CONTENTS January 1, 2012

First, an invitation -  Opera   "Why, Nibelung Enterprises?"  "About Family Trees,"  Beyond Opera, "Art from Nature" "Playing with Words,"   " My communiques,"   Appearing January 21, 2016   Review of San Francisco Opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg December 6, 2015  is at the end of this section. The review - with illustrations - also appears on The Wagner Society of Southern California website  Click on newsletter.





Here is an opportunity for sharing and conversing.

Any observations and suggestions about the works on my site will be most appreciated. Forgive me if I have misplaced a participle or lost an umlaut. They will all be dealt with in future printings. If I do have an important factual error or an opinion worthy of dispute, please let me know. They will be addressed more quickly. However, I must say ... I have been with the project for many years and many eyes have reviewed with work. I believe it is quite fine.

I do have some opinions I would like to share and invite comment on. I like to converse about the works, themselves - what moves me about the story, the music- not so much current performances, productions or  performers. I invite you to respond ... or start a topic.

I'll start one ...

Why, Nibelung Enterprises? 

Why do I call this site Nibelung Enterprises?  Well, Alberich and his dwarf cohorts are certainly enterprising ... They are competitors with the Giants and the Gods over riches and power in the world.

Alberich makes his entrance and notices three pretty and flirtatious Rhinemaidens. He tries to catch them for amorous purposes. When they reject them, he learns that if he renounces love, he can take the gold from the bottom of the Rhine, forge it into a Ring, and gain power over others. He learns this from Woglinde, one of the Rhinemaidens, who sings these lyrics to a melody known as the "renunciation of love." This music is a beautiful sad falling melody'.

Alberich sings to that same melody. His singing portrays well an acceptance, deep sadness and certain nobility about his plight. I first read about the ambivalence Alberich feels and expresses in Robert Donington's  book, 'Wagner's Ring and it's Symbols."  This was very moving to read. It also helped me resonate more deeply during my own listenings at performances and on recordings. Love is something that is being denied to him, so being smart and enterprising, he does renounce it. He siezes the gold to attain world dominion.

Not only was Alberich enterprising in deciding to take the gold, we learn how he uses others - Mime, Hagen to help him 'do his deeds' in trying to regain the ring he forged.  Hagen came about through Alberich having sex with Grimhilde. While he  gave up love, he certainly did not give up all female contact.

I do not have a deep warm place in my heart for Alberich ... but I do have some appreciation and some empathy. Also, he does survive through the entire cycle ... that takes some enterprising.

Your comments about the Ring characters and the story are most welcome.

About Family Trees

Family trees of more Wagner and other operas are in the works.  If any visitors to the site would like to contribute or collaborate on these family trees feel welcome to contact me. There is precedence for family trees to include more qualitative descriptions of persons and their relationships. Google 'genogram' if you wish to learn more about this.

In the future, I will link more to the works others have done in the area of opera or literary family trees.  Many a time I have come newly to an opera that has a complicated story, and wanting to do a quick study, was unable to do so. This was the case when I attended a  performance Handel's Julius Caesar in San Francisco about a decade ago.

Regarding the craft, humor and communique portions of my site, they represent areas of expression that have been important to me over the years.

First, Turning Nature Inside out. I noticed how beautiful and tasty dried slices of fruit were. With “inspiration” and “perspiration,” the process of preparing jewelry from these pieces of nature evolved and continues to do so. The expression I use in much of my work as a teacher also pertains to my work of making art from nature - “Inside of all things that live, are beauty and possibility.” 

Playing with words ties into my lighter side. I am much better in seeing and expressing the humor in the moment - than in repeating a scripted joke. One example is thinking about having a car that is a lemon. With my citrus crafts I dry peelings from lemons, limes and oranges and glue them in the shape of a car. So I can now say that my car is a 'lemon and a lime and orange too'. I glue them to a surface with nonscented white glue. This peels have a refreshing long lasting scent. I would love to hear about some of your figures or figurines of speech you would like to share.

