moments before the wind.

May 13, 2006

vienna waits for you

Filed under: music, news, writing — alimarcus @ 10:31 am

John Tierney's Op-Ed today is an attempt to use metaphor to find an inventive way to discuss American Idol – comparing it to Wagner's Die Meistersinger. On almost every level, it smacks of thoughtless aristocratic pandering. I know it's a Times Select article, so I'll try to use quotes when applicable, without posting the whole thing.

One. Wagner as justification of having a sophisticated music taste. By comparing American Idol to one of the classical greats, Tierney projects a kind of cred that really says "I'm not as vapid as the other millions of people who watch American Idol."

Two. Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg is a well-known controvertially racist work and it's a bit more than odd that a)Tierney uses it and b)doesn't mention that fact. Die Meistersinger is about a guild of German folk who hold a singing competiton staged to find a "Bavarian Idol," in Tierney's terms.  In Wagner's terms though, "what is German and true none would know, if it did not live in the honour of German Masters" (from the libretto). The manner of establishing a winner involves the malicious deception of a character named Beckmesser, "by arranging for the guild's ultraconventional singer to suffer through a Nascar-style crash-and-burn. The crowd laughs at his song and mocks him as a "booby" with no sex appeal." Beckmesser is one of Wagner's most famous Jewish cariacatures. Wagner was known for these blatant anti-semitic cartoons, and his operas were protested for it. He sneakily avoids mention of religion, but when you consider Wagner's whole gesamtkunstwerk mentality, there is every reason to believe that his prose writing ("Jewishness in Music") contained the same kinds of emphasis that his operatic work did. Tierney writes: "The crowd loves the rebel in shining armor" who wins the competition and the girl (which, if it isn't clear, was all completely rigged). Wagner's words for this victory, are quite different:

Therefore I say to you:
honour your German Masters,
then you will conjure up good spirits!
And if you favour their endeavours,
even if the Holy Roman Empire
should dissolve in mist,
for us there would yet remain
holy German Art!

This is the repeated refrain that ends the opera. Resonates, doesn't it? I can't really find a trace of some kind of celebration for a "rebel in shining armor." Tierney presents a watered-down interpretation of an opera in a way that avoids the central tenet of Wagner's entire being: the preservation and canonization of German culture.

Three. And this is unrelated to Wagner. Tierney writes:

Singing has always had a primal appeal because it's a courtship display, whether it's done by a knight in 16th-century Bavaria or a lady in an 18th-century English drawing room. Humans, like birds, sing to seduce. And since everyone is an expert on what's sexy, everyone's a critic.

Is this true? This isn't true. It's a sweeping generalization that to me sounds like he just needed to come up with more words and a way to link back to the topic of American Idol. To imply that music is all about sex and romance does everybody a disservice, especially Wagner.

Tierney should have just 'fessed up to being an Idol addict, and gone from there. He would have maintained a whole lot more integrity that way. Is that Poptimism?

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1 Comment »

  1. For some time now I’ve suspected that no one actually edits the music coverage in the Times’ Arts & Leisure section. The copy goes directly from writer to printer.

    Comment by bmarkey — May 15, 2006 @ 8:18 pm


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