Wagner’s Ring – is it silly or socially significant?

 

Is the story behind Wagner’s Ring of the Niebelung merely silly or is there a deeper meaning?

Critics, ring fanatics and those who hate every note have been arguing this since the cycle was first produced in 1876. Even some of those who love the music dismiss the story.

Which to me rather misses the point.  Because though the music tells the story, without the story there is nothing to tell.  If you see what I mean.  When the giants stride the stage the music swells gigantically.  When the dwarf Mime is being particularly sneaky and malicious there is a certain snide pizzicato.  When the lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde, Brunnhilde and Siegfried sigh ecstatically and burn with passion the music sighs and burns with them.  And even those who don’t know another note of Wagner know what those boisterous Valkyries sound like.

Nobody doubts that The Ring is one of the most remarkable musical achievements in history.  But does it also have social significance?

I think it does.  And I try to show this, as humorously as possible, in my book Ringtones.

Here, the Gods are the social elite, not without a sense of responsibility for the worlds they rule but also arrogant, capricious and blind to the discontent of those below them.  Behind their magnificent façade they are as flawed and vulnerable as the Mortals and Dwarves they so despise.

The Giants, with their disconcerting habit of turning into reclusive dragons, are a looming threat to the power of the Gods but they are slow of wit and easily beguiled by baubles.  They have their counterpart in the real world; those who conquer and rule by sheer weight, mindlessly cruel as bad children, fearful, mistrustful, suspicious and yet full of shallow sentiment.  The Roman Emperor Nero appears to have been such a man and we have some modern equivalents too.  Giant are too thick and gullible to maintain power if challenged by those more cunning than they.

Such as the Dwarves, who would appear to represent True Evil in the Ring.  Alberich and his brother Mime forever plot and contrive, driven by greed and envy.  Yet their malice is fuelled by a cruel self-knowledge for they are pitiful creatures; ugly, misshapen, despised by all.  Small wonder they lust after what they cannot have, as Alberich lusts after the Rhinemaidens.  Small wonder he decides that if he can’t have love then gold is the only acceptable substitute.  Some have attributed anti-Semitism or outright racism to Wagner’s dwarves but I see  them more as representing those underclass types who, perceived as hideous by those more fortunately-born, scheme and agitate for a revolution not for any ideal of freeing oppressed humanity but to satisfy their unappeased hunger.  I always feel  a bit sorry for Alberich who is not without courage and a sense of beauty.  And Mime, for all his spitefulness and ulterior motive, is treated abominably by Siegfried.

The Gods are a motley crew.  There’s Wotan, striding around Heaven and Earth to no good purpose and with incomprehensible motives, thundering away like the bully he is.  Not much of a husband and a pretty awful father, too, putting Brunnhilde in a coma and sticking her on a cold rock for YEARS!  What he ever did to earn his title as Chief God is anyone’s guess.  His sidekick Loge, God of Fire, is a nasty bit of work and envious as any dwarf.  He is the chief manipulator throughout and represents, I think, those senior bureaucrats who are the true and sometimes insidious power behind politicians and leaders.  Loge is the Sir Humphrey Appleby of The Ring.

A more noble character is Fricka, Wotan’s much-abused wife, who just wants the Gods to behave nicely. Mind you she doesn’t seem to care much for Mortals; like any society hostess she thinks the hired help are okay as long as they do as they are told and know their place.  That her godly husband should stoop so low as to bonk the maid, so to speak, comes as a terrible shock.  Fricka represents those high-minded characters in our society whose own behaviour is exemplary and are capable of great kindness but who have little understanding of the darker urges that drive others.

Most of The Ring’s Mortals are bastards. Literally.  And Wotan’s bastards at that.  Which actually makes them slightly more than mortal, driven by the same feelings of love, passion, anger, revenge and so on as the Gods but without the power and privilege.  ALL the Valkyries are bastards which may account for their general boisterousness.  Their mother, Erde, is a right old misery which is not surprising as Wotan left her with all those illegitimate daughters to raise and she is also a sort of Minister for the Environment which as everyone knows is a lowly and thankless job in any government.  The doomed lovers Siegmund and Sieglinde are also Wotan’s progeny and seem like decent types though we never really get to know them well enough to find out.  Their mortal side appears to predominate and we can see them as those perennial favourites of fiction, couples who love not wisely but too well and end up paying the price for it.  And, in sad truth, they ARE a bit soppy! As well as incestuous.

Sieglinde’s husband Hunding is one of only three Mortals in the story and he is hardly a role model for the race.  Despite his (grim and gloomy) ancestral hall in the middle of a (grim and gloomy) forest he is a true bogan and you can see him at the footy on a Saturday, swilling beer and bashing his mug about the table and generally being one of the lads.  Then reeling through the streets looking to give a good kicking to some perceived racial inferior before heading home to give the wife a quick howsyourfather and a black eye.  A nasty bit of work, is Hunding. Domestic violence personified.