Kirschen Communiques section has some of my writing, be it on caring or craft or music or more. Two gentlemen's expressions imbue much of my philosophy in my caring writings. St. Francis of Assisi says in his famous prayer ... 'Understand before being understood' and the latter day spiritual philosopher Thomas Moore tells us that we do not solve or cure conditions in our lives, instead there is an ongoing process of caring, tending. Much of the motivation for this writing comes from being a special education teacher as well as a life long student of caring education. Caring is not just an art, it is a science as well.

In the works - I'll be succinct. A topography of the Ring, a game about the Ring, a libretto of the RIng annotated for themes that occur and reoccur.  I use a fine translation and a method of labeling that enhances understanding (Wotan's Spear as his authority, instead of 'spear'). 

I invite comments and new observations.


A Meistersinger Performance For The Head and Heart

Review for the final of the six performance run of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the San Francisco Opera on December 6, 2015. Written by Martin Kirschen for the Wagner Society of Southern California and his website  (The opera was beautifully produced by Sir David McVicar and beautifully conducted by Sir Mark Elder.)

Justice was given to Die Meistersinger – a very wise and humorous opera this. The wisdom starts when Hans Sachs shows his ability to successfully deal with forces of change, not by having immediate answers, but by listening well and working to figure out ways that will work for the citizens of Nürnberg. The main humor comes from observing the Mastersingers reactions when they are confronted by potential changes that run counter to their long built up ways of viewing and doing things.

The genius of Richard Wagner is that here he has composed a mature work that often harkens back to his earlier operas that have more rhyme, as well as music mirroring the verse. At the same time, much of his music emanates from the orchestra alone, expressing universal themes of love and sadness. It reveals deeper feelings that do not just correspond to the surface thoughts and emotions of the characters.


Stage Set

The work opens in a side sanctuary of St. Katherine’s church. It reveals to us a gothic setting, beautiful but not opulent. There is an open lattice like structure that makes up the ceiling. This canopy was used for each act, whether framing a room or outside setting such as a street scene in Act 2 of 18th Century Nürnberg and the more open space of Act 3. This provided a unifying motif.  I had the recent opportunity to communicate with the Production designer Victoria Mortimer about the coverings. She said “the ceilings were a compilation of references from the medieval gothic architecture of middle Europe, rather than one specific church or interior. We particularly liked the stylized natural forms like arching trees

Very riveting, and to me appealing, is a mural in the main sanctuary seen through a large open passage way. It looks like a pastiche combining Albrecht Dürer and Pieter Breugel works. The disparate images are quizzical yet somehow meaningful. They match the disparity in outlooks of the main characters compared with the Mastersingers.

As Victoria Mortimer indicated “The church mural was based on Dürer’s Christ among the Doctors. The best way to summarize the associations we hoped to provoke might be to say that the mural reminds us of the busy interference of the social world around the characters, and the expectations of conformity to status quo which this interference might impose. So, when Hans Sachs (via Walther) proposes an alternative song composition, it is at the risk of disrupting the existing norms: Wagner expects us to support this challenge to parochial complacency.”  Simple yet profound. My thoughts were not far from this. I pondered what interpretations were by the rest of the audience.

A visual element that affected me negatively was the uniform worn by Walther von Stolzing. In his red white and blue colors, he looked to me like an officer in the Union Army of the Civil War. We know he is of high station from another land, and in the earlier 16th century setting that Wagner used, he is a young Franconian Knight. However, here in Nürnberg, identifying his military background seems out of place. This difference in look compared from other citizens is unnecessary and becomes a continual distraction.  His youth alone and what he does is enough to identify him.

In Act 2 there is a statue of a man on a pedestal at center stage, in the middle of the street, facing to the back. Who is he? To me he looks like the statue of The Commendatore from Don Giovanni. You see, no strong idea here as I had with the Act 1 mural. Later, I learned from Ms. Mortimer that it was Bach – “blessing the proceedings” … Perhaps on this particular uproarious evening it was Bach doing some ‘wishful’ blessing.

A final observation on settings. A beautiful one was Hans Sach’s workshop in the beginning of the third act. I could imagine how the historical cobbler’s workshop looked. I lived in Nürnberg as a child and I saw many such beautiful sites.

