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Ask Alice, with Alice McVeigh

On, like, the demise, like, of Washington's Ring cycle, if you will,
with 'our friend' of classical music, ALICE McVEIGH

? ' Any idea why our friends in the US of A are (in recent years) peppering their conversations with 'if you will'? Your thoughts on this appreciated. Regards.
Howard Smith

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Alice Hi Howard,

First of all, I'm fed-up with 'our friends'. I personally credit that part of Obama's victory not down to his unerring judgement and scintillating brilliance (and lack of a Palin-like side-kick) but to the fact that John McCain prefaced his every comment with 'my friends'. It is (a) patronising and (b) arrogant. (How does he know how many undecideds were in his audiences? Probably more after he'd finished calling them 'my friends' every other minute.)

As for 'as you will', I think it has several reasons for existing (and, currently, prospering) in the States and elsewhere.

  1. It isn't an 'um' or an 'ah' but gives the speaker time to get ducks in a row and thoughts in order.
  2. It suggests (to a lazy mind, anyway) that she speaker could indeed have gone on at greater length with more ideas, had time not pressed. 'My polices are a, b, and c, if you will ...'
  3. It has a vague aura of deference and courtesy about it. ('I'm only spouting off' -- and probably drivel, at that -- 'but I don't want to sound hectoring here, if you will ...')

Still, cheer up, because these kinds of verbal ticks generally don't last all that long. Instead they get replaced by others.

With one exception. The word 'like' with the younger generation, and especially teenagers. This is a near-verbatim transcript of a conversation overheard between high-schoolers:

Girl: 'Well he was like really friendly one day and then like really ignoring me the next.'
Another girl: 'Tell me about it. Like, you never know, like, where you're at.'
Yet another girl: 'I think, like, a lot of guys are, like, shy and like find it hard to like express their true feelings.'

Help!!!! -- I was thinking, as I (like) decided (like) I had to, well like, pass them, before, (like) I screamed out loud ...

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? ' Dear Alice,

You will have seen in The Washington Post last week that the Washington National Opera has canceled its 'Ring' cycle, which had been scheduled for 2009-10 season, because of the general economic crisis. (It is presenting Siegfried in the 2008-09 season; we have tickets).

Obviously, we're disappointed, but it's not going to wreck our cultural year. The WNO will still be staging very good opera. My question is, why is it important to put on a Ring cycle? Why is it that at people come from all over the world to see one, and that until an opera company puts one on, it can't be ranked as world class?
Joe the Plumber

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Alice Dear Joe,

Well, for a start, you're lucky I'm speaking to you (OBAMA!!!! OBAMA!!!) but it is an intelligent question -- miles more intelligent, to take an instance at random, than your point to our current President-Elect -- so I will do my best.

  1. The first reason is that The Ring (especially Die Walküre, but then, I'm biased) has some of the most amazing music every written by human hand, as is obvious. However, I think there is much more to it than that.
  2. It is a rite of passage. No opera orchestra worth its salt can fail to have wrestled a bloodied Ring to the ground. In terms of emotional and musical energy expended over time, it stands alone. For a conductor, it is -- often quite literally -- a chance of a lifetime. Very few conductors get to do all that many, for obvious reasons (atrophy, brain damage, etc etc).
  3. It is like Everest. Not only one mega-opera but four: and each of those four requiring not just stamina, emotional power and epic grandeur but voices the like of which are rarely found even in the Toscas and Aidas around the world. People make a living being Wotan, or Siegfried. Those in the know speak in hushed tones of a Brünnhilde to come. There is a kind of singer (not, I grant you, one that you would enjoy singing Gershwin hits) that was born to belt his or her burnished voice out over a Wagnerian orchestra. Than which there are few things more exciting, when it works.
  4. Which it usually doesn't. Wagner fiends love this game: name your ideal Wagner team of soloists, generally with two from each operatic era, so that you'd have to be in heaven for the concept to work at all. So inhumane were the Nazi bastard's demands upon the human lungs that someone will have a head cold, someone a divorce and that ideal team will have a weak spot. (This, of course, will thrill Wagnerians no end, as they can then go back to imagining their ideal teams which can never be ...)

So there you have it. Four reasons (from Rhinegold to Götterdämmerung) why Plácido Domingo (head honcho of Washington Opera) will be weeping into his beer tonight.


Copyright © 14 November 2008 Alice McVeigh, Kent UK

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