Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

The Sword of Wotan

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The elaboration of existing props is a most fruitful means of stimulating one’s dramatic imagination. The first hint I had of this simple and effective method came from Richard Wagner, to whose extraordinary mind we owe so many basic musical and dramatic procedures…In the final scene of Das Rheingold, near the end of Wotan’s solemn greeting to Valhalla, a fortissimo trumpet intones the motif of the sword. Wagner’s printed direction for Wotan at this point says: “To be sung very decisively, as if moved by a mighty thought.” [Editor Felix] Mottl adds here the following remark made by Wagner to the singer [Franz] Betz, who was portraying Wotan: “Before Fafner leaves the stage, he contemptuously discards an insignificant-looking sword that belongs to the hoard of gold. Now Wotan sees it and, as a symbol of his ‘mighty thought,’ lifts it up toward the fortress.” Translating this into our terminology, we cay say that Wagner wanted to externalize Wotan’s concept of Valhalla as a defense against Alberich’s forces and thus hit upon the idea of reusing a prop in a manner not originally planned by him. This is precisely what we mean by the term elaboration…Dramatic ideas do not lend themselves particularly well to transposition, but when combined with props this method is surprisingly effective. I strongly recommend that young stage directors make complete lists of props and scan them systematically with the idea of locating useful transpositions.

Boris Goldovsky, Bringing Opera to Life

Written by nevalalee

June 9, 2018 at 7:30 am

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