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genius of the language. As a consequence foreign opera in English has the effect of being sung in a hybrid language. The difference between German and English is not so marked, but a difference exists nevertheless.
Moreover, there is the question of national sentiment. By no stretch of the imagination can I look on Wotan as anyone but a German, unless he be a German Jew. His interminable soliloquies, of which self-pity appears to be the emotional centre, are so full of heavily emphasised sentiment that when Mr. Whitehill sang the part in English I felt there was some artistic inappropriateness, and that a god who could so abase himself should not use our language. Wotan is surely not like a god to English minds, and never' trod these fields of ours.' Language is such an intimate, subtle affair that you cannot divorce it from associations which have their roots deep in our being. Siegfried's naïveté, charming and fresh in its Teutonic character, becomes childish and clumsy in English. And, more than that, the character of the music is apt to sound at variance with the genius of the language when sung to a translation. This is especially the case with Italian opera which deals with typical Italian emotion. And it is the same with plays. Imagine the crude and tumultuous emotions of the Sicilian players, who have been astonishing London, if expressed in English! The inappropriateness would be obvious. Without wishing to pose as supersensitive or hypercritical, I keenly feel this inappropriateness in the performance of translated operas, quite apart from the technical weakness there must always be in fitting a foreign language to music.
For these reasons it is not so clear that a general custom of performing opera in English would be an artistic gain. True, we are almost alone among the nations in our polyglot opera, but we need not be alarmed by that isolation. The cause of it is more a matter for reform. We have merely stumbled on the artistic procedure of performing every opera in its own language, because, not believing in our own operatic talent, we have relied almost entirely on foreign artists. When English singers have been engaged at Covent Garden they have sung, as a matter of course, in a foreign language, and there is no reason why they should not continue to do so; but the success of the Ring performances will have brought home to the musical amateur the fact that the English operatic artist should be accepted without prejudice, and that is something accomplished. Whether performances of Wagner in English, or other operas in English, will have any effect on creating a school of English opera is doubtful
. To write as if the performances of the Ring were an epoch in the history of our creative art is absurd. They will have had no appreciable effect unless it be to prove to British composers once again that Wagner's method of composition is a thing by itself and not to be copied without loss of artistic sanity.
If the performances of the Ring in English were encouraging to a belief in our native talent for singing in opera, they were disappointing to those who had expected Wagner's drama would come out with a new clearness. The Englishman with an ordinary working knowledge of German has always imagined that much of the Ring has been necessarily hidden from him in consequence of its being sung in its original tongue. The English representations have destroyed that lingering belief. It would not have been possible to grasp the real import of the Ring from what we heard in English. The very passages in the libretto which are of such importance to the understanding of Wagner's whole drama were precisely those which did not get themselves articulated clearly. On the other hand, quite unimportant speeches, which the action of the drama alone would have explained, were heard as if they were important messages from some god on high. The musician, pure and simple, smiles if you point out to him that Wagner's aim as musico-dramatist was thereby stultified. You are told that you must judge the Ring as a whole : that is to say, as an amalgam of poetry, music, drama, and scenery; and if you are in any doubt about the matter there is always the orchestra presenting, in Debussy's phrase, the lyrical visiting-cards of the dramatis persona. That is all very well for those who already know their Ring, but Wagner himself would have been the first to deprecate the necessity of a preliminary study of his music-dramas. Why, bis whole theory was that his orchestra and the singing voice, together with gesture, were to make the very innermost part of the drama clear to the instinctive understanding. In different words and in different forms this aim is repeated over and over again in his prose works. It really will not do for musicians to fall back on the unquestionable magnificence of the greater part of the music of the Ring. Possibly Wagner will be remembered by his music alone, long after his dramatic combination has been voted a failure ; but we have not yet arrived at the day when the Wagnerian has the artistic honesty to admit that failure—at least not in public. Nevertheless, the Wagnerian music-drama is a failure from Wagner's own point of view. To carry out his theory it would be necessary that the poem be heard in its entirety, but his musica! design, the symphonic use of the orchestra, makes this impossible. The sunken orchestra at Bayreuth is a little more in favour of the singer, but not to the extent that the proportion of voice to orchestra is entirely changed.