Now we come to the stars of this show, Brunnhilde and Siegfried.  One is Wotan’s daughter, the Head Valkyrie.  The other is his grandson.  Not that this fazes anyone; Wotan, like many an aristocratic father in the old days, is far more enraged by her disobedience than by her cohabiting with her nephew.   And you can’t blame her for that; he is her rescuer and the first man she has seen for simply yonks!  As well as being marvellously handsome and heroic.  Brunnhilde is my favourite Ring character because she is brave, kind, true-hearted  and feisty and the only one in the whole drama whose motives and behaviour are in any way exemplary.  I mean she has a rotten job when we first meet her, carrying corpses away from the battlefield and up to Valhalla but does she complain?  No, she yodels cheerfully away and when she falls from grace it is through compassion for another.  Brunnhilde represents all that is best in human society, and how too often that best is undervalued.

Siegfried, by contrast, is a shit!  A cad, a bounder, a louse of the first order.  Sure, he is brave and handsome but, in the words of the immortal Anna Russell, he is also stupid!  Thick as!  Also arrogant, insensitive…oh why go on, I’ve said it all in an article on Siegfried on this website (see the Wagner bit).  If this is the composer’s idea of a hero then it says a lot about Wagner if you ask me!  There are a lot of Siegfrieds around today.

So yes, to reiterate, I do think The Ring can be interpreted as social critique though whether that’s what the composer intended nobody is really sure.  Beneath the wond’rous music and the florid drama with its Gothic cast of characters lies the basic human conflict of good versus evil leading up to what both religious fanatics and the gloomier environmentalists (among which I count myself) see as the inevitable apocalypse.  You’ll see this more clearly if you read the articles and – better still – buy the book (on Amazon download, e-book only, cheap as chips, see link on this website).

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Grow chillis for health

If you really want to spice up your garden this summer then now is the time to plant a chilli bush or two.

Maybe you don’t much like the hot taste of chillis?  Then consider this – there is more vitamin C in a chilli than in an orange and other health benefits besides.  Chillis are also rich in vitamins A, E, potassium and folic acid.  And, despite their fiery flavour, they are (used in moderation) very good for stimulating digestion.

The hot zap is all in the seeds and the secret is all in the cooking.  If chillis are cooked long and well they lose some of their fire (and also some of their vitamin content).  If you want to reduce chilli heat in a recipe, remove some of the seeds.  Or buy one of the several less fiery varieties.

Chillis are dead easy to grow, in the ground or in the pot.  They will tolerate poorish sandy soil but not heavy clay.  The best growing environment is an improved, loamy soil and a sunny position.  Water well every day or so for the first month after which a chilli bush will only need watering a couple of times a week.  Feed with blood and bone or an all-purpose fertiliser though for best fruiting results I recommend using a special fruit and/or vegetable fertiliser. Cut the bush back once fruiting is finished.

The peppery fruit is, not surprisingly, repellent to most pests – but not all!  Birds will take the fruit so your plant/s may need protection. Caterpillars and grasshoppers will eat the leaves and if this starts to happen use a spray or dust recommended by your garden centre.  Chillis are in the same genus as tomatoes and though less susceptible are still subject to the same wilt diseases.  So make sure the ground or container is well-drained and always use a good quality potting mix.

Chillis today come in large and small fruit sizes, long or round or “udder” shaped and in decorative colours from white to purple as well as red and orange.  All can be used in cooking and green, unripe chillis are better than mature red for some dishes. If you have a large crop you can freeze or dry them and then use them whole or ground to make you own chilli powder. Crushed or powdered chilli spread on the ground around plants makes an effective slug and snail repellent.

 

 

 

A (short) Winter’s (birding)Tale

Some of our merry band – the Alpha women anyway. As for the men, Peter is taking the photo, and Syko is lurking behind the girls I think, and the other David has wandered away hoping for a pic of the elusive Rose Robin.

 

Ten of us, including David Neradil’s neighbour Peter, set off in glorious weather for the monthly bird adventure on August 9, this time to the Lower Beechmont Reserve at Clagiraba.  As we drove along the spine of Tamborine the mountains to the west stood out dusky blue against the more vivid blue of the winter sky.  When we turned east to descend Henri Robert Drive the ocean ahead of us glittered like a vast silvery-blue mirror.  Just a perfect day to go birdwatching!

