Enter Wotan

Many years ago, long before the internet existed, I was in a relationship with another high-school student who lived in western North Carolina. Thanks to the state of technology and the expense of phone calls, we communicated primarily through the mail, sending each other letters, poems, and occasionally cassettes. (She was a talented flute player, while I was stumbling through my first not-so-good attempts at songwriting.) But every once in a while she'd send something else, something with no clear meaning. I realize now it was basically the same impulse that compels one to share a particularly funny tweet or force your companion to watch the "Smells Like Teen Shovel" video, but it came in the form of text. For example, she once sent me a copy of G.K. Chesterton's "On Lying in Bed," which was my first encounter with his writing, while other snippets from periodicals or photocopies might contain almost anything.

Recently, I rediscovered one of those bits of almost anything.

The paper, now bent and stained with age, is stiff and fairly thick, and the backside has the same topic, typeface, and formatting that the front side has, so I can only assume she cut it out of an actual book. (Perhaps a textbook for a history of music class?) Its author is unknown to me, though the punctuation and style suggests a British origin. It is also the source of one of my favorite sentences of all time:

Die Walkure
Royal Opera House,
Covent Garden,
London, 1956

Hans Hotter still remembers this slightly less alarming incident. He was for some reason delayed in putting on a new, enormous cloak before his entry in Act III, 'Wo ist Brunhild'. Grabbing it from the dressing-room he cast it round his shoulders and strode on to the stage, to confront an inexplicably mirthful audience. The fact was that towering above his shoulders, invisible to him, was the coat-hanger on which the cloak had been hanging. It was a fluffy, pink coat-hanger. He sailed through the act, his mighty stage-presence doubtless soon convincing the audience that Wotan without a coat-hanger is no Wotan at all. As Ernest Newman said, he is surely 'the only man in the world who can actually step on stage and persuade you that he is God'.

Having found it, I commit it to the internet in hopes that future generations may benefit. I have never made a dedicated attempt to uncover the source of this little story, but I have long lived by its peculiar, almost dadaist wisdom: "Wotan without a coat-hanger is no Wotan at all."

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on March 30, 2017 6:42 AM.

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