METROPOLITAN OPERA | Rush-Tix Rosenkavalier

Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier
Wednesday, January 6, 2010, 7:30 PM

Conductor: Edo de Waart
Production: Nathaniel Merrill
Stage Director: Robin Guarino
Main Cast: Renée Fleming (Marschallin), Susan Graham (Octavian), Kristinn Sigmundsson (Baron Ochs), Christine Schäfer (Sophie), Eric Cutler (Italian tenor).

The first twenty people or so who make it into line for the Met’s $20 Varis Rush Tickets—a precious pool of 150 $100-value orchestra seats offered the day of most weeknight performances—begin waiting beneath the opera house, against a wall, in a dim pocket of the elegantly named “concourse level.” (After that the line starts snaking past doors and into back lobbies. The tickets start selling two hours before curtain, but those lining up less than three hours before that are often already too late.) For last night’s Der Rosenkavalier I made it to the front-most ten. In this space for the earliest, steeliest of arrivals—a sort of mezzanine above the Lincoln Center subway—the air-flow in winter gets very, very cold, thanks to an open door to the garage that in turn leads to a pedestrian walkway to the outside. This drafty back-end to that most laboriously, opulently contained of Gesamtkunstwerk spaces becomes a small site where opera unexpectedly becomes quite porous to the world, not only a simulation of or sanctuary from it.

The human flow here keeps things interesting: workers in hard-hats going on lunch break, security guards pausing for casual monitoring and friendly chat, dancers with duffels and alert faces rushing to their auditions, Met patrons who’ve just bought their (face-value) tickets from the box office and can already get on with their day, tour groups of adorable school-kids, a few of whom will generously guess at still grander rewards for this scarf-swaddled group hardily slumped along the wall. “No, they’re not here to audition,” the tour-guide brightly answers, summing up the rush-ticket system: “They’re going to be waiting for five hours. These are dedicated opera lovers.” (Quiet wows, curious stares, good-luck waves.)

In line there’s plenty of conversation to join in or eavesdrop on. These early pros bring not only snacks and reading—not one but two books—to pass the five, six hours, but fleece blankets and astonishingly compact folding chairs. (For these latter comforts I had no such foresight.) Before long one finds oneself negotiating coffee runs for place-holding, offering insider ticketing tales of triumph and dejection, policing would-be line-cheaters (this gets to be a real problem by mid-afternoon, when the 75th in line has a sure ticket while the 76th might already be out of luck), and of course trading invective, adulatory, or still receptively undecided thoughts on singers and stagings with the newbies, gossips, and walking Grove dictionaries that populate one’s line-neighborhood. It might be nice to generalize this crowd as composed of a special, honorable demographic—diehard opera fans whose passion exceed their means—but happily in this city it’s hard to tell. Some simply want a better seat than what’s left for sale at the box-office, or can’t pass up a good bargain, or don’t at all mind waiting when friends—or strangers for that matter—are there to keep them company and talk up a marathon storm about opera (such talk being a luxury in itself). A most illustrious-looking elderly lady in the most luxuriously fuchsia of wool coats was reading, of all things, a dog-eared paperback of Steinbeck’s Cannery Row—a curious image only if one forgets the Great Depression, or the elementary and persistent appeal of communal fortitude, or Doc’s love in that novel of Monteverdi.

marschallin-octavian
[Fleming’s Marschallin, Graham’s Octavian]

Der Rosenkavalier ends with a perfect dyad: Octavian and Sophie, young lovers of commensurate age, have eyes now only for each other and a self-fulfilling sense of their union as dreamiest gift, “through all time and forever.” The 17-year-old youth has been relinquished by his 32-year-old mistress the Marschallin; his 15-year-old bride has just wrested free of her arranged marriage to 35-year-old Baron Ochs. Strauss famously stated that the Marschallin, who has done the most giving up, is not a tragic figure, in part as we’re meant to know that Octavian is neither her first lover nor her last. (And during the night with Octavian she even dreamt of her husband, the much-absent Feldmarschall whom we, too, never get to meet.) Presumably we are merely seeing, then, one rich episode from her history of passions. All’s well, surely, that ends so well. Yet this opera is among the saddest I know. If the singing is at all better than competent, as it was last night, one’s bones can be left aching with misery.

