The price of gold rises daily. Some news feeds have degenerated into infinite streams of platitudes about why the price of gold will climb every higher. Or burst as the next bubble to be charged to the taxpayer. Seems to me that while a few may benefit from the infinite rise in the price of gold, most will suffer mightily. From my perspective, it looks like every time there is more bad economic news, the price of gold goes higher. I cannot but think that at some point, an every-rising gold price will mean that economic disaster is a terrible reality: more out of work; more going hungary; more debts unpaid; more tea parties peopled by irrational, disgruntled whites who decry government spending as they wobble around with their fat asses firmly parked in Medicare and Medicaid wheelchairs.
Some miners, and those of us lucky to have shares in gold mines, may benefit. But how many guns will it take to keep the gold stashed in our mattresses safe?
If you truly want to know why we value gold, I recommend watching Das Rheingold again. If you did not see it live from the Met on Saturday as we did, go out an buy any one of the many DVD versions–or order one from Amazon.
The Met production on Saturday was the best I have ever seen. My fellow movie-goer, who had never before seen a Wagner opera, was entranced and demanding more Wagner on CD when we got home. What struck me this time, was the influence of gold on the mad doings of the opera’s characters. The Rheinmaidens foolishly fail to guard the gold as entrusted to do so by their father. Albrecht fails to woo them, so renounces love (sex), steals the gold, and heads underground to make the magic ring and enslave his fellow Nibelung. Gold mining at its craziests and most pointless.
Wotan, is struggling to pay the mortgage on the new castle he was persuaded to build by his jealous wife, who hoped to keep him at home and not wandering around cavorting with sundry goddesses and mortals. So Wotan, advised by his consultant, Loge, heads down underground and promptly steals the gold from Albrecht. At least Wotan does something to pay off his mortgage instead of begging from the government. Mind, I am not advocating a whole-scale gold-mine raids by those whose houses are worth less than they owe on them. Better they go to a tea party on non-public roads and sell a Sarah Palin coloring-in book, like the one I bought in Juneau.
Sadly for Wotan, the price of gold is not high enough to pay of the castle’s mortgage. He has to throw in the magic ring as well before the builders of the castle are satisfied. He goes through much agony in giving up his gold ring, and is only persuaded when Erda, the earth mother, or Gaia to the environmentalists, persuades him bad will come his way if he keeps the ring.
And sure enough, no sooner have the castle’s builders, the two giants, got the gold, than they fall to fighting about who gets to keep the bigger share of gold. The results is murder. Fafner clubs Fasolt to death and ambles off with the gold, which we do not see again until the third opera when Siegfried kills Fafner–for the ring. Poor old Siegfried is just too stupid to bother with the gold.
In Das Rheingold, gold is more than a precious metal of ever-rising price. It is a broken promise to a dead father; a substitute for love and sex; a way to restrain an erring husband; a bribe to keep the family intact; the raw stuff of power and privacy; a measure of an honest day’s work; and ultimately the avarice that ends in fratricide. It is more than just money in a tangible form. It is indeed cash to pay mortgages, wages, and to be the basis of retirement savings. But it is the human mind at work seeking to breed, dominate, bribe, corrupt, and kill. In and of itself, gold in the opera (as in life) is more than a commodity. It is a symbol, a shining thing that one can see, count, and use to cover sin. It is not hard to get: enslave a race, coerce a tribe, crack the whip, threaten, and there is plenty more to be gotten from the ore. Put miners to work–willingly or by force, and the supply of gold is infinite. If the prices rises sufficiently, we can get it from sea-water. It may have few utilitarian functions: make a helmet; fashion a jewel; solder a fast-computer connection; fill a sugar-decayed tooth. But ultimately it is to be dug up and hidden soon thereafter in a vault, a cave, or a box beneath the bed of a nervous Indian bride or courtesan. The value of gold is its symbolic allure. The value of gold is the power it denotes, the grandchildren you can breed and support, and the possibility of keeping your husband from straying to the prostitutes of the earth, of sleeping with Erda to breed Brunehilde.
Thus the opera proceeds, and with the gold safely stowed in a cave for a generation or more, guarded by a dragon, the gods enter Valhalla to glorious music and a short walk up the amazing rotating planks that constitute the Met’s new stage scenery. Which scenery is part of the magic of this production. The dress is old fashioned enough that even Wagner would have been happy. I thought the clothes were frumpy at best—kind of like the stuff granny used to like. The rotating planks though, with their back-projections of pebbles, water, timber, lightening, rainbow light, and more, makes this a thoroughly modern event, technically savvy enough for the computer-age geek. At least a lot happens on the stage–there is something new going on most of the time–not like that static, achingly dull and ugly thing at the Los Angeles opera earlier this year.
The best voice, in my opinion was Froh; pity he has so little to sing. But as my companion remarked: “There are still fat singers in opera. Man look at Wotan and Fricka. They are as fat as any mid-western tea party attendees. Why can’t we have some of those good-looking men and beautiful women on stage when we have to watch it oversize on this screen?” I explained the fat and ugly are good singers. But the reply was: “Opera is supposed to be a gesamentstuckwerk thing, isn’t it? Then let’s sacrifice a bit of ‘good singing’ for aesthetics on the big screen.”
Thus was I repulsed by a Loge, who of all should be slim, lithe, and young. Is that why he was booed at the end. Sang OK to me, but really he was so stodgy that it was hard to explain to my companion that he represents fire and a fast wit. Maybe we should demand more aesthetic and less ‘good singing’ by the fat and old. The movie house is too big and intimate to have to squirm as large-large people pretend to be young and vigorous, lustful and amorous.
Small criticisms, however, of a fun few hours as Wagner’s music sweeps away the ordinary and infuses the world with new color and emotion. Still I could not help but think of the rising price of gold, and wonder if Wagner had similar problems with gold in his day? And if we will have similar problems like those in Dresden that sent Wagner on his musical tour? If we get new operas out of a high-gold-price-induced economic crash & turmoil, maybe it will be worth it. But who knows.