Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wagner in Italy

In the spirit of yesterday's post I want to recall a different drama, or at least a certain thread in the story of last week's dramatic events. It was Friday, December 7 when Angelino Alfano denounced Monti's government on the floor of parliament as a thing that had reached its end. That evening, the opening concert at La Scala took place, a performance of "Lohengrin" that also inaugurated the dual bicentennial of Verdi and Wagner. In attendance were Monti and five of his ministers, guests of the mayor of Milano, all elegantly dressed in white tie with their glittering wives. A grand occasion.

But there are a few oddities. Daniel Barenboim doesn't open the performance with the national anthem, "Brothers of Italy," as required by protocol with the head of government in attendance. Or is it only for heads of state? As it happens head of state Giorgio Napolitano is not in attendance, as expected. He is back in Rome addressing the crisis Alfano's remarks have precipitated. Earlier, rumor has it that Napolitano is miffed that Barenboim gave pride of place to Wagner over Verdi--but no, we are permitted to read a charming exchange of notes between the President and the Maestro which reveal the rumors to be false. The Wagner-Verdi entente is solid--or is it? Is the unplayed anthem a gesture? Then at the last moment Barenboim surprises everyone: he interrupts the final ovation to lead soloists and chorus in "Brothers of Italy" after all.  A full fifteen minutes of applause will follow.

More strangeness. The unknown White Knight, later identified as Lohengrin, son of Parsifal, has been sent to rescue the innocent Elsa and redeem Brabant.  How many in the audience are thinking of Premier Monti, whose enemies call him a Prusso-Italian, his friends the White Knight, that technocrat from Frankfurt by way of Brussels come down to rescue Italia? But wait: this time the Teutonic hero is presented by the German director Claus Guth as a neurotic wash-out pulled onto the stage cringing in fetal position. Murmurs in the boxes: this isn't Wagner's Lohengrin. What does the imperturbable Monti think, watching from the box of honor? Is he seeing his emasculated political self in Guth's eccentric characterization of the German hero?

Incidentally, the lovely German soprano Annette Dasch has just flown in this morning from Frankfurt to sing the role of Elsa: both the Italian diva and her Italian understudy have come down with something and can't perform. Am I becoming obsessed with the Italo-German theme?

The next day Monti flies to Cannes for a meeting with other Eurozone leaders, then back to Rome, where he calls on Napolitano, and resigns. Has Elsa/Italia been abandoned, or will the unknown knight reveal himself and redeem her and Brabant after all? A few days later the White Knight visits Brabant (or Brussels--close enough) and receives the blessing of the German queen. Will he, like Lohengrin, take himself off the stage and retire to the Castle of the Grail? Or will he descend in campo, enter the field of combat, and restore the kingdom?

Is this just bad Wagner, contaminated by the theatrics of Verdi's children? Or is Italy ready to rise to the Germanic world-stage, and join in struggle with the gods?


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