I last saw Der Rosenkavalier at the Met in March 2005, starring Angela Denoke and Susan Graham, in this same Nathaniel Merrill production that’s been going for four decades. In a good way, last night’s felt sadder. There was a certain quietness to the Marschallin as played by Renée Fleming, who gave tender, supple voice to the role, her bearing all graceful restraining of self and enlightened relenting to others. Susan Graham as Octavian was a believable boy, chivalrously brash (ready to duel Sophie’s whole household) and domestically bumbling: once disguised as maid Mariandel he’s woefully incompetent at making up a simple bed—pitching pillows at the headboard like a game of ring toss. (Indeed, Octavian might be fit for little more than the socially respectable, servant-propped marriage he gets, with Sophie managing those servants.) Kristinn Sigmundsson played a Baron Ochs who, while looking rather older than the 35-year-old “rustic beau” Strauss imagined, was just obnoxious enough to dominate his scenes, jolly enough to be forgiven long before the end. The character of Sophie did not gain so much by Christine Schäfer’s clear yet slightly fragile voice, but as the Marschallin tells the character with proper condescension: “You don’t need to talk so much; you’re pretty enough.”

Octavian’s incessant, bored work at those pillows may not be without its point. It is precisely for the opening scene of the Marschallin and Octavian draped across and rolling around each other—amid that abundance of pillows in wonderful disarray—that we might soon grow nostalgic. Back then to the misery. No other lover of the Marschallin gets braided into this story, after all, for symmetry or fugal continuity. Having married the Feldmarschall at a tender age herself—presumably having missed out on consorting with her peers—she is quite justified in taking on tender Octavian, if justification is needed, but this cycle of inexorable asymmetry is just what she puts an end to when she delivers Octavian to Sophie. Here, as everywhere, (a kind of) death mars the picture: whatever Strauss’s lighter intent, there is the sense that her own life of desire has come to dusk, that her sacrifice is a too final one, and if what has dawned is a maturity able to offer to and demand from love more than possession: So what? So what if there is an art of losing and she has mastered it—losing farther, losing faster? So what if the role-shift from mistress to benefactress amounts to a moral self-surpassing? So what, even, if her sacrifice empowers her with agency, when such agency knows itself merely to be expediting the inevitable? Her renunciation is still a resignation that gains little comfort from its wisdom—the knowledge that this, too, shall pass; he will tire of her, she sings, “Today or tomorrow or the next day.” For all that wisdom avails of is a second-best way to live. The only way to rescue resignation from becoming passive and terminally inconsolable is by turning it into an act of generous, purposive orchestration—here, the timely chaperoning of Octavian to his age-appropriate fate. She cannot turn back time; this is how she refuses to be its casualty. Through the much-acknowledged tedium of the intervening comic scenes, the Marschallin as if by this sheer temporal protraction of the drama already attenuates, and in effect, true to her own fast-forwarded future-gazing, superannuates.

Given this subdued sacrifice, this adjustment of social cycles, which is also the Marschallin’s willful counteracting of her own earlier approach to time—the adjustment of the clocks in her house to standstill—Der Rosenkavalier feels like an aubade to an entire age. The Marschallin and Baron Ochs present, after all, two ways older, established powers can deploy their privileged role: ensuring the happiness of those with still the most to live, or, draining those young of their youth to maintain one’s own (admittedly undiminished) appetites. (It is fitting that everywhere he looks—Octavian, Mariandel—Ochs sees always the same face; what his all-you-can-score approach to love experiences is not addictive diversity but iterations of the same. But this precisely has kept him going as the perpetually turned-on and, when he, too, relents in Act III, the likably easy-going personality.) Indeed, when Sophie nearly loses heart in the final trio, seeing the final wistful gazes between her superior and her beloved, she wonders whether Octavian, too, had been a benefactor all along, extending nothing more than “friendship and assistance.”

The retro-Mozartian 18th-century setting offers not only a generic template, then, but also a historical alienation-effect that can more visibly recommend a stepping aside of orthodox authorities, or better yet a caring for posterity that becomes possible when those authorities accept their own imminent obsolescence. Had Adorno been more generous toward Strauss in general perhaps he could have entertained this possibility that Der Rosenkavalier, rather than an inflection point for the composer’s decline into bourgeois decadence, may also serve as a historical-generational parable. The 1911 opera was by no means prophetic, but would perhaps resonate nonetheless in a disturbing way, however inconclusively, with the old-feuds-driven, youth-scything war soon to come.

