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The Ring Cycle and Internet “Critique”

Promo art for the Seattle Opera's 2009 production of "Der Ring des Nibelungen" (painting by David Kreitzer)

In the last month or so, I’ve launched into this campaign to make myself a bit more cultured. I’ve been doing so by acquiring and listening to a vast assortment of classical music, starting with Chopin. Nothing too refined; I’m sure the Classical Hipsters would scoff at me going for such easy and accessible fare.

My latest was Wagner’s full Ring Cycle.

The Ring Cycle is another name for “‘Der Ring des Nibelungen,” a series of four operas by Richard Wagner based on Norse mythology. In full, the cycle runs fifteen hours. Yes, fifteen. I started this on Thursday and just now made it halfway through (to the end of “Die Walkure.”)

Because of the length of the work, a recording of the full Ring Cycle is fairly uncommon due to the scope and cost of production. The one I acquired is of the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Sir George Solti in the late 50s and early 60s. It’s considered a pretty historic recording. It is widely revered as brilliant (except for one or two questionable casting decisions) and is renowned for being the first studio recording of the Ring Cycle.

Well, except by PEOPLE ON THE INTERNET!

I was reading some of the reviews on Amazon, and amongst the four and five star ratings were people giving it one or two stars and writing hilarious reviews that have a tone of higher authority, but nothing else to indicate the person is anything but a useless contrarian.

One sample:

Many reviewers have already pointed out the numerous flaws of this recording; of Solti’s over the top and classless conducting, of a cast full of big names but with some past their prime, of the orchestra overpowering the singers, of the ridiculous myth concerning the “miraculous” sound quality of this recording when it is one of the most overproduced garbage of its time…..

Classless conducting? What, was Solti conducting it in overalls and yelling “NEEEEE HAAAAAAA” during the more intense moments? Perhaps I didn’t listen closely enough and missed how he started each act with “giggity giggity giggity, let’s get orchestratin’, boys!”

I also heard the singers just fine. And I didn’t hear any auto-tuning. Overproduced? How is it overproduced?

It all reminded me of a recent post on We Who Are About to Die (a new blog with contributions from Daniel Nester among others that I’m thoroughly enjoying) about the folly of creating a “social media” website for book reviews. In the end, the internet is full of people who simply want to appear clever and superior, and can only do so by initiating an all-out assault on art in the guise of higher appreciation.

Could there be valid points in the critiques? Certainly. But every work has its flaws.

This is why critiques need to be left to the critics. You know, it’s nice that we all have blogs, and it’s okay to share uneducated and wholly uninformed opinions. Hell, I do that all the time, both here and over at The Times Union. But, c’mon now, I’m not going to say I have the exposure or know-how to rate a poetry book or a recording of classical music. There are people who literally go to school for that sort of thing. Leave it to them; they do a much better job and don’t look like complete jackasses doing it. Well, most of them don’t, anyway.

Then again, I’ve read a good number of reviews of both films and theater from newspapers that are…well, let’s just say they are beyond badly written and aren’t actually reviewing the performance(s) at all.

I suppose it’s possible that the concept of critique – and by that I mean the art of critical analysis from an educated source – has reached its end in the age of the internet, where seemingly everyone’s voice has the same volume.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. April 18, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    Because of being a high school band geek, I got into Giacomo Rossini and Jacques Offenbach. In fact, there’s a playlist on my ipod of songs we played in honors band.
    I’d recommend Offenbach’s “La Belle Helene,” though it will remind you of the theme to “Sleeping Beauty.”
    Rossini pieces piss me off because they are very methodical, always having nearly the same structure towards the end of the songs. It’s always bothered me but I listen anyway.
    For a good time listen to “Il Signor Bruschino” and “L’italiana in Algeri (An Italian in Algiers).

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