- The Mise-en-scène of Mediation:Wagner's Götterdämmerung (Stuttgart Opera, Peter Konwitschny, 2000-2005)
A number of the articles appearing in this issue (and in other recent issues of this journal)1 aim to refine the critical language with which we engage opera in its mediated forms. The following essay addresses this growing interest in mediation somewhat obliquely. As we come to train our attention upon the medial status of opera in the age of its technological reproducibility, I want to argue for the ongoing importance of the role that mediation plays within the mediated object. Or indeed, I would have us supplement our consideration of mediation as a formal condition with a consideration of mediation as a diegetic fact. For the purposes of such a "supplemented" analysis, I propose to examine Peter Konwitschny's Stuttgart production of Wagner's Götterdämmerung.
The Allegorization of Mediation in Die Walküre
Over the past few years, I have found myself returning to the question of how Richard Wagner's programmatic determination to change the culture of opera figures within the diegetic world of his operas and music dramas—that is, within the very works that would inaugurate that change. Most recently, I have been thinking about how this allegorically self-referential scenario plays itself out—if indeed it does—in Wagner's Ring cycle. All indications—biographical, critical, and more recently, indications from the stage—suggest that it must, since the Ring cycle is Wagner's most transparently allegorical project, one that famously bears within it a series of critiques of nineteenth-century industrial capital, or of cultural decay in the face of commodification. After all, the culture of opera famously impelled Wagner not only to a series of harangues (against the propensity to distraction and display that marked behavior on and off the stages of the cosmopolitan opera houses), but it also led him to erect his own anti-opera house, the Festspielhaus of Bayreuth—characterized as it was by perfected sight lines, an invisible orchestra, and a darkened auditorium. In Wagner's mind, the [End Page 219] pilgrimage to the Festspielhaus would necessitate a removal from a culture of cosmopolitan distractions, soliciting in their stead a profound absorption in the tragic Teutonic truths proffered in and by the artwork of the future. The Ring project was not just born of this conviction; it reflects and renders these circumstances.
My current thoughts about the Ring and allegorical performance derive from an essay on the opening scene of Die Walküre.2 To recall the salient points of the drama: the opening of Die Walküre shows us a scene of breaking and entering. Siegmund, exhausted, injured, and desperate, having just eluded a mob that is intent on tracking him down and killing him, breaks into a random home and simply collapses on the floor. The random home, it turns out, is not so random after all: inside is his long-lost twin sister Sieglinde, who has been essentially imprisoned for these many years against her will. Sieglinde, it turns out, is Hunding's wife (although "domestic chattel" would be a better term), and Hunding is the leader of the pack that is hotly pursuing Siegfried.
Siegmund and Sieglinde feel an immediate and intense attraction to one another and resolve to escape from Hunding—and Hunding's house. That scene of liberation is one of those "greatest hits" moments in Wagner, one of the most memorable and affectively charged. Essentially the walls of Hunding's house are blown down by the propulsive force of Siegmund and Sieglinde's love. It strikes me, in thinking about that scene, that the voluptuous terms of this scenario map onto Wagner's critique of the institution of opera. For in the scene of Sieglinde's domestic incarceration, we can discern not just a woman under house arrest, but a kind of constriction in the means and manner of her expression that figures her domestic enslavement in aesthetic form. It is not just that Hunding acts like a cad; he also sounds like one. His primitive, hummable music (which bears obvious similarities to the cloddish motif that...