Yet one need not speculatively abstract the tale beyond its human characters to feel the vertigo of its depths. There are darker implications, too, that haunt the Marschallin’s designs. Every passionate love may carry within itself something that propels it toward thunderous and premature termination. That the culture’s most engaging dramas of such termination pose the problem in the form of other persons, be it Karenin or King Mark, and/or in the form of values, be it the sanctity of matrimony or the interdiction of incest, suggests a short-hand surrogation. The dyad in its airless mutuality would be hard-pressed, after all, to suffice as a sole sustaining life-world. And yet the faith in its self-sustenance, in its viable, even inevitable eternity, is also its lifeblood—and that lifeblood, too, must get its chance to pulse. (The Arthurian version might have clinched the problem best: what’s jeopardized is not marital fidelity but Round Table and Grail. On the other hand, of course, Guinevere has no place in that egalitarian economy potentially of holy war.) The Marschallin would rather have the killing awareness of finitude flung across the bright path before the path itself begins to fade. What Luhmann called double contingency produces for her, at her age and stage, less the stimulations of coding and gaming than a recognition of certain despair.

Darker still: rather than the gift of life to this pair, the Marschallin leaves Octavian and Sophie to a shared death. In the simplest biological terms, they will share a commensurate lifespan. Theirs is a young love so pure, so pristinely fused, that it may never be available for knowing other loves. Their very symmetry, then, may be a form of death. And that death may offer the Marschallin the only advantage she can claim. She may die alone, but she will not be bound to die with another. She is one step ahead of Adam Phillips’s ruthless musing: “At its best monogamy may be the wish to find someone to die with. At its worst it is a cure for the terrors of aliveness. They are easily confused.” Clearing up the confusion may not, of course, enable or necessitate a different existence; the terrors of aliveness are real, as are the gratifications of company. For its part, Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s extraordinary libretto intimates that this best and this worst are quite interchangeable (and maybe interchangeably bad). Sophie’s love for Octavian has something desperately agoraphobic about it: “I want to hide with you and to know nothing more of this world.” (Phillips again: “We have couples because it is impossible to hide alone.”) Later Octavian gravely intones, “For yourself and for me you must stay—…” “Stay?” asks Sophie. “Stay as you are.” How bitter a mandate this loving wish must strike anyone who’s been paying attention. The opera’s very first words had been Octavian’s exalting of the Marschallin in her past and her present: “Wie Du warst! Wie Du bist!” From this mandate to Sophie, and from his dumbed-down version of the Marschallin’s wisdom when singing in Act III as Mariandel, it is clear that he has yet to learn anything about time. Strauss was attuned to and would musically fine-tune Hoffmannsthal’s nuances. In the opera’s final lines, Octavian declares that “I feel only you, just you, and the fact that we’re together. Everything else flees from my senses like a dream,” while Sophie half-asks, half-insists innocuously whether/that the resolution is a “dream; it can’t be real, that we two are together, for all time and eternity.” But all this declarative security is trailed in the score by descending woodwinds that evoke at once indeed the slipping into a dream and something still more open-ended, hesitant, contingent. One almost feels that in these notes the Marschallin’s presence lingers, as she alone absorbs and alone will endure the consequences (for now) of what time bears out. Auden was right that Hoffmannsthal’s libretto is “too near to real poetry.” Popular “Komödie für Musik” as it is, maybe this opera can also be understood—or at least experienced—as exquisitely near to real tragedy.

CARNEGIE HALL | Mahler’s Symphony #2

gm-frankenthaler

Thursday, May 7, 2009 at 8 PM
STAATSKAPELLE BERLIN, cond. Pierre Boulez
Westminster Symphonic Choir, dir. Eberhard Friedrich
Soloists: Michelle DeYoung (mezzo-soprano), Dorothea Röschmann (soprano)

MAHLER | Symphony No. 2, ‘Resurrection’

