The thing is that I almost feel like Wagner is beyond the scope of this blog, because the experience is so different from all my other opera listening, and because I doubt the ability of words — my words especially — to articulate it. Which is not to say I don't find equally ecstatic experiences in other music — but they're differently ecstatic. The darkened room and the headphones and the high volume probably help of course. But then, during last year's broadcast season, I listened to quite a few that way and nothing else transported me the way the Wagner did. And I don't just mean transports of delight; I mean a near physical sense of having been transported elsewhere for the duration. In other broadcasts I may sometimes have felt I'd been taken to the world of the theatre, of the performance. Here though it's the world of the opera — wherever that is — that I've ended up in, and no amount of Met quizzes, roundtables or interjections from Margaret "brought to you today by the letter R" Juntwait can really interfere with that trip. What is it in this music? Discuss ad nauseum all of Richard Wagner's nasty ideas and repellent personality but the truth, as I see it, is that as awful as he may have been (and certainly he was awful) he nevertheless had to be precisely the person he was in order to write precisely the music he did. It's not even about the beauty of the music compensating for whatever defects elsewhere — the music is independent of all the muck, of all the warts-and-all of biography: a transcendent, glorious and necessary creation.
Somewhere along the line I did manage to notice that René Pape is everything everyone says he is, that Luana DeVol is the best kind of frightening, that Karita Mattila is pretty much the best kind of everything. This aren't incidental details: even in the throes of Wagner, fantastic singing matters greatly to me. But even if the singing had been in every way unremarkable, I daresay I'd still be here saying all that I've said. That's just the way it is: casts change, but as along as the music is treated with a decent degree of respect, Wagner remains Wagner.
Can I be called a devotee? I'm not sure. Reading what I've just written I certainly sound like one. But I don't act like one at all. One Tannhäuser, one Walküre and this Lohengrin — that's all the Wagner in my life so far. All of them Met broadcasts: I've never bought a single recording and I've never seen one staged, either on film or in person. Proper Wagnerians devote their lives, or a sizeable portion thereof, to the music, to absorbing it and knowing it. I don't do any of that; I can't even claim to have made the effort. But then there's joy, too, in approaching each opera more or less uninitiated. The way the music sweeps me up is not a surprise but it is, at least, a pleasantly rare delight. And because I don't spend my life, or anything close to it, submerged in the stuff, I can react to it like this, think about it the way that I do. I love Mozart just as deeply — much more in fact — but Mozart is an essential part of my life, almost a given. Wagner is an occasional, mind-altering trip away from life. My devotion mightn't be full-time or life-encompassing, but in the moment of listening it is complete. I think that probably counts for something.
I just wish these operas didn't fly by so damned quickly. Don Pasquale the week before last dragged; Figaro was marvellous but seemed to go on all day. Lohengrin seemed to exist apart from time. I remember feeling the same way at the end of Die Walküre: that if they offered me another four-and-a-half hours immediately afterwards, I'd take them up on it without hesitation.
PS: I seem to have timed this to coincide with Wagner's birthday. How nice.