Though even at 7.30, where we reached our stop at Clagiraba Creek, it was COLD! Down to seven degrees Celsius and the ground covered with a light frost.  So we stayed only long enough to pick up a few brave birds before driving the short distance to the reserve entrance.  Here we met Gold Coast birdo Shirley who had arranged to join us.

The silent trees soon offered us a few peeps and tweets and as the sun penetrated the canopy we soon found ourselves surrounded by Yellow Robins, Scarlet Honeyeaters and Brown and Striated Thornbills.  This was one of those expeditions where everyone in the group contributed to bird identification and soon the list began to grow.  Including a pair of Wedge-tailed Eagles which flew majestically and rather scornfully from their roost with several Sulphur-crested Cockatoos screeching in alarm.

It was a relief to get out of the trees and into the sunlit open area around the small lake.  Here we stopped for smoko and watched a White-faced Heron gracefully fishing around the edge of the water and an Azure Kingfisher obligingly flyin low from one perch to another so we could get good photos of it.  While some of us munched our snacks, David Neradil went off and found the much-desired Rose Robin. And David Sykes then hunted for the next part of the track, resulting in a scramble through the forest and across the creek with Julie muttering all the while that she was SURE there was a better track further along.  As indeed there proved to be, and in future we’ll know where it is.  There are several old and new well-marked tracks in the reserve today  and they deserve further exploration.

We followed the creek back down to join the main track and Kylie found a nesting Striated Pardalote while Shirley spotted White-throated Honeyeaters bathing in a rock pool.  A lot of birds were obviously taking advantage of the overall warm late-winter conditions to start their spring nesting; we found (and photographed) a lovely little Eastern Yellow Robin’s nest and other birds we saw ad heard were obviously in mating mood.

For once we kept to our schedule of a half day only and were home by noon, with a nice round number on the list of 50 birds for the morning – not bad for a leisurely five or so kilometre meander through a small area of limited habitat variation.

Our first stop by Clagiraba Creek and with all that frost on the ground a shivering Jan is begging for us to move on!

BIRD LIST

  1. Red-backed Fairy Wren (outside reserve)
  2. Superb Blue Fairy Wren
  3. Brown Cuckoo-dove
  4. Spotted Dove
  5. Bar-shouldered Dove
  6. Pied Butcherbird
  7. Magpie Lark
  8. Magpie
  9. Crow
  10. Pied Currawong
  11. Noisy Miner
  12. Olive-backed Oriole
  13. White-browed Scrubwren
  14. Large-billed Scrubwren
  15. Brown Thornbill
  16. Striated Thornbill
  17. White Ibis
  18. Whipbird
  19. King Parrot
  20. Sulphur-crested Cockatoo
  21. Figbird
  22. Wood Duck
  23. Pacific Black Duck
  24. Australasian Grebe
  25. Scarlet Honeyeater
  26. White-throated Honeyeater
  27. Lewin’s Honeyeater
  28. Silvereye
  29. Striated Pardalote
  30. Spotted Pardalote
  31. Eastern Yellow Robin
  32. Rose Robin
  33. Varied Sitella
  34. Kookaburra
  35. Azure Kingfisher
  36. Grey Fantail
  37. Fantail Cuckoo
  38. Satin Bowerbird
  39. Mistletoe Bird
  40. Wedge-tailed Eagle
  41. Masked Lapwing
  42. Black-faced Cuckoo Shrike
  43. White-faced Heron
  44. Red-browed Finch
  45. Welcome Swallow
  46. Grey Shrike Thrush
  47. Golden Whistler
  48. Rainbow Bee-eater
  49. White-throated Treecreeper
  50. Cisticola

 

Green Island in the Sky

our-beloved-mountain

Dainty flowers of the Blue Lilly Pilly

Dainty flowers of the Blue Lilly Pilly

At last – somebody has put together a book celebrating the beauty and diversity of the mountain I love to call home.

The adventurous and versatile medico/journalist/artist/photographer Jaap Vogel has created a work of great beauty, featuring his own photographs of Tamborine’s natural attractions and the works of several local artists which interpret nature in various ways.  It’s a truly lovely book and the name is perfect – we DO think of ourselves as an island up here, a green and peaceful place inhabited by as rich a mix of artists, musicians and writers as you’d find anywhere outside a major city.  Development and the urban horrors of the Gold Coast creep ever closer to the base of the mountain but still we remain islanders; invaded by tourist hordes each day, it’s true, but all our own between the hours of 4pm to 10 am.

Jaap has been involved in various community organisations in his years of association with Tamborine, and once brought a creative flair to his role as a president of Landcare that showed us how meetings could actually be fun.  He’s unusual in that he combines the role of artist with that of scientist…the very human embodiment of the fractal!…and can talk about sculpture and photography with the same enthusiasm as he brings to any discussion of artificial intelligence.

