Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sieg, Friede, and the union of opposites

Tonight is Siegfried, the third opera in Wagner's Ring cycle.  Tuesday night, we had Sieg-mund, and Sieg-linde.  Tonight, Sieg-fried.  OK, well, it's not a long journey to Sieg Heil from here, is it??...  Hmm, maybe there IS something proto-fascist about the whole enterprise.....Oy !

Let's shake that one off for now.  This week's studies have centered on the Ring, and I am trying to use the occasion to deepen my understanding of the drama and its place in 19th century German thought.  My Siegfried  research led me to Wagner's letter to a friend about The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was-- a fairy tale about an arrogant and fearless little boy who asks to be taught how to be afraid and then experiences a series of frightful episodes that he turns to his advantage, finally learning from his young bride the meaning of what it feels like to be afraid, without actually being afraid.

Siegfried experiences fear for the first time as he discovers Brunnhilde, still shielded by Loge's flames, lying in suspended animation on the mountaintop.  Here, too, as we saw in the prior two operas, the power of love is the trigger which confounds, frightens, inspires, and tears at the male protagonists in the drama.

As I read the German fairy tale, my mind immediately went back to college studies in Jungian psychology and archetypal, mythic spirits which animate our dreams and our personalities, among them the Puer Aeternus, the eternally youthful boy who, compromised by traumatic relationships in childhood, is led by resentment, defensiveness, and grandiosity to escape to a higher plane where he can find the magical, ideal relationships he craves.  

These tensions between airy idealism and groundedness, between love and the quest for power, between heroic ideals and base instinct, are played out throughout the Ring among the god-like realms of Valhalla, the mortals on earth, and the gnomes and other creatures in the underworld.  Wotan's journey---literally and metaphorically---reflects and, at times, instigates these tensions.  He is a god who wears his woes on his sleeve (or spear, as the case may be).  My kinda god.

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