Stage Action

The many movements of the characters in the first act were handled well. It was particularly effective when at the end of the act, Walther, the apprentices, journeyman, citizens, burghers and Mastersingers all left the church in an uproar leaving Sachs to ponder their prior interactions with Walther. This is but one of many places in the opera where Wagner uses improvisation and pantomime. It was portrayed well here.

In the second act, when Sachs was at his workbench hitting the hammer against the shoe while Beckmesser was serenading off key, he did so with a light tap tap tap. I believe that the growing discord of the scene deserved some lustier sounds from Sach’s hammerings. It would add more energy.

The second act had a wonderful closing. This is where David starts pummeling Beckmesser for unknowingly serenading his intended, Magdalena. The free-for-all was wonderful to behold, much of it choreographed rowdiness. I enjoyed seeing the women having the upper hand.

My challenge with group movement was the celebration in the final act when the libretto indicates that groups of journeyman, and apprentices and other citizens dance and sing together. The score included a separate section for shoemakers, then tailors and then bakers. This distinction was not made clear. What we got was just a large amalgam of members of the populace frolicking together. Acrobatics and jugglers worked well. Overall, the San Francisco handling was very festive and fun.


Music and Individual Performances


Sir Mark Elder did a fine job in conducting the large sounds of Wagner, and at the same time being sensitive to the quieter passages. The orchestra responded beautifully. The singing, individual and choral, was fine throughout.


Ain Anger was an excellent Pogner. His sonorous voice was accompanied by fine acting.


The role of his daughter, Eva, was sung beautifully by Rachel Willis-Sorensen.  Both these performers have extensive histories at prominent opera houses. Also both were making their San Francisco Opera debuts with these performances.  Sasha Cooke, the Magdalena, Eva’s assistant also sang very well. As did Alek Shrader, David, Hans Sach’s apprentice. All the Mastersingers sang and acted quite well.


The Beckmesser, Martin Gantner, in his company debut (he performed the role recently at the Metropolitan Opera) sang the role quite beautifully. He brought out the more serious and human side of the town clerk. I am used to hearing more comic renditions of the role, however I came to appreciate and understand Mr. Gantner’s interpretation more as the performance went on. His conversing with Sachs in the cobbler’s workshop had less slap stick.


At one time, however, his trying to catch a piece of paper floating through the air was quite funny. Quite improvisational as well.


Now, to our protagonists:


Walther was portrayed, initially as a proud and somewhat haughty young man, by Brandon Jovanovich. His voice was a little light in the first two acts, however he came through beautifully in the final act. Mr. Jovanovich acted very well, particularly as he became more accepting of the time-honored ways of the established Mastersingers as explained to him by Sachs.


James Rutherford took over the leading role of Hans Sachs from Greer Grimsley several months ago. He made his debut at the San Francisco Opera in 2007 in Tannhäuser as Wolfram von Eschenbach. He has sung in Bayreuth and extensively elsewhere. Mr. Rutherford sang decently in the first and second acts.  We learned during the intermission prior to the final act that he was indisposed this evening however he had decided to go on to perform in the final act. For me, ironically, he did his fullest and most sonorous singing in the last act.


In the Wahn, Wahn monologue he buried his head in his hands showing his sadness at the mayhem of Walther with the Mastersingers, and his own acceptance of Eva’s wishing to move on with Walther. This visual expression was quite poignant. I had not experienced any other interpretations as powerful as this in other Meistersingers I have seen.  He buried his head in his hands at one other time in the opera as well.


This acceptance by Sachs had none of the inevitable doom that is associated with Schopenhauer’s influence that we find in Tristan and Isolde or the final version for the ending of Wagner’s Ring cycle. Sachs is much too hopeful and healthy a person to let life’s tribulations alter his personal or world view. He demonstrated that when faced with challenges there are always ways of ‘viewing and doing’ that can help.


Overall, this was a very fine performance that prompts many thoughts and emotions. It made me think and feel deeply.