I watch Das Rheingold…

After a long run in of Wagner interest and some fantastic use of his music in two films that fascinated me (Excalibur, Alien;Covenant) I decided to finally set a goal for this summer which was to experience the whole of his Magnum Opus, “The Ring Cycle”

I live in Rural Colorado and due to the operas famed difficult and expense for an opera company so irt was unlikely I was going to see it live. Once again the internet showed its vast and lovely potential wherein I was able to find all 4 operas of high production value with English subtitles. So now I was ready.

The Four Operas are Das Rheingold, Das Walkyre, Siegfired, and Gottendamerung. (The Rhein Gold, The Valkyries, Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods) all are retellings and reimaginings of Norse and Old Germanic Mythology. The whole story is about how through the use of a ring of stolen and magnificent power (Sound familiar?) one can even stop the processes of time and death. The Ring and the desire for the power it brings drives the plot of all four operas. All who chase this ring destroy themselves or in turn are destroyed. All of this culminating in the death of the gods. Along the way there is a flood of fascinating and compelling characters who drive the engrossing story along.

Das Rheingold is the first in the trilogy but the last composed. This in turn gives the whole arc of the story a fantastic closed feeling which adds to the grandeur and gravitas of the story. The Prelude starts in the waters of the Rhein and waters which were young and fresh at the beginning of time. This is where the story starts in the perfection of nature full of grandeur and simplicity. The music is magnificent. The Rheingold is gold which is hoarded by the Beautiful Rhein Maidens who guard its beauty like their own. A Dwarf named Albrect desires the love and beauty of these water nymphs who tease and rebuff him. They show him the gold and tell him that only he who renounces love can claim it. They assume no living thing can do that and make this challenge to gloat. But Albrect calls their bluff and renounces love and claims the gold causes the greatest distress to the water maidens.

As the plot goes along we are treated to a fascinating artistic take on the hunt and desire for power. I am sure George R.R. Martin is most familiar with this opera. The King of the Gods, Wotan (Odin) desires to save Freia from the giants who built his grand hall and fortress Vallhalla but they demand Freia as the payment for their work. They wish to have her beauty to raise them in their wretched lives. Wotan desires not to pay. (Why are the gods and the rich so cheap?) Loge (Loki) the God of Fire suggests they steal the rheingold ring from the Dwarf Albrect. With guile they succeed and humilate Albrect once more. He roars and promises revenge and curses the gold. The giants accept the gold but soon succumb to the dreadful curse and one of the giants kills his companion out of greed. Wotan and Loge are deeply troubled by this developement. Because of the curse now all they know may perish. Wotan pledges to try and find a way to save his kin from this terrible fate. Loge seems disturbed by the whole affairs and questions his loyalty to these mighty yet frail beings.

I want to describe the last scene in the last act which left me utterly speechless. Donner (Thor) sings a song to summon a storm to clear the air. It is magnificent but futile, the blood is still there. The piece The Gods Entry into Valhalla begins. Wotan desires to lead his kin across the rainbow bridge, his mighty fortress whom name is not known yet. Valhalla the home of the gods. Wotan tells them to live boldly and join him as a god in splendor and majesty. The others seem unsure and need to be led staggering by Wotan wielding his mighty spear. Night appraoches and all seems well. However Loge expresses his shame at being affialted with these craven mighty ones. But the Rhein maidens call out from the world below and demand justice from the gods. They demand their stolen property. In turn Loge addresses them and says the gold is put to much better use and Wotan knows best. The gods laugh and feel more confident. The Rhein Maidens theirs a voice of ethereal beauty do not relent and curse the gods as cowards. “False and faint hearted are those that revel above!” Wotan leads the gods off stage and Loge does not join them. The music crecendos and Loge stands over the body of the giant as the music is at its greatest. And with that Loge himself draws the curtains to a shut. (Another english production has Loge laughing bitterly as he exits the stage and it all goes black)

After I sat there a bit I began to digest what I had seen and heard. I was overwhelmed by the stroytelling and the sheer musical talent. (Wagner was not a great person, He was a antisemite and he mean girled Nietzche{personally I dont mind that} but I will not comment further) The first opera runs at 2 hours and it did not feel like that at all. I was totally engrossed in the opera and I could not wait to complete the who Cycle. I want to meet the rest of the characters. I want to know what happens. Will Valhalla be destroyed? Will Albrect get his revenge? Will Loge burn it all to the ground? These questions I must have the answer.

