Richard Wagner

Das Rheingold 

Melbourne Opera
by
05 February 2021

Finally liberated from the solitude of our lounge rooms and Netflix subscriptions, sitting in Melbourne’s Regent Theatre shoulder-to-shoulder on Wednesday night felt like a forbidden treat. The palpable exuberance of being back on the town, though, was tempered by a profound appreciation of our delicately privileged position. As the first major opera performance in Melbourne after a protracted Covid shutdown of the live performing arts, Melbourne Opera’s Das Rheingold marks an important moment in the cultural life of the city – the beginning both of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle and of a new chapter in the living operatic history of Melbourne.

... (read more)

Graz, 16 May 1906. Richard Strauss is conducting his scandalous, recently premièred opera, Salome. The expectant audience includes Giacomo Puccini, Arnold Schoenberg, Gustav and Alma Mahler, Alexander von Zemlinsky, Alban Berg, and, slipping surreptitiously into a cheap seat, possibly a certain Adolf Hitler, having borrowed money from relatives for the trip from Vienna. So begins Alex Ross’s exploration of the kaleidoscopic twentieth-century musical world in The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the twentieth century (2007), his now classic study. Ross is well known as the chief music critic of The New Yorker.

... (read more)

Passions have always run high in the Wagner dynasty. Richard, the patriarch, waged a lifelong battle to impose his vision of a purified German art – freed of decadent foreign influences – on a sceptical, at times overtly hostile, culture. His great-grandson Gottfried, who bears a striking physical resemblance to his forebear, is equally dedicated to his mission in life: to alert the world to the intrinsic evil and pernicious influence of Wagner’s works. The cost has been considerable. As he recounts in his obsessive autobiography, The Wagner Legacy (Sanctuary Publishing, 1998 and 2000), he has been disowned by his father, Wolfgang (who has been sole Director of the Bayreuth Festival since 1966), reviled by Wagner enthusiasts in Europe and America, denied every opportunity of working in theatres and opera houses, slandered and even hounded, on occasions, by death threats. Yet, in circumstances where others might have been tempted to throw in the towel, he continues to roam the world, delivering lectures, participating in seminars and discussion- groups with a single-minded aim – to atone for the great evil his family unleashed from their stronghold in the pleasant, nondescript little town of Bayreuth, where the faithful gather each summer to worship the Master, and perhaps to remember the Master’s greatest disciple, the Führer, the intimate friend of Winifred Wagner, Gottfried’s grandmother.

... (read more)

Richard Wagner: A Life in Music by Martin Geck (translated by Stewart Spencer)

by
February 2014, no. 358

After four days in the theatre, and just as many resting up between instalments, Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen ends with a big tune. Like most of Wagner’s themes, this one has been given a name: the ‘Redemption through Love’ motif. The name was not the work of the composer but of one of his acolytes, Hans von Wolzogen, and in its orig ...

The cult of Wagner

by
20 November 2013

So here we are, talking about the so-called Cult of Wagner. No wonder some people recoil from the German composer, given such terminology. It’s not a new coinage of course, but it’s a fairly dubious one. One old acquaintance of mine, on hearing about this event, sent me an email demanding to know: ‘You are not besotted with it, are you??? Are you one of those ...

Verdi and/or Wagner by Peter Conrad & Great Wagner Conductors by Jonathan Brown

by
June 2012, no. 342

Two households. Two household names. Verdi and Wagner. To the north of the Alps, Haus Wahnfried, the Wagner compound in the otherwise unremarkable Bavarian town of Bayreuth. To the south of the Alps, Sant’Agata, the Verdi farmhouse outside Busseto, a marshy and little-visited corner of Emilia-Romagna. The respective residences reveal something of their owners’ personalities and priorities. For Giuseppe Verdi, Sant’Agata was a retreat; a place where he could escape from the hubbub of Milan, plant trees, grow vegetables, go fishing, tend livestock, and oversee his tenant farmers. For Richard Wagner, Wahnfried was headquarters of the greater Wagnerian project; a place to compose, write pamphlets, receive visitors, tend to his personality cult, and oversee his band of disciples.

... (read more)

In the myths that inspired Wagner to write Der Ring des Nibelungen, the World Ash-Tree (Die WeltEsche) is the symbol of Wotan’s power and enlightenment and eventual downfall. As a young god, he cut a branch off the tree to fashion into his spear. In The Ring, it is not until the Prologue to Götterdämmerung, as the three Norns are weaving their rope of fate, that we are told the World Ash-Tree is withering and dying, as the gods themselves will do by the end of this long evening. As with most of the objects in The Ring, symbolism is never too far away. The tree: the spear: the twilight of the gods. On Wotan’s orders, the branches of the tree (as the Norns tell us, and as Waltraute is soon to tell her sister Brünnhilde) are split and piled around Valhalla, where the gods sit, waiting for their fiery end.

... (read more)