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Richard Wagner

Yesterday and for the next three weeks we are studying the life and works of Richard Wagner in our opera class. As our tutor correctly opined no one divides people more than Wagner. The class was asked to give its views, some admired his operatic prowess, others were intimidated by it.

I said I was put off by his horrible personality: he was a virulent anti-semite, philanderer and reckless with money.

The tutor, whilst agreeing with this assessment, did argue that he was not the most popular composer of the Third Reich, Verdi was, but Hitler’s personal favourite.

The first opera Hitler attended was Lohengrin but various invitations by the Fuhrer to Reichsmarshalls to attend other Wagner Operas were spurned.

Wagner was used to re-educate prisoners in Dachau but there is no evidence that his music was played in the gas chambers. It does raise the interesting argument as to the legitimacy of debating the personal defects of any artistic genius.

Wagner was certainly that. His attitude was “I don’t have to follow any trend of classical opera, I will compose what I like.” Opera would never be the same.

His early life was interesting . He was Opermeister of various schools – most of them small, rackety and penniless – until he was appointed Kapelmeister of the prestigious Dresden Opera House.

He asked French composer Meyerbeer to help him stage his early opera Rienzi in Paris. Meyerbeer could only assist him in Germany and it is thought Wagner’s indignation, which turned into antisemitism, began here.

Wagner was a prolific writer and did turn out some antisemitic tracts. Yet he was also a revolutionary both in his politics and music and in 1848 was banished to Switzerland. He was not the prototype of German nationalism.

We listened to The Flying Dutchman and Tannhauser.

On one hand the rich orchestration did move me but on the other the recitative in German was guttural and unmelodic. However his stage craft was impressive. He was the first to lower the lights when a performance began.

My mind is still open.

About Michael Stuart

After university, Michael spent twelve years working for MELODY MAKER before going freelance. He claims to keep doing it because it is all he knows. More Posts