Wagner’s  “No Love Allowed”  Surprises and Pleases

Richard Wagner's "No Love Allowed"
Spread the love

By Henry Etzkowitz and Chunyan Zhou

How can it be that 19th century authoritarian operatic icon Richard Wagner depicts  a virtual  Me too movement precursor, anticipating  21st century feminist blow back against sexual harassment and rape? A companion theme is European North/South cultural divide: frigid northern versus passionate southern lifestyle. (A variant of this divide is reflected in the contemporary divergent European  Peace  [Russia leaning] versus Justice {Russia Opposed] response to Putin’s invasion  of Ukraine).  

Surprisingly, Richard Wagner offers us  a comedy with the theme of respect for human nature. Not in the typical  “Wagnerian”  style, No love… is diminutive, not overblown. It is about “regular” people rather than mythical figures. Indeed, given its  relatively even leveled  score, accepting that  it was composed by Wagner almost strains belief.  Even if expectation is more derived from reputation than Ring Cycle immersion, we  are culturally programmed to expect  soaring heights and rumbling depths from this late 19th century iconic musical genius with authoritarian leanings.

No Love’s plot is driven by the response to a powerful man pressuring a powerless woman for  “a night of love” in exchange for her brother’s life. The quest for a royal pardon is the dilemma theme.  With Palermo occupied by Germany in Wagner’s scenario, Carnival  has been outlawed to suppress carnal appetites.  Supposedly venal southerners are subject to cultural reprogramming by their erstwhile pure  ruler. With treachery, revealed anger emerges. A color revolution is at hand.   Palerman’s  lateral friendship ties overcomes the  hierarchical German regime. A masque ball  serves as an identity transformation machine. Homo Ludens, the playful element in human culture  breaks through.

With power in their hands Palermans abjure revenge. A remorseful viceroy accepts responsibility for his transgression and willingly accepts punishment according to his own decree. In a joyous postscript, the  kindly ruler’s vessel arrives and reconciliation between North and South ensues under seeming supranational aegis.

We, the audience,  encircle the open stage In Mountain View’s intimate, few levels, theatre, no gods! The good thing is that that the story felt so real and it was exciting to see the actors so well, from both their front and back. The negative is being so close that it is difficult to encompass the big picture, trying to see everyone on the stage but overall, much more fun than a regular stage. 

At the Convent, Isabella and Mariana’s duet, sung by Leslie Sandefur and Aléxa Anderson was amazing.  Leslie’s Soprano is natural and beautiful, with with a slight sharpness,  which depicts  a smart nun, perfectly. In act 2, the trio is so beautiful, by Luzio, Isabela and Dorella (Michael Dailey, Leslie Sandefur and Sonia Gariaeff ). Everybody is great. For example, Spencer Dodd’s voice is pure, powerful, and sometimes euphemistic, though he plays a ruthless, lustful and confused ruler, Friedrich. Alexa Anderson’s voice is also pure and melodious, expressing a complex inner emotion, an anxious waiting process. In addition, the guard’s role enhanced the performance.

The eleven person orchestra was directed by Jonathan Khuner. Every musician gave their best effort. Simple and typical stage sets/props created a relaxed and natural feel. No Love’s  take away is that to anyone, wisdom is very important, in any situation. Without touching personal reputation, gains and losses, creatively finding the harmonious solution is absolutely the way-out, whether in opera or geopolitics! 

Sung in English, No Love Allowed, is classic open-stage Pocket Chamber opera. 

THE GRAND DUCHESS OF GEROLSTEIN, Pocket Opera’s current production is touring the Bay area, from Berkeley to Mountain View.

Tickets are available HERE

Photos are courtesy of the Pocket Opera

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.