For me, as for many Mahler devotees I’ve known or known of (and not only the fabled Gilbert Kaplan, for whom it was a veritable idée fixe), the Second Symphony [‘Resurrection’] was the most decisive portal into this composer’s oeuvre. During my high school years, after an English teacher lent me a recording of Abbado’s 1976 recording with the Chicago SO on Deutsche Grammophone—which I listened to probably some twenty times before buying my own copy—I went to the local library and checked out every recording of this work I could get my hands on (Bernstein, Solti, Haitink, Kaplan, Mehta, Maazel, et al., some of which were incredibly forgettable). Gradual listening to the other symphonies, then the Lieder—helped along the way by brief lurk-time on MAHLER-L and a Mahler seminar in college—sealed Mahler as the composer closest to my heart. My two go-to recordings of this symphony are now Klemperer’s with the Philharmonia on EMI and, after all these years, that old Abbado disc; occasionally, in less impatient moods, I turn to Rattle’s attentive 1986 rendition. (Many of these just mentioned are discussed in Tony Duggan’s fine omnibus review of Second Symphony recordings.) None of the others I’ve come across has really managed to bore itself into the soul. Soul-gripping and soul-assailing and soul-transporting—that is the power of this symphony when done right.

Puzzlingly, despairingly, last night’s Staatskapelle Berlin performance, led by Pierre Boulez, felt at times almost procedural, and although the orchestra and chorus lacked no power when it mattered, not until Urlicht and the final movement did the execution begin truly to rise to the score. The opening was, it must be said, extremely promising. I’ve always thought that the cellos in the opening section should have a shade of brutality, of raw and earthy rumble: it is something like the sound of existence’s grappling with earthliness, and this grappling requires a lot of textured traction. The Staatskapelle’s cellists were superb in digging into their strings here, and curiously this effect was even augmented by Boulez’s directions stipulating an unusual slowness, protracting the push and pull of strokes. As the movement went on, however, the sense of musical as well as emotional continuity became tenuous. What did those hearing (or truly listening to) this for the first time last night make, say, of some superficial abruptnesses in the music? Why a seeming biding of time one minute, and a minute later a clashing of cymbals startling everybody who’s nodded off? Mahler’s symphonies are never mere stories, but each amounts to far more than any Eliotian ‘heap of broken images.’ Each Mahlerian fragment bears within it the longing for wholeness, the wishful memory of wholeness; often longing is the story. At best, Mr. Boulez seemed interested in excavating the sonic textures of certain segments rather than in unfolding for us the whole. Indeed, in the second and third movements especially, perhaps wary of too-easy drama, he seemed to hold back a bit too much, resulting in an inscrutable plainness. One ached for a more vigilant treatment of the transitions—a more responsible communication, even, of the ebbs and flows, the whims and the throes, of feeling.

The Staatskapelle players sounded terrific overall, for their part, as did the Westminster Symphonic Choir (which sang this work with the NYPhil directed by Kaplan last December, and will appear again this cycle for Mahler’s Third and Eighth). Moments of vulnerability among the brass were more audible this time, unfortunately, and I found myself wishing—for this symphony at least—for a more glistening, gauzy sound from the violin section. Apart from the ever lovely cellos, the true star of the evening was the lush and capacious voice of Michelle DeYoung. (I saw her last as Venus in a wonderful Tannhäuser at the Met in December 2004, which also starred Deborah Voight, Thomas Hampson, and Peter Seiffert.) Pending her vibrato—which needs just a slight diminution for this music—I dare say she has the potential to become one of the great Mahlerian mezzos of our time.

Theodor Adorno was right to focus on Mahler’s ‘breakthroughs’—when the music exceeds itself, swells up from its own ground, toward new luminosities or into new tumult—a pattern of almost inexplicable mutation and transmutation that is truly at the heart of Mahler’s alchemy. The performance last night enabled the listener to imagine such magic, but not to experience it.

Recent viewings

Fidelio at the Met. Karita Mattila sang Leonore’s role gorgeously, and she was impressively spry as Fidelio, too, scampering around the stage with boyish aplomb, scooting up and down ladders, bearing groceries. Apart from the limpid quartet in the opening act and the arpeggiated vocal mountaineering of the ‘Abscheulicher!’ duet in the final act, it can be hard to believe Beethoven really wrote this work for voices. It often feels more like a serial tone-poem. As drama, very little happens. The opening subplot flourish has often been criticized, but a naïve opera-goer might expect, might even wish for, even more subplots, or at least discernible turns in action. Unfortunately the production on my night of attendance was Heppner-less; marginally less unfortunately, it was also Levine-less (he’s out of commission this season due to a fall in Boston). Florestan’s role, respectably donned by Richard Margison, is also uncomfortably difficult. When we first hear him he is holding on for dear death — yet the singer must still capture the strength beneath. Interesting above all thematically may be the opera’s wishful solution to the dyad-vs.-collectivity quandary: here, conjugal love actually clears the way to pan-human fellowship.

