I’m off to Berlin tomorrow to escort a group and attend Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle at the Staatsoper, to be conducted by the ageless Daniel Barenboim. In the spirit of “spreading the informational joy” for all who might be interested, I’ve posted two more excerpts from my The Great Courses survey “The Music of Richard Wagner”: portions of Lectures 18 and 19:The Ring, Parts 2 and 3.
That we will be hearing the Ring conducted by an Argentinian/Israeli Jew in Berlin is a fact so extraordinary that we must consider it for a moment. More than any other place on the planet, Berlin was the Valhalla of the twentieth century: a place of would-be gods who were put to the torch thanks to their own deranged cruelty and arrogance. We’ll be attending the Ring just a few hundred yards away from the site of Hitler’s Bunker, where he stage-managed his own “Gotterdammerung”/self-immolation as the Russians closed in during late April of 1945 and where many of Wagner’s hand-written manuscripts burned along with the Nazi leadership (an extraordinary story that I’ll save for a future posting).
I had the opportunity to spend over six weeks in Berlin over the course of three consecutive summers: 1998, ’99, and 2000. The Wall and the Death Strip between the eastern and western parts of the city were still fairly intact at the time; bullet holes, bomb damage, and train tracks to nowhere were still everyway to be seen in the old east side. The Death Strip is gone now; it is covered by the new government quarter, the Pottsdamer Platz, and monuments (like the Holocaust Memorial). Modern Berlin is a magnificent, cosmopolitan city, but like the unexploded ordinance and skeletal remains that keep turning up, it sits atop an explosive and deeply troubled history.
Berlin is a place of ghosts: of Bismarck’s Empire, Kaiser Wilhelm’s Central Powers, Hitler’s Reich, and the Communist era, all of which are still there to be seen (and felt) if you know where to look. It is a fantastically appropriate place to hear and see and feel Wagner’s Ring, which – like modern Berlin itself – is about the destruction of tyrants and the rise of man.