject his tragic hero to the same abuse is silly. So, there goes Wotan. And Alberich. And the Ring. There is enough going on with what Wagner intended for the cycle versus what actually gets staged at Bayreuth that adding any sort of conspiracy nonsense is a worthless exercise in academic auto-affection. (Note: the last three sentences of this paragraph were added to clarify my overall point. It was less-clear in the original form.)

As to Sixtus Beckmesser: who does he represent? Well, you could follow Barry Millington, who provides a reasonable case for a caricature. Or, you could assume that Meistersinger is Wagner's (idealized) biography. That would make Beckmesser the avatar for all the punctilious, "rule"-obsessed critics that had gasped and set their jowls a-quiver at each of Wagner's innovations.

Or, as I do, you could see Beckmesser as a middle-aged clerk, in love and clinging to rules that make the world seem reasonable. In that way, he is no different than a lot of people. What makes him the "villain" of Meistersinger is the fact that he would rather have the world seem reasonable than have two youths have the life they desire. Moreover, he loves Eva - but not quite enough to let her go. (Never mind, of course, that young Walther von Stolzing is quite the poet and singer - in addition to a handsome young Ritter.) Hans Sachs sets himself apart by realizing that real love will take its course - no matter what he would want. Beckmesser, to me, represents the confused suitor. A nice-enough guy, but not quite smart enough to take the hint. Sachs, the "simple" cobbler, is not only smart enough to take the hint, he's generous enough to help the kids along in their lives. That's the definition of a hero.

Beckmesser is only a vile, bigoted caricature when people need him to be. If people are willing to let Herr Sixtus do the talking, then he becomes a silly, love-sotted, but still a bit punctilious town clerk. In Wagner's most human and humane opera, I would rather hear from a silly clerk than anyone else.


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