Sunday, June 17, 2007


I suppose the "academic" title for this would be,

"Chéreau/Kupfer: a brief study of ambiguity in the finale of Götterdämmerung,"

but I prefer the "subtle wit" (read, "sophomoric cleverness") of my current title. I'm also a bit done with academic titles, having done a substantial-enough paper on ancient Roman prostitution. You'll want to watch, also, these two videos, if you're not familiar with the stagings, before reading the rest of this:

This is from the 1976 Chéreau production of the Ring (Götterdämmerung) at Bayreuth.

This, then, is from the 1991 Kupfer staging of the same at the same venue.

We see, then, two different approaches to the final bit of the finale. Chéreau has the Gibichung retainers staring out at the audience from the ruins of the cataclysm. Kupfer, however, has modern people watching TV, while two small children meet up under Alberich's gaze. While opponents (detractors, what-have-you) of Regietheater might argue that neither of these endings are much of anything, to say nothing of ambiguous, I'll pretend that they are for the moment. Before getting into this, I'll examine them in-depth (as far as I can).

Chéreau's Gibichsmannen (und -frauen, as the case may be) seem to be putting the final question, whatever that is, to the audience. Their silent stare is seemingly intended to make some connection with the viewers, in an attempt to drive home the lesson - whatever that is - of the Ring. However, despite Chéreau's overtly Marxist Konzept, Wagner's poem and music get their own meanings through. So, then, is the Ring a commentary on class struggle and its deleterious effects for the world, as Chéreau would seemingly have us believe, or is it a story of the will-to-power affecting love? And, you know, ending the world. Wagner's brilliant archetypal dramatic writing, the equal of any of the surviving dramatists of Greece, tends to mean that you can read into it whatever you want - but it has its own ideas, too. It will resist some interpretations, lie quietly to others, and respond to those closest to it.

Kupfer, on the other hand, seems not to know what to do. People are watching TV: have they just missed the cosmic drama, replaced the earth-shattering bits with the late, late show? Alberich is there, obviously ready to renew his attempts at reclaiming what is "his," and seemingly considering the children, who seem to have noticed it all, for his plans. Is this all about to happen again, and again? Terry, in our conversation about Dorst, mentioned Kupfer's introduction of the Eternal Return, and Kupfer certainly leaves the door open to it. However, Kupfer - while battering his "message" in - doesn't seem to make his message clear. In fact, I might say that Kupfer's approach to the Ring - in general - is pretty vague and confused. Neon tubes, Ray-Bans, and abstract spaces do not a Konzept make.

I suppose my question is this: is ambiguity a good thing in the Ring? Postmodern interpretation, reader-response and all that, is fun: granted. Wagner, however, knew what he wanted and was trying to say. Introducing ambiguity where there is likely none can serve a dramatic purpose, but I don't think Messrs. Chéreau and Kupfer succeeded in doing that. If one views the Ring as a cosmic drama on the scale and of the scope of Aeschylus' Oresteia, which is probably the best analogue to the Ring, then there has to be catharsis. That psychological function does not work in an ambiguous environment, nor does it work in a dramatic context. In fact, it can be counterproductive, since putting a stinger at the end of the Ring can - conceivably - overpower the preceding Tetralogy, you can pretty much trash the point of it all in about five minutes.

Chéreau seems to be saying, "Lookit: you can pretty much do whatever you want with this, I certainly did." Kupfer, on the other hand, seems to have a point, but doesn't make it. "Ach: this could all happen again, or no-one could be paying any attention, or something." Well, what does that do to the overall cohesiveness of a story, one with some flaws*, but one story with one message? Nothing good. Wagner wrote a drama of archetypes. Things you can recognize anywhere and in any context. They're programmed into our "cultural DNA," and - likely - our base psychology. If you want a "skeleton key" (bad joke) to the archetype of the hero, which Siegfried was supposed to be, Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces should do it for you. Still, if you make the archetypal conflict ambiguous, you destroy the dramatic (as the Greeks understood drama) integrity of the work.

In other words, ambiguity, poorly brought off, can destroy the meaning to be found in an otherwise-cohesive work. The theatrical Konzept is one thing, but not the only thing. Ambiguity should serve the work proper, and in doing, should serve the Konzept. If it doesn't work that way, then the director should revise his/her ideas. Not the work. In the case of the Ring, I don't think ambiguity - in a major sense - really helps the situation. Wagner was telling a pretty clear story and pretty damn' well, if I may say so. Monkeying with it can come to no good end. The Ring is the cosmic drama, and it is best to make it as clear and potent as possible. Not otherwise. A bit of formal logic for you, to conclude.

Clear and potent -> best for the Ring
~Best for the Ring -> ~Clear and potent

By my reasoning, if it isn't best for the Ring, then it isn't clear and potent.

*Wotan's extremely pathetic, in a philological sense, nature revealed in Walküre makes him the tragic hero of the cycle, and Siegfried becomes a well-meaning, but ultimately one-dimensional, clod.


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