I Take My Niece to Parsifal

I AM afraid I am old-fashioned. I always have mildly suspected as much, but since I took Miss Dolly to Parsifal, and she told me so quite frankly and brutally, my suspicion has mounted to positive fear. I did misbehave myself outrageously at Parsifal, I must admit. Not that I whispered to Dolly the amusing things I thought — or not many of them ; but I went fast asleep during the second act, just at the moment (one of Wagner’s long moments) when the ascetic hero was in most danger of becoming humanized. And when the Festival Play was over I asked Dolly if she were quite sure that it was time to go home. We had reached the opera house at five. It was then eleven-forty. Miss Dolly smothered a yawn, and replied that I was a brute. Miss Dolly’s mother, who has known me longer than Dolly has, had a warm supper ready for us when we did get home, and a smile of sympathy. Dolly said, as she sipped her chocolate, that she considered it a “ perfect shame ” for any one to produce Parsifal in English, to dramatize it, to put it on the stage here, there, and everywhere, with any sort of singers in the cast, as is going to be done.

“ On the contrary,” said I, “ I heartily approve.”

“ You do?” cried Dolly. “Well, I’d like to know why! ”

“ Because,” I answered, “ the more it is produced the less there will be written about it. Besides, if enough people see it the humbug will be exposed. You can’t fool all of the people, you know, all ” —

But Miss Dolly was gone, in a fine temper.

I am quite prepared to admit, of course, that Miss Dolly was profoundly moved by Parsifal, as by all of Wagner’s works. Indeed, she accepts the master with much more liberality than some other people I know. She has confided to me that she never sees Lohengrin without weeping, though I believe it is the fashion of the advanced, or ritualistic, Wagnerites to look with little favor on that earlier opera. Nor am I questioning her perfect right to do so. If she chooses to weep at Lohengrin, — bless her dear eyes and the tender heart that speaks behind them ! — why should I wish to prevent? I would even permit her to be thrilled by the dragon in Siegfried, a piece of mechanism which would not be tolerated seriously on the dramatic stage, even in a Drury Lane extravaganza. I am sorry that I ever read her Tolstoy’s sprightly description of the performance of Siegfried he witnessed ; she tried so hard not to smile! All I ask is that she and her fellow Wagnerites shall not ask me to weep, or be thrilled, or follow them in their enthusiasm, — or go with them again to Parsifal !

And yet I love opera; even Miss Dolly will back me up in that. I am, as she says, old - fashioned, though, and the opera I love was not written by Wagner. I also love Tom Jones and the novels of Miss Austen, and the songs Herrick wrote and Burns, and I do not much care for the “ modern ” poetry of some of Wagner’s French contemporaries and friends, nor for the “ problem story ” of to-day. I fear my old-fashionedness is fundamental and complete. I wish a tune, like a story, to begin at the beginning and advance bravely to a middle, and then flow smoothly to an end, and I don’t object if it takes its own time about it. I wish it, also, to take me along with it, to possess sufficient buoyancy to float the perhaps too, too solid bulk of my emotional nature. Give me the opera, grave or gay, that was written by one of the great masters of musical narration, and that sings for the pure love of singing, with old-fashioned confidence in the creed of melody. Then I sit back in my seat and ask no questions of the composer’s purpose, as he flaunts no purpose in my face, but am simply and unaffectedly happy, full of the good wine of song.

Something of this I expressed to Miss Dolly one evening, between acts of The Marriage of Figaro. Even Miss Dolly has to admit that she enjoys The Marriage of Figaro. “ And my old-fashioned Mozart did just what you say your modern Wagner does, and did it better,” I added.

“ What do you mean ? ” said Dolly.

“ There is vivid and unfailing characterization in Mozart’s orchestral score throughout,” said I, “ that never fails to make its point. But it never interrupts the flow of the narrative, never ceases to be truly dramatic. Wagner’s ‘motifs ’ are episodic and mechanical, hence undramatic. You see, Miss Dolly, the difference was here : Mozart, wrapped up in his story, poured out his music heedlessly, and it fitted each character because Mozart was one of those oldfashioned things called a genius ; he could n’t help it. But Wagner fitted a theme to a character (or a character to a theme), and the next time that character appeared I always imagine the composer scratching his head and saying, ' Now, which motif was it went with this chap ? ’ ”

“ Well, he always got it right, anyhow,” said Miss Dolly triumphantly.

“ Yes, I suppose he did,” I admitted, as the lights on the stage flared up and the champagne of Mozart’s music began to sparkle.

Presently I saw Miss Dolly’s head nodding to a contagious rhythm, and her lips parted with the pleasure that filled all her pretty person. “ The world would be a dreary place without the old-fashioned things, even the operas,” I reflected.

And then I whispered to her, “ You like this, don’t you ? ”

“ But I can like Wagner, too,” she said. “ Oh, why can’t you ? ”

“Alas,” said I, “ I am not so young as you are! ”