On another note I better understand the use of this music in others movies and film and I hope it will be used more. The themes are grand, universal, entertaining but most importantly they are still relevent. The theme of Game of Thrones is the same as this. One can get power and in turn get anything but they must sacrifice love in their hearts. “What is it profited if a man gain the whole world but lose his own soul” The great tragedy is that many make this bargain and they in turn must be stopped by those who do love. Ridley Scott who is most familar with this mythology used this to brillaint effect in his average follow ups to his scifi masterpiece. David the villain of these new movies fancies himself as Loge. Funnily enough Scott doesnt leave it there. Scott makes David share the mortal flaw of the gods. They believe they are above morality. By this belief they are doomed. Funnily enough I cant help but laugh hysterically when I realize the Nazis made the same mistake. And the fact they missed the entire point of this work.

Excalibur dir. John Boorman makes extensive use of the work of Wagner. Boorman uses it perfectly using the music to set the mood in the most ancient of days to add gravitas and magisty to his movie. I hink this is the best King Arthur movie, its hammy and bizarre but it works. Myth is something we all need. We need to feel connected to the ages of our ancestors and those who came before us. As the world is filled with violence and confusion these tales of myths, heroes, gods, folly and wonder are needed more than ever. This is our first connection to the truth of our existence and maybe the Creator himself.

I have started Das Walkure, I will let you know how it goes.

America’s Caesar: The Epic Biography of General Douglass MacArthur.

Last night I just completed (After nearly a year) William Manchester’s highly acclaimed epic biography of one of America’s most loved and despised General’s, The pipe smoking, dark shaded and swaggering Douglass MacArthur.

One of the reasons I decided to tackle this massive biography after buying it a local library book sale for $1 (And an ebook for 2.99 bring the grand total spent to just about 5 bucks with taxes) is for the purposes of self improvement. I hoped to learn about how this famous man became who he was and what I could learn from his life. This has been a fruitful project so far. The best biographies show the person warts and all and by doing this give the reader living insight into the humanity of the subject. More on this later.

MacArthur has been a suprisingly personal subject for myself. My mother was actually one of the architects of this style of learning which I have undertaken. During the summers when I visited my mother in Montana we often would watch TV after breakfast before we launched on our daily plans. And by some design we would end up watching alot of older biographic films from the 70’s and 80’s. One of these was “MacArthur” starring Gregory Peck as the famous General.

The film was strangely memorable, though at the time it was largely ignored. (It was released in 1976 after Vietnam and the country was in no mood) I remember that we moved in somewhat strange ways due to this film. We would quote its lines and discuss how it made us feel. The soundtrack is most rousing and I am listening to it as I write this. The film is somewhat low budget but manages to do very well with what it had to work with. Peck as MacArthur is a highlight of his later career. The first act of the movie covers MacArthur as he undersiege by the Japanese on the Phillipine Islands. He rides cooly by his dirty and tired men trying to fill them witth ardor and hope. In the end he is ordered to leave to command the land forces in the Pacific theater from Australia. The scene where he boards the boat to flee is one of the most poignant I have seen. A tad sachran but most effective. His men stand forlorn on the shore as the PT boats shove off to run the Japanese Naval Blockade. He makes it and the rest of the film is dedicated to his conduct of the was, his role as the rebuilder of Japan and his role in the ill borne Korean War. It was a good summer movie.