To learn more about Jaap and his book go to http://www.greenislandinthesky.com.au.

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Birds, scenery and sculpture – a picnic at Lake Maroon

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Wouldn’t you just know it…splendiferously perfect weather all week and then on the day we decide to go for a picnic and a bit of birding the clouds come up and the rain comes down!

Still, we decided to go, heading west in the hope of avoiding the coastal showers. Weatherzone radar was wrong again – true it only spat with rain for a bit around Rathdowney but the clouds remained heavy and lowering all day until mid-afternoon.

Anyway, we first found a delightful spot by a creek for smoko – a giant apple and cream turnover for me and an equally large apple and walnut scroll for Bob, plus iced coffee.  We set up our chairs and got out our binoculars and admired the scarlet display of callistemons all along the creekbank.  At this time of year this graceful riverine tree is in full glory.  Here and there, twined among the callistemon branches, were the bright golden flowers of the Twining Guinea Flower (Hibbertia scandens).  And birds there were a-plenty: Scarlet and Brown honeyeaters, Bar-shouldered Doves calling continuously, Noisy Friarbirds living up to their name, Leaden Flycatchers, Striated Pardalotes, Rainbow Lorikeets and many more species typical of the habitat.

Scarlet callistemons all along the banks of Burnett Creek as far as the eye could see

Scarlet callistemons all along the banks of Burnett Creek as far as the eye could see – looking up and down stream

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Then on to Lake Maroon which looked moody and rather like a Scottish loch, backed by brooding mountains and with its polished pewter surface reflecting the overcast sky.  A very different palette to the last time we visited, when everything was vivid blue and green with an occasional fluff of white cloud.

Approaching Maroon under a lowering sky - then the moody lake and (if you look) some new plantings of native trees and shrubs to enhance the lakeside

Approaching Maroon under a lowering sky – then the moody lake and (if you look) some new plantings of native trees and shrubs to enhance the lakeside

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But at least it wasn’t raining.  A meander around part of the lake shore gave us Coots, Jacanas and a duck or two as well as a splendid pair of Black Swans.  Fig Birds and a single Oriole were busy in the fig trees scattered around the picnic area as these were heavy with fruit.  As we use every opportunity when birding to make observations for our ongoing aggression study Bob was quick to observe a couple of stoushes between a pair of Willie Wagtails and other birds, notably a Magpie Lark.  Sure enough, we soon discovered the tiny, exquisitely-wrought nest of the Willie Wag on a bare branch sticking out of a dead stump about five metres offshore.  And right next door to it was an equally dead and bare tree, with the mud cup nest of the Magpie Lark.  Neighbours but by no means friends!

Willie Wagtail nest and larger Magpie Lark nest

Willie Wagtail nest (below) and larger Magpie Lark nest above. If you look hard at pic below right you can just make out  the Willie Wag nest at left (halfway up right leaning branch where it intersects with straight branch) and the Magpie Lark nest at top of  dead tree to the right.

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We sipped our beer and ate our giant hunks of pita bread stuffed with rare roast beef, horseradish sauce and green bean salad, plus hard-boiled eggs and olives and biscuits-and-cheese.  We were too full then to move, but with plenty of vegetation nearby we were able to keep on watching the avian variety theatre without getting up from our seats.  It was good to see (and hear!) the big Channel-Billed Cuckoos back with us after winter and in fine voice too and we also heard the first Koel of the season.

Two young Welcome Swallows still being fed by parents and trying their wings

Two young Welcome Swallows still being fed by parents and trying their wings

The Port Jackson Fig (Ficus rubiginosa) absolutely laden with fruit and attracting lots of birds

The Port Jackson Fig (Ficus rubiginosa) absolutely laden with fruit and attracting lots of birds

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A dainty little Scrambling Lily in the woods behind the lake

A dainty little Scrambling Lily in the woods behind the lake

Once our digestions were in reasonable order again we set off for home with an ice cream stop at pleasant little Boonah and a longer stop at Lake Wyaralong, outside Beaudesert.  Here we were able to watch a group of sculptors at work, as part of the Wyaralong Sculpture Festival and Symposium which has attracted seven acclaimed sculptors from here and overseas.  Each one is working on his or her piece for 16 or so days and these will form part of a sculpture park on the lakeside, at the eastern end of the Mt Joyce mountain bike/walking track.  It was interesting seeing modern sculptors at work, using power tools and looking more like tradesmen that artists – dunno what Rodin would have made of it but Henry Moore would probably have liked having all those modern tools with which to make big holes!

Sculptures at Lake Wyaralong

Sculptures at Lake Wyaralong

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Then it was home, tired but happy to have once again spent some time enjoying the beautiful country that lies behind our mountain.