Alex Ross’s review some months back in The New Yorker of some opera recordings features a phrase I’m insanely fond of: ‘a Heldentenor in heat.’

Claire Denis’ L’Intrus (France, 2004) at the Brattle. Find me a review that does not proclaim this film’s ‘enigmatic’ qualities, or call for an uncritical, non-interpretive, pleasure-taking stance. (Stephen Holden somewhat dissatisfyingly asserts that ‘The best way to enjoy The Intruder is surrender to its poetry without demanding cut-and-dried explanations.’ Zizek is right again that there’s something conscriptive and commanding in the very notion of enjoyment.) Or, they resort to the other poor overtasked critical lifeboat: cinematic intertextuality. The film seems more concerned with ownership — of one’s body, one’s progeny, and of land (and vice versa — land’s ownership of you, i.e., citizenship). Claire Denis, the director, knows and speaks of this as the reviewers do not (though Lim in the Voice does a decent job).

Peter Watkins’ The War Game (UK, 1966) at the Harvard Film Archive.

Zizek! (USA, 2005) at the Brattle. The film follows Slavoj from a talk at the University of Buenos Aires to a talk at Columbia to a talk at Deitch Projects to a talk at the Brattle Theatre — but would have done well to give more room to his run-on sentences and less to cameos by its own director, Astra Taylor. The best part may be at the beginning, where Zizek points out the violence of love — of romantic selection, to the exclusion of the world — the point that love is not love of the world but of the particular torn out from the world. There’s also the nice moment when he describes himself as a monster, in opposition to academics eager to portray themselves as all too human beneath the skin. Robespierre’s desire for a revolution without a revolution gets compared to leftist academics’ reluctance to give up their bourgeois comforts. Sounds familiar. But ticklish subjects all.

Irrigations

the conversation toilet

I’ve long been haunted by toilet scenes in two particular films — Coppola’s The Conversation and (less famously) Andrzej Zulawski‘s The Possessed. It was nice to discover, then, that artist Margaret Morgan has compiled some other cinematic toilet scenes in her video Toilet Training — which, she writes, ‘began as a response to my research on the importance of plumbing in a history of early twentieth century art — from Marcel Duchamp to Adolf Loos.’ Nicer still to find that Zizek has already summed up the matter:

[T]he domain to where excrement vanishes after we flush the toilet is effectively one of the metaphors of the horrifyingly sublime ‘beyond’ of the primordial, preontological chaos into which things disappear. […] Lacan was right in claiming that we pass from animals to humans the moment an animal has problems with what to do with its excrement, the moment that waste turns into an excess that annoys the animal. What is ‘Real’ in the scene from The Conversation is thus not primarily the horrifying and disgusting stuff reemerging from the toilet sink, but rather the toilet’s drain itself, the hold that serves as the passage to a different ontological order. The similarity between the empty toilet sink before the remainders of the murder reemerge from it and Kasimir Malevich’s The Black Square on the White Surface is significant here: does the look from above into the toilet sink not reproduce almost the same minimalist visual scheme, a black (or, at least, darker) square of water framed by the white surface of the sink itself? Again, we of course know that the excrement that disappears is somewhere in the sewage network; what is here ‘real’ is the topological hole or torsion that bends the space of our reality so that we perceive / imagine excrement as disappearing into an alternative dimension that is not part of our everyday reality. [from ‘Why Is Reality Always Multiple?’ in Enjoy Your Symptom!]

What Zizek’s characteristically sensible, savvy gloss doesn’t mention is another aspect of the horror: the visually conspicuous possibility that the ‘topological hole or torsion’ leads not to another dimension but back into the body. For what is the flush if not an image of one hole vacuuming up what another hole has just ejected? The horror is that the holes may be commutable, that there’s no relief, no ridding, to be had. The very contours of the toilet bowl, after all, seem oddly biomorphic (Duchamp’s urinal isn’t without its sculptural finesse) — like the negative space of some human organ.