The thorough-going Wagnerian is no guide in this matter of musicodramatic æsthetics. He shirks this simple matter of artistic procedure by taking refuge in the deep philosophic meaning of the whole Ring, and desires to know why preliminary study of the libretto and of guides which connect the music with its more subtle aspects should be prohibited. You cannot corner a Wagnerian by argument. At a moment's notice he is off at a tangent. I prefer the honesty of the simple-minded musician who will admit that the Ring may be a failure as music-drama on æsthetic grounds, and is even a failure as drama from its very subject, and bases his admiration on the music alone. True, that musician must suffer many minutes of boredom, for naturally much of the Ring is not of the first musical interest. Still, every work of art made by man has its weak points, and there is so much that is really great in the music of the tetralogy that the weakness is not more than a foil for the strength. This uncritical and unæsthetic appreciation of the Ring does not help towards an understanding of what the future of opera should be. It has been the cause, indeed, of an almost absolute standstill in the writing of music-drama, except on the part of Italians, whose native instinct and want of deep musicianship have saved them from the Wagnerian
The theory of the master is so neat that it is a thousand pities his practice flouted it. What could be more to the point than that the poem of a music-drama should be whittled down to a literary expression of the essentials of drama ? What more dramatic in music than that the vocal part should be a kind of glorified, melodic speech? Then the orchestra, with its faculty of ‘uttering the unspeakable, the pure organ of feeling
it speaks out the very things that word-speech in itself, the organ of the understanding, can not '—what a fine idea is there! And if any other expressive means are required to make the amalgam perfect there is gesturethat can give point to the unspeakable utterance of the orchestra. On paper the theory looks well and is arguable, but in practice, when the composer uses the orchestra, as a musician is naturally tempted to use it, for it is one of the most marvellous, subtle, and expressive instruments ever invented by man, the whole art-creation becomes lop-sided. Let us be frank in these days. No one is an anti-Wagnerian in the sense of the anti-Wagnerian of the early 'eighties. We all acknowledge Wagner's greatness as composer; most of us gladly admit, too, that in patches his music-dramas did fulfil his theories. All students of Wagner's scores will know the patches I mean. They invariably occur when the orchestra is toned down to an instrument for the creation of atmosphere alone and is not used symphonically, and when the voice is allowed to come out spasmodically, the orchestra being kept under at that moment. In general Wagner dodged the difficulty of pitting the voice against the full orchestra playing fortissimo more often than was once imagined, but at best it was a dodge, and has not the effect of leaving the voice free as a medium of human expression. We must admit these faults of Wagner's style of music-drama, or dishonour our artistic intelligence and the clear evidence of our ears.
What, then, is to be the future of opera ? Are we to be content with the mawkish music of Signor Puccini and his school ? Are we to throw back to the decorative conventions of Gluck, or to the mixed lyrics and dry recitative of Mozart, or to the declamatory ballad operas of Weber? Or is the future with Richard Strauss's Salome and an even more paramount position for the orchestra ? Or should we fold our hands and say that the genre of opera is artistically false, that it can be neither drama nor music, but a hybrid amalgam of the two ? It is easy enough to argue against opera on every possible æsthetic ground, but man is a practical creature and has found the combination of music and drama much to his taste. The difficulty as to the future would settle itself without any theorising, but the impertinence of pointing the way is not without fascination. For my part, I cannot believe that any practice will long keep the human voice in its present banishment. There is no thrill in any instrument equal to the thrill the human voice can produce in the sensitive listener. In all concerted music there is hardly any combination as beautiful as the combination of human voices. I cannot believe that doctrinaire theories will stand in the way of the employment of these most expressive mediums merely because they are conventional. After all, drama itself is a convention. I cannot believe that opera composers of the future, from the same arid worship of dramatic truth, will continue to banish expression by dancing from the opera stage. (Indeed, has not Richard Strauss had the artist's instinct to make use of it?) On the other hand, it is certain the orchestra is the chief means of expression of the moment. Mr. Ernest Newman, a critic of singular acumen and boldness, has even stated his opinion that the orchestra will become more and more paramount in music-drama and the voice will recede farther and farther into the background. If that happens, music-drama will develop into a new form of instrumental and vocal art, and ultimately will free itself from the stage altogether. The idea is fantastical, and the idea of an absolute musician.
No; the future of music-drama will rest on compromise. To make his theories dovetail together Wagner assumed as a basic truth that music-drama must be the only form of drama. That was his initial mistake, for which he argued with tireless and not always easily grasped rhetoric. During the process of convincing himself, in which light we must view the bulk of his voluminous prose writings, he hit on so many truths that he hypnotised those who had not a firm hold of first principles. But the great truth evaded him in theory, if not in practice : that every art has its own conventions. He proved that singing is natural, and then tried to prove that it is the expression of human feeling. He seemed to think that music is the natural and only language of feeling, and yet attempted to limit it to the restricted curves of speech, whereas the truth is that music is a separate form of human expression with only the most superficial analogy to speech. That Wagnerian limit must be removed, and, as a matter of fact, is being removed without any theorising at all. The composer of the future has to make use of music as an art, and of every one of its special conventions that is expressive and adds to the beauty of his art-work. There must be no false ideas of music-drama being drama : it is primarily music. The drama of it is merely the motive force of the whole, and technically takes the place of form in absolute music.' This motive force must not be so hedged in and made inoperative by the conventions of musical language that it no longer exists, as happened with old-fashioned opera, but must be brought into relief as the human subject of the music-play. It has been proved by Wagner's own music-dramas that this is not to be done by subjecting the human voice to the orchestra. At the same time, no modern composer will consent to forgo his wonderful orchestra, and it would be a thousand pities if he did consent; therefore, only compromise remains.
The music-drama of the future will carry Wagner's idea of the expressiveness of the orchestra still farther and give it even greater prominence. The fine qualities of the human voice, in concert and singly, will not be relegated to the background, but employed so that they shall make their full effect. This sounds a paradoxical form of art, but it really is not. A drama can easily be so constructed that the orchestra is only given full expression when the voices are silent, and that should artistically happen more often than it does happen in opera. When the voices are singing, the orchestra must condition itself to them and create emotional atmosphere. More of the action of music-drama can be expressed by pantomime than is the present custom, and the orchestra would then have the fullest possible scope. The libretto of this modern music-drama would be the work of both composer and poet, one of whom would know how to take advantage of the stage and of acting. Some such compromise is needed, for the Wagnerised operas of Verdi and the Neo-Italians are poor in music and crude in drama, and the recent performances of the Ring in English have convinced me that Wagner limited the scope of musical expression by his theories of music-drama and yet crushed his drama by his methods of musical expression.
E. A. BAUGHAN.