Modern Flash Dictionary by George Kent (1835). The British Library Board.

Berkshire Review’s Recommended Books and Classical Recordings 2011

I should most likely not distract you from giving a subscription to The Berkshire Review as a holiday gift. We need subscriptions to carry on our work, but there are a few items that have come in for review that I can warmly suggest as excellent gifts. These are not systematic, and they are not always serious, but we do recommend them. Some of them will be reviewed in detail over the following weeks.

Wagner and Masks

The production aesthetics of the recent Los Angeles Ring set it far apart from any other North American production of Wagner’s tetralogy to date. One aspect that has divided audiences and performers alike is the director/designer Achim Freyer’s ubiquitous use of masks and puppet forms. Freyer is not the only director to resort in the past quarter century to such devices, which have gained in popularity in opera/theatre production more generally. In the Ring, Wagner himself never called for masks for his singers. His theoretical writings nevertheless alert us to ways he thought about masks and his keen interest in matters of disguise and deception — core elements of the Ring dramas. Many modern critics are appalled by the use of masks for opera singers, both for aesthetic and vocal reasons, and believe that it is antithetical to Wagner’s dramaturgy. Wagner’s theoretical interest in masks undermines this critical stance. Simultaneously, contemporary directors have discovered in masks a powerful expressive tool that reaches well beyond what Wagner recognized as the boundaries of dramatically suggestive costuming.

After Bomarzo…

Just as the last major events of the spring season approached, including the final performances of Otto Schenk’s production of Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen at the Met, I realized that if I did not travel to Italy for an important family visit—no, it was not a junket to cover the grand opening of Angels and Demons—I would not be able to do it for months. I felt much better when I found that two extraordinary people were available to take my place: Rebecca Kim, a brilliant recent Ph.D. from Columbia, who wrote her dissertation on John Cage, had just completed one of the Met’s Ring Cycles and was willing to take my seat for a second traversal, and Roza Tulyaganova, who has delighted audiences with her Fiordiligi in Così and her Countess in Figaro, and is equally well-prepared to analyze performances through her work as a candidate for a doctorate in musical arts at Stony Brook.

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