One of my mothers chief lessons to me was that I should make every effort to understand ever person I encountered. I feel she did this to counteract some severe callousness that I apparently displayed. Empathy is an important art for one to learn especially as one grows into adulthood. For this I am grateful to mother forever. My mother a reservation indian wanted me to understand and empathize with one of the most important men of the last century. So I made it my task to do so. The bigger one thinks the further one can go I believe was her thinking and her hope.

SO with that in mind what did I think of MacArthur as written of by Manchester in “American Caesar”? I do think Manchester has a gift for understanding men of profound ego and bravura. I think he has this because he always looks for the weakness in his subjects and is not content with hagiography however he is not a cynic or overbearing critic. Manchester was an artist in biography much like David McCullough. Manchester seeks the human in the magnificence and the foolish. And by doing so he finds the humam underneath all the marble.

I learned that MacArthur was a man who idolized his father Arthur MacArthur Jr. and that his father was a man who liked to be idolized. His father had won the medal of honor by leading his unit at the the famous Civil War battle of Missionary Ridge, he was 19. Douglass always felt like he was in his shadow however this was not his fathers doing rather it was his mother. His mother a southerner who was known by the nickname “Pinkie” would be a major force in his life until he was well into middle age. She would micromanage his life but also act on his behalf and curry favor for him. This helps explains MacArthur in a big way. He was handed alot but he also had a crushing amount of expectation. He was remarkable in that this pressure would have crushed many others but not him and he knew that.

MacArthur was a man of huge ego but he also was a ridiculously hard worker as well. Reading about his work schedule exausted me! He would easy go for months on end turning in 18 hour days 7 days a week for months on end especially in the war years. He was a performer, a showboat, and arrogant SOB but he could back it up. When asked to put up or shut up he would put up because he would never shut up and that made him a legend. Most egotistical leaders collapse under the lies they weave to hold them up. MacArthur had an uncanny ability to tell the truth by lying. In that way he was an artist. He was the real deal but what we saw was not, that was carefully hidden. The legend’s author was MacArthur and despite his critics it remains.

MacArthur has a strong repuation here but its proablably stronger abroad. He still has a strong following in the Phillipines. He is regarded not as a colonial figure but a liberator of the people. He fought off the Japanese and stood with the Fillipino leadership as it stood finally as a free nation. To the Australians he is the man who faced down the Japanese blitzkreg and decided to counter attack to ensure the Freedom of the continent. And to the Japanese he is remembered as the man who rebuilt their nation. He led them to democracy and allowed them to stand tall in the world once more. Did MacArthur author this legend? Maybe but the people kept it and held it to their hearts.

I felt quite sad when I finished the book. He died at the ripe old age of 84. He was hated by some and loved by many more but very few understood him. That is the most fascinating feature about great people. We often dont know the real them because of the legend that surrounds them. When we see below what is presented we learn one of lifes great truths. As GK Chesterton put it The extraordinary man realizes he is ordinary thats what makes him extraordinary. Douglass MacArthur was a man like myself. And in that way anyone can become great and I think everyone should. I will try.

I was glad to know MacArthur in these pages. I think I will have to revisit him. Now I move onto my next subject. Frederick Douglass.

A New Era

Pretentious title aside I find it strange to be using new technology. I am currently writing this blog post on my my new tablet with my brandnew bluetooth keyboard. I have to say that it is quite exciting, the novelty of ot is intoxicating! I hope with this tool not only to increase productivity but also to have a great deal of fun in the creative process. I hope that it will equal new and wonderful writings from yours truly.

My Painting

I am glad and happy to report that my experiment in painting has been successful. I was inspired to pick up the art after reading an excerpt from “The Last Lion:Visions of Glory” Manchester discusses how Churchill picked up the art and I was inspired.

Two of my friends who paint gave me good advice and feedback as I got started. I decided to start with watercolors for its cost effectiveness. I have posted my efforts to this page. Though I need to post what I have done since I last updated.

Art has been good for my soul. I now will try to improve with the help of a new general guide and YouTube tutorials.

I look forward to sharing those with all readers.