The whirls and eddies in Hitchcock’s Psycho and Vertigo are of course cognate images, as Zizek goes on to address. The best part of his analysis, however, concerns labor:

While watching this scene [of Norman Bates’ cleaning the bathroom] recently, I caught myself nervously noticing that the bathroom was not properly cleaned — two small stains on the side of the bathtub remained! I almost wanted to shout, Hey, it’s not yet over, finish the job properly! Is it not that Psycho points here toward today’s ideological perception in which work itself (manual labor as opposed to ‘symbolic’ activity), and not sex, becomes the site of obscene indecency to be concealed from the public eye? The tradition, going back to Richard Wagner’s Rheingold and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, in which the working process takes place underground, in dark caves, today culminates in the millions of anonymous workers sweating in third world factories, from Chinese gulags to Indonesian or Brazilian assembly lines; in their invisibility, the West can itself afford to babble on about the ‘disappearing working class.’ yet what is crucial in this tradition is the equation of labor with crime, the idea that labor — hard work — is originally an indecent criminal activity to be hidden from the public eye. [ibid.]

Untimely meditations

We know something about Wittgenstein’s architectural designs, and about Schoenberg’s paintings. Perhaps there’s a book to be written on philosophers who composed music: Rousseau, Nietzsche, Adorno.

More on Nietzsche: in this month’s Atlantic Monthly, Terry Castle’s brief omnibus review of “astonishing memoirs by (and about) deeply repellent people” recommends Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche. Its author, Ben McIntyre, “took a boat trip into the Paraguayan jungle in 1991 in search of the surviving inhabitants of Nueva Germania — an abortive ‘Aryan’ colony founded in the late nineteenth century by the ghastly Elisabeth Nietzsche, racist sister of the philosopher. He found a weird village of unreconstructed white supremacists — inbred, half mad, many of them still speaking a kind of zombie German — and heard some curious and frightening stories Josef Mengele. A true-life Heart of Darkness.” As Friedrich’s posthumous PR, the book argues, Elisabeth retrofitted his ideas for an unambiguously anti-semitic agenda and secured for him a place in the Nazi canon Nietzsche himself (in his later years, at least) would have denounced. For no good reason, imagining this village in the jungle brings to mind Fitzcarraldo; if anyone were to make a film about all this, Herzog should.

Uses of a body

A famous British chemist, Dr. Charles Henry Maye, tried to determine exactly what man is made of and what is man’s chemical worth. Here are the results of his scholarly research. The amount of fat found in the body of an average human being would be enough to make seven pieces of soap. There is enough iron to make an average nail, enough sugar to sweeten a cup of coffee. The phosphorus would yield 2,200 matches; the magnesium would be enough to take a photograph. There is also some potassium and sulfur, but the amount is too small to be of any use. Those various materials, at the current rate, would be valued at around 25 francs.

— Georges Bataille, “L’Homme,” in Documents [possibly quoting from Journal des Debats], 1929.

Searchable Adorno

Happiest discovery of the week: thanks to the friendly pilferers at Textz.com, the full German texts of Minima Moralia and Dialectic of Enlightenment have been made available online. OpenApple+F does the work of a concordance. Autonomedia/Interactivist reports on related copyright hoopla.

Serra, 1988

Weight is a value for me… the balancing of weight, the diminishing of weight, the addition and subtraction of weight, the concentration of weight, the rigging of weight, the propping of weight, the placement of weight, the locking of weight, the psychological effects of weight, the disorientation of weight, the disequilibrium of weight, the rotation of weight, the movement of weight, the directionality of weight, the shape of weight. I have more to say about the perpetual and meticulous adjustments of weight, more to say about the pleasure derived from the exactitude of the laws of gravity. I have more to say about the processing of the weight of steel, more to say about the forge, the rolling mill, and the open hearth.

It’s hard to convey ideas of weight from the objects of everyday life, for the task would be infinite; there is an imponderable vastness to weight. However, I can record the history of art as a history of the particularization of weight. I have more to say about Mantegna, Cezanne, and Picasso than about Botticelli, Renoir and Matisse, although I admire what I lack. I have more to say about the history of sculpture as a history of weight, more to say about the monuments of death, more to say about the weight and density and concreteness of countless sarcophagi, more to say about burial tombs, more to say about Michelangelo and Donatello, more to say about Mycenaean and Incan architecture, more to say about the weight of the Olmec heads.

We are all restrained and condemned by the weight of gravity. However, Sisyphus pushing the weight of his boulder endlessly up the mountain does not catch me up as much as Vulcan’s tireless labor at the bottom of the smoking crater, hammering out raw material. The constructive process, the daily concentration and effort appeal to me more than the light fantastic, more than the quest for the ethereal.

— Richard Serra, “Weight.”