my miscellany

Michael Volle as Wotan — 27 Dec 14

Michael Volle as Wotan

As Anthony Tommasini reported in The New York Times (3 Dec 14) when he reviewed the last revival of Otto Schenk’s production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1993) at the Metropolitan Opera, Michael Volle sang two performances as Hans Sachs while James Morris sang the remaining five. (Morris and Volle were engaged to replace Johan Reuter, long scheduled to add Sachs to his repertoire, when he announced he would not add the role.) Volle had made his debut at the Met last season in Arabella.

The second of Volle’s performances was the Live in HD transmission on December 13 that Tommasini praised in the Times: “Mr. Volle sang the second of his scheduled appearances as Sachs and showed audiences around the world why he had become so sought-after” (14 Dec 14).

I attended the HD transmission, and before it began, on one of the screens “about the cast” the Met told me that Michael Volle would sing Wotan “in several years” at the Met. This information is red meat for Ring Nuts who plan travel schedules as far in advance as opera houses plan seasons.

Operabase reports that Mr. Volle will sing all three Wotans in Vienna under Simon Rattle in May-June, 2015. Presumably the Wotans at the Met would be in a revival of the Robert Lepage production with “the machine.” Again, this is red meat for Ring Nuts.

Waltraud Meier: The Isolde of our Time — 25 Dec 14

Waltraud Meier: The Isolde of our Time

Three outstanding video recordings of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde establish Waltraud Meier as the Isolde of our time. Each is an eminent recording, and each puts on display Meier’s vibrant musicality and powerful dramatic presence.

The first is the Bayreuth Tristan, recorded in 1995. Heiner Müller was the stage director, Daniel Barenboim the conductor, and Siegfried Jerusalem sang Tristan. Mostly Opera wrote of this production: “Watch this to listen to Daniel Barenboim´s glorious conducting without being disturbed by irrelevant stage action. And to have the ideal Tristan and Isolde combination in Waltraud Meier and Siegfried Jerusalem. Strongly recommended as my personal favourite.”

The second is the Munich Tristan, recorded in 1998. Peter Konwitschny directed, Zubin Mehta conducted, and Jon Fredric West was Tristan. Again Mostly Opera wrote: “The major strength is Waltraud Meier´s mesmerizing Isolde, here with her entire radiance, displaying her immensely varied acting skills as well as effortless throwing off the high Cs. An exceptionally powerful performance, overpowering the vocally stressed as well as dramatically uninteresting Jon Frederic West as Tristan.”

And William R. Braun writes in the January, 2015, Opera News: “Meier still gives us a centered, single-minded woman who feels things deeply, still has complete solidity and power from the moment of curtain-rise and still puts across more of the text than any other Isolde. She is particularly good at differentiating the character’s inner thoughts from her outward dialogue, and she has acutely observed the way Wagner’s music for Isolde often dismisses the music that comes just before it and the way Wagner’s words for Isolde often turn other characters’ words back onto themselves.”

The third is the La Scala Tristan, recorded in 2007. Patrice Chéreau directed, Daniel Barenboim conducted, and Ian Storey portrayed Tristan. Wagneropera.net wrote of this production: “Portraying the most vulnerable and fragile Isolde ever seen on stage, Waltraud Meier, reaches new dramatic heights in Patrice Chéreau’s production at Teatro alla Scala, now released in Europe on DVD. This is a tour de force from one of the greatest Wagner singer-actors of our time.”

There can be little doubt that for the present Waltraud Meier is the Isolde of our time unless and until the time when a greater vocalist and actor surpasses these electric performances.

Christmas Eve, 2014 — 24 Dec 14

Christmas Eve, 2014

Almost every sermon I have heard on Christmas Eve has been, or clearly was intended to be, a polished gem in the crown of the preacher, an oratorical and theological expression worthy of the decorated pulpits, usually Gothic, from which they were delivered. I wonder about the appropriateness of that. I wonder because of tonight’s inescapable humility. Tonight is about a young and poor family; it’s about humble shepherds; and it’s about the glory of the Lord shining and illuminating a most unlikely place. So, it seems to me, that the preacher would be better off standing on a soapbox than in an ornately carved and highly polished wine glass of a pulpit. For the soapbox is to a Gothic pulpit what a manger is to a royal crib. And you know that the manger’s baby rules and reigns today and every day–far more than any former inhabitant of any royal crib.

Tonight, tonight’s birth, and tonight’s message belong to the shepherds, those hard-working, unwashed, unkempt, and improperly dressed louts of the countryside. Tonight belongs, additionally, to the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and all the sinners who flocked to Saint John the Baptist, confessing their sins and receiving his baptism as a sign of their genuine repentance. They are the ones, you know, who find it easier and lighter to let their sins go than to hold on to them. Tonight belongs, in other words, to the poor in spirit, those who know their need of God, to those whose self-sufficiency and self-reliance, to those whose certainty and confidence, have just run out. Tonight, then, is about God’s reaching out to those in need, specifically to those in need of God and to those who know that need.

And so, where do you, in this beautiful church, and where do I, in this beautiful pulpit, come in? Tonight, I said, is about the shepherds, the prostitutes, the tax collectors, and the sinners. And, it’s about us, too, if we join those sinners in knowing that we need God. It’s about us, too, if we take tonight to be God’s invitation to be made like Christ, whatever that costs. If there is even a tiny flicker of a flame in our hearts that ever so slightly billows at the news of Christ’s birth, then tonight can be about us. If we prefer the manger and the soapbox, we’re ready to receive him in the humility in which he chose to be known. Being ready to receive him is really, really important. I’ll tell you why.

At Christmas, we speak of the three births of Christ. We should keep each of them in mind though by far the third is the most important.

The first birth of Christ we proclaim in the Nicene Creed when we say of Christ that he was “eternally begotten of the Father.”[1] This is the birth of the Son of God before all worlds and before all time. This birth makes the second birth possible.

The second birth we remember tonight. It’s the birth a Jesus of Nazareth in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Every nativity scene and crèche calls it to mind and commemorates it. The first two births make the third birth possible.

The third birth, the most important birth, is the birth of Jesus in the human heart. In fact, this beautiful church, including this pulpit, is here for this purpose–that Jesus might be born in our hearts. All the hymns, all the prayers, all the services, all the fellowship, all the outreach, and everything we do are here for this purpose–to make the circumstance, to make the opportunity, that Jesus may be born in your heart. That is why we are here.

So, don’t miss your opportunity. Take the baby to your heart, and love him as he loves you. Join the shepherds and the other sinners. Put your trust in him. As we sing in the very fine hymn:


Thus if thou canst name him,
not ashamed to claim him,
but wilt trust him boldly
nor dost love him coldly,
he will then receive thee,
heal thee, and forgive thee.[2]


How could anyone think for a moment of not accepting that invitation from this holy child?



[1] BCP, page 358.

[2] Hymn 53, Stanza 3.

%d bloggers like this: