What Price Opera?

In The Washington Post, Anne Midgette reports that those hep cats at Bayreuth have decided to make their opera productions available for online viewing. Sounds great, right? Prestigious house emblematic of high culture with a waiting list longer than the French Laundry’s takes an historic step toward democratizing its world-class content. But get this: It costs 49 Euros to see it. Help me out: What’s German for “series of tubes?”

The only way I’d entertain for even the most fleeting moment the thought of paying 49 Euros to stream an opera on my MacBook is if it were an opera that I wrote, featuring a dream cast of mid-century Italian singers, Philadelphia blue-eyed soul belters, and Astrud Gilberto, staged by Peter Greenaway with the budget of a Super Bowl half-time show. 49 Euros is about 49 Euros too much to charge for a streaming video of any kind, for any reason. If I really want to see Die Meistersinger, a work I don’t know and should probably get around to one of these days, I’ll snag the DVD; at least I’ll get something I can hold in my hand and show off to my music nerd friends when they come to visit. I’m not going to fork over $80 to sit in front of my computer for four hours, and I’m certainly not going to fork over $80 in exchange for what seems to be a fairly subpar streaming video implementation, if the WaPo piece is to be believed. The Bayreuth people might as well get Uncle Ted Stevens to be their CIO. I understand his day planner is about to open up in a big way.

Nonetheless, Midgette identifies one Bayreuth development that shouldn’t be undersold: Die Meistersinger was projected on a huge video screen in the town’s square. This is an important step not only because it makes the show available to a much wider audience but also because, in this era of high-def Met broadcasts, it helps demystify Bayreuth, a temple of Gesamtkunstwerk shrouded in legend. Wagnerism is the closest thing to a secret society the classical music world has; although its adherents have every right to reach nirvana only through full productions of the Ring and urinate disdainfully on Rossini and Leoncavallo, it doesn’t do their late idol’s music any favors. I have mixed feelings about Wagner, but I think a good, well-publicized, widely broadcast, unapologetically glacial production of Parsifal (the first minimalist opera?), for instance, could change some minds. Granting such a media event the Bayreuth seal of authenticity would only help them cement their claim as the “industry standard” Wagnerites in the 21st century. But hey, if they want to keep charging 49 Euros to enjoy small, skippy, pixellated videos of their favorite chestnuts, more power to them. I’ll be trawling the torrents for Tannhäuser, myself.

55 thoughts on “What Price Opera?

  1. Peteboypete

    Paying for Opera
    What about the Mets HD broadcasts in theaters? I haven’t seen any, but I’ve heard it’s pretty cool. I think it’s like $30, but I’m still really looking forward to seeing one or more performances next season.

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  2. mryan

    Met Costs
    In my area, a ticket to the met broadcasts was only something like $14 or $16 (I wouldn’t have paid more, come on, I’m a composer . . .). We saw Tan Dun’s First Emperor and a very creative Magic Flute production which was fun. The theater experience is really a nice thing for opera if the staging is any good. However, if the singers just stand around, as in the Tan Dun piece, it’s kind of anti-climactic to watch singers on the big screen, larger than life, just stand there.

    In my opinion, the Met is not necessarily the ideal ambassador for opera on the big screen. They have a tendency for lazy staging and that does not translate well to that large format (though it does OK on TV). Maybe the broadcasts will help them think more creatively and action-oriented in the future in terms of staging. The Magic Flute production seems like it was tailored specifically with this in mind.

    ~Ryan

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  3. William Osborne

    Bayreuth is extremely unusual in Europe because it is a private opera house. And even more oddly, it is owned by a single family, the Wagners. That’s why the tickets are so pricey.

    Almost all of the opera houses in Europe are owned and operated by the government, which makes the tickets much cheaper. The average price of a ticket at the Stuttgart Opera (which is often considered the best house in Germany) is about 70 Euros. That will get you a center, orchestra level seat, if one is available. With the dollar so weak, that makes the price for Americans a little steeper, but it is still a fraction of a similar Met ticket, or for one of the big Broadway shows. For Europeans who make their money in Euros, it is still quite reasonable.

    It is sort of ironic to see the article in the Washington Post, since Washington D.C, the most powerful capital city in the history of humanity, does not even have an opera house – and only a joke of an opera company that does a few performances a year with pick-up musicians in rental facilities. It would appear that culture does little to enhance power. All you need are a lot of greedy, militaristic yokels with lots of armaments. I know that’s a pretty nasty thing to say, but it seems true.

    Or maybe with a little more culture, we would impress people in other ways, and wouldn’t need to kill so many to set our agendas… Maybe there are “prices” that come with culture, or a lack of it, that are difficult to calculate.

    William Osborne

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  4. rtanaka


    It is sort of ironic to see the article in the Washington Post, since Washington D.C, the most powerful capital city in the history of humanity, does not even have an opera house…

    Does a city require an opera house in order for it to be considered “cultured”? Eurocentrism aside, that argument seems a bit archaic, don’t you think? What does opera houses have to offer for someone living in the 21st century?

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  5. colin holter

    Washington D.C, the most powerful capital city in the history of humanity, does not even have an opera house – and only a joke of an opera company that does a few performances a year with pick-up musicians in rental facilities.

    Where are my buddies in the DC opera scene? We should be hearing your strenuous objections to this slander!

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  6. MarkNGrant

    A Faustian self-desecration
    It’s an extraordinary act of dumbing down for Bayreuth, of all institutions, to make its productions simulcastable either on an outdoor screen or by streaming video. OK, there have been audio recordings and DVDs of live Bayreuth performances. But neither outdoor loudspeakers nor the YouTube-ish streaming that Midgette describes are high-quality reproduction mediums comparable to what those CDs and DVDs are designed to be played back on. By allowing “drive-in movie” Bayreuth screening and YouTubified streaming, both of which mutilate the sound, Bayreuth is telling the world that there isn’t any qualitative or aesthetic difference between mechanical reproduction and being there live, inside, to hear the truly unique acoustics and an experience designed and intended by the composer to be unclone-able and “unvirtualizable.”

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  7. William Osborne

    I’m surprised anyone bothered to take the bait of my provocations. Yes, in the eyes of the world, opera houses do indeed play a significant role in determining how cultured a city is. Opera is one of the greatest achievements of Western civilization. To write it off as Eurocentric is an example of the way useful ideas (in this case those associated with postmodernism) enter academia and eventually become forms of cant so extreme that they become absurdly reductive.

    As for my derision of the Washington Opera as a joke, it is often the opera people who are most inclined to agree. It’s not that the singers and instrumentalists involved are not good. In fact, American singers are probably the best, and best-trained, in the world. It is that opera needs an opera house and a fulltime, year-round operation to rise to the highest levels. The contrast of Washington’s power with its lack of an opera house and fulltime company is simply ridiculous. And yet America has its head so far up its ass that even many professional classical musicians don’t understand this. (My apologies for the rudeness, but the ignorance and hubris make me angry.)

    There are oft repeated scenes where foreign dignitaries visit Washington for official business and plan to go to the opera, only to discover that the city doesn’t have one. Entire months go by without any opera performances because they only do a handful of productions a few times each. For the coming December, January and February there are no performances at all by the so-called Washington Opera! What a joke!

    By contrast, most major European houses, of which there are dozens, often do 8 performances a week, one every night and two on Sunday, 11 months a year. Even the Met only has a seven month season. Chicago and San Francisco have about 5 month seasons. The orchestra of the Houston Grand Opera has about 30 regular members. Grand indeed! A grand joke!

    For the last 40 years, there has been a large colony of American opera singers living in Munich. They locate there because most German houses hire their singers through agents, and most of the agents are located in Munich. Germany has 80 fulltime year-round houses, and has suffered from a shortage of good singers for years. Without these American singers many German houses could hardly remain open. Nevertheless, far more American singers show up in Munich than can find jobs. It is downright pathetic to watch the lives they live, and the frustrations these fabulous artists experience. And it is even more sickening when one considers how badly their work is needed in America.

    This all becomes even more ironic (and disgusting) when one considers that Indiana University’s School of Music has an actual opera house, even down to the scene shops. It is widely acknowledged that the quality of their productions match those of A-level German houses. And yet the vast majority of their graduates will never have a regular job as an opera singer. The most determined head to Munich, where most of them live in misery.

    Mark, the screen in the plaza and the webcasts are by no means the worst of Bayreuth’s Faustian self-desecrations. The Wagner family’s adoration of Hitler certainly was. They even built an apartment for him on the grounds, along with a large statue of Der Fuehrer – whom they lovingly referred to as “Wolf.” The apartment is still there. Events such as these illustrate why we need our own opera houses, and why we should try to evolve forms of music theater more closely our own. Unless, of course, Americans can continue to pretend Wagner didn’t write anti-Semeitic works about virginal Rhine Maidens being chased by gold lusting Jewish dwarfs. I wonder if self-desecration might be an inherent part of what Bayreuth is.

    William Osborne

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  8. rtanaka

    Well, I’m wondering whether or not the medium itself might be considered somewhat anachronistic at this point, since it has had a long history of serving political interests — at first, to showcase the power and prestige of the noble classes, then during the Romantic era, to foster the national identity, similar to the role that orchestras have functioned in Western society. In a globalized economy and a pluralistic society, it may not come across as being particularly relevant.

    It’s no secret that (for better or worse) our greatest cultural exports in recent years have been coming from Hollywood. (Recordings, Film, Video, TV, etc.) What fascinates people about American popular culture is its allowance of free expression and individual identity, which appeals to a lot of people living under repressed conditions. In this regard, we have become very successful at drawing in people from around the globe.

    I don’t disagree with you that Washington might need more music venues, but I’m just wondering whether or not if building opera houses is really the solution to the problem in the States. I’ve had success in getting non-musicians interested in some types of new musics, but frankly a lot of them don’t find opera all that interesting. It takes too long to get its point across, you can’t hear what they’re saying most of the time, and its narratives are often not as strong as those within literary or theatrical mediums. If you want the music+narrative format, there are other ways to do it, such as film, music theater, or theater with live music accompaniment, which seems to have faired fairly well. But an “opera house” usually implies a fixed format and structure, rooted in the European tradition.

    The resistance toward using technology is also indicative of something as well — the bel canto style was developed through a practical need in projecting one’s voice throughout a very large concert hall — amplification has largely solved this problem and has allowed for singers to play with the subtleties in their voice. But has the operatic tradition really taken advantage of this yet? I think there was an interview with Steve Reich somewhere where he was talking to an opera singer about this issue, and he basically said something along the lines of “Just mic it, man!”

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  9. colin holter

    But neither outdoor loudspeakers nor the YouTube-ish streaming that Midgette describes are high-quality reproduction mediums comparable to what those CDs and DVDs are designed to be played back on.

    I’m sympathetic to your distinction between live performance and reproduced documentation thereof, especially given the very rep-specific nature of Bayreuth’s design. However, I think it’s a bit arbitrary to claim that the leap from Kurt Moll on a stage to Kurt Moll on your living room is OK, but the leap from Kurt Moll in your living room to Kurt Moll in your office or in the parking lot is a bridge too far.

    In response to William’s anti-Wagner polemic, let me just say that we wouldn’t be having this conversation if he hadn’t written some great music. His operas aren’t popular because they bring racism and nationalism to life on the proscenium (although they certainly do so); they’re popular for their musical content, some of which is astounding. I don’t think it’s responsible to ignore either characteristic of Wagner’s work.

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  10. aaronhynds

    And yet America has its head so far up its ass that even many professional classical musicians don’t understand this. (My apologies for the rudeness, but the ignorance and hubris make me angry.)

    Yes, in some people’s eyes, the American government, (and/or classical music establishment,) has its “head up it’s own ass.” But to use this to indicate the course of an entire country is asinine. Then again, probably just a slip of the typing finger…

    An interesting thing happened today. I was listening to NPR, which I don’t do that often, (there programming doesn’t suit me.) They were playing “Wotan’s Farewell” from whatever Ring opera that’s from. And when it got to the part where the big brass chords come in, near the end, I instantly got a mental image of the Nazi party, marching down the streets. To be more specific, the images that came to mind were the videos of the Anschluss, and the ceremonial parade that so many people attended. Now, this was probably induced by some former conditioning on someone’s else part, but it was an interesting sensation.

    Nevertheless, I agree with the sentiments that opera is not quite the powerhouse that it used to be, culturally. At least, opera that is done in the traditional sense. Besides, like the majority of books written before 1850, many of the biggest and most well-known operas seem filled with so much excess material. I guess part of that has to do with the streamlining of available and usable forms of entertainment. Now, there is no need for something to go on and on, in order to prolong the value of the entertainment. Then again, just my opinion.

    Aaron

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  11. William Osborne

    I agree, Ryan, that opera houses now function as museums. Excepting Puccini, there were only four or five operas written during the 20th century that entered the standard repertoire. Opera, for all practical purposes, is a dead art form. And as you note, much for which it stands is indeed worth forgetting.

    I don’t think it’s responsible to ignore either characteristic [musical quality & racism] of Wagner’s work.

    Most informed people not only acknowledge the quality of Wagner’s music, they also recognize that he is one of the seminal figures of music history. On the other hand, there is still a huge amount of denial about the racism in his music. I would not be surprised if the majority of Wagnerites still deny that his operas are racist.

    The musicological community now largely accepts that the operas are racist, mostly due to the work of Marc Weiner, who traced anti-Semitic images through the Wagner canon. In fact, Weiner argues that one cannot truly understand Wagner’s work without looking at his anti-Semitism. The Guardian interviewed Weiner (July 21, 2000):

    “Wagner’s anti-Semitism is integral to an understanding of his mature music dramas. I have analysed the corporeal images in his dramatic works against the background of 19th-century racist imagery. By examining such bodily images as the elevated, nasal voice, the ‘foetor judaicus’ (Jewish stench), the hobbling gait, the ashen skin colour, and deviant sexuality associated with Jews in the 19th century, it’s become clear to me that the images of Alberich, Mime, and Hagen [in the Ring cycle], Beckmesser [in Die Meistersinger], and Klingsor [in Parsifal], were drawn from stock anti-semitic cliches of Wagner’s time.”

    Surprisingly, though, Weiner refuses to write off what Wagner does. “Wagner’s racism led him to create some of his most complex, rich, and enigmatic dramatic figures, as well as some of his most haunting, iconoclastic, and beautiful music.”

    Is racism one of the prices we must pay for opera? Are we to accept racism if it is expressed through music that is sufficiently beautiful?

    The American academic Paul Lawrence Rose, author of Wagner: Race and Revolution, feels Wagner should never be forgiven. “There was a Holocaust and Wagner’s self-righteous ravings, sublimated into his music, were one of the most potent elements in creating the mentality that made such an enormity thinkable.”

    I am not sure that statement is completely true. There is obviously no direct line between Wagner and the Holocaust, but there is no doubt that Wagner’s music and writings deeply influenced Adolf Hitler and millions of Germans.

    Weiner believes that it is in people’s own interest to stop boycotting Wagner. “It would be naïve to feel that we must whitewash Wagner’s works in order to be able to enjoy them, for such an argument suggests that there is such a thing as an ideologically unproblematic work of art. On the other hand, it would be equally indefensible to censor the works (their performance or publication) altogether, even in Israel, for, ironically, to do so would mean that Wagner had won – that his works were indeed reserved for Germans, and that Jews had no place in their reception and enjoyment.”

    These problems become vastly more complex in Germany, and especially in Bavaria. Most of Wagner’s works were premiered at the Munich State Opera, and Bayreuth has its home in Northern Bavaria. Wagner is quite literally a Bavarian national icon.

    Wagner’s ideologies becomes more much more immediate and troubling when one experiences first hand how strongly they are reflected by large segments of Bavaria society. In the early 90s, for example, the Minister President of Bavaria, Edmund Stoiber, made an anti-foriegner speech warning about the dangers of a “mongeralized society” (“durchrasste Gesellschaft.”) During the early 80s I watched as a professor was fired from the University of Munich for researching and lecturing about Wagner’s anti-Semitism. I simply could not believe the openly anti-Semitic remarks I would hear in Munich. We all know that racial resentments exist, but this was beyond anything I had ever experienced.

    And sadly, this form of thinking is all too common in other parts of Germany and Austria as well. The Vienna Philharmonic has traditionally forbade membership to all non-Caucasions, because the orchestra feels such individuals would destroy the ensemble’s image of Austrian authenticity. The policy is directly mainly toward Asians, and to this day the orchestra still lacks a single member who is visibly non-Caucasian.

    The racism represented in Wagner’s music is not merely a historical artifact; it remains as a living presence throughout many areas of the German-speaking music world. Wagner’s ideologies are not something we can afford to overlook. And we cannot afford to let Europeans set our agendas in classical music. We must develop a lively cutlural identity of our own, representing our own ideals. This would include having an opera house and fulltime, year-round opera company in our nation’s capitol.

    William Osborne

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  12. colin holter

    Is Colin’s original column gone?

    Oh snap! It seems to be. Hopefully the AMC hasn’t been served with a cease and desist.

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  13. William Osborne

    Colin’s original blog is missing at the top of this thread, but you can find it by clicking on “Chatter” and scrolling to the third blog down.

    W.O.

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  14. A.C. Douglas

    William Osborne wrote:

    Bayreuth is extremely unusual in Europe because it is a private opera house. And even more oddly, it is owned by a single family, the Wagners. That’s why the tickets are so pricey.

    That’s quite entirely wrong. The Wagner family has not owned the Bayreuth Festspiele or the Festspielhaus since 1973. Ownership and the entire executive operation of both reside in an entity called the Richard Wagner Stiftung Bayreuth made up of various government and State entities that fund the Festspiele, and on the governing board of which each member of the Wagner family holds but a single, all but impotent seat. The decision to charge those 49 Euros (an admittedly imbecile decision) was the board’s, not the Wagner family’s.

    ACD

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  15. A.C. Douglas

    William Osborne wrote:

    Unless, of course, Americans can continue to pretend Wagner didn’t write anti-Semeitic [sic] works about virginal Rhine Maidens being chased by gold lusting Jewish dwarfs.

    This bit of mindless libel could come only from a Wagner ignoramus with but a pop understanding of Wagner’s operas, or from a tendentious, PC academic with a leftist agenda.

    The imbecile charge that Wagner’s loathsome anti-Semitism made its way into his artworks has been so thoroughly discredited that to repeat it even by innuendo is the mark either of a simpleton, or of someone with a very substantial ax to grind such as authors like Marc Weiner and the lying and utterly contemptible Paul Lawrence Rose who invents his own facts when he can find none to support his poisonous, hate-filled effusions.

    Thoroughly discredited as well is the tendentious fiction that, “[T]here is no doubt that Wagner’s … writings deeply influenced Adolf Hitler.”

    They did no such thing. With the possible exception (and there’s no actual proof of this, but it doesn’t seem unlikely) of Wagner’s vile and infamous essay, Das Judenthum in der Musik (Judaism in Music), Hitler read almost nothing of Wagner’s prose works, makes no specific reference to any of them, nor specifically credits any of them as influences on his thinking.

    ACD

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  16. William Osborne

    Even though the Bayreuther Festspiel receives government support, Bayreuth is a private organization. It is not owned, or operated by the German government.
    The Festspiel is essentially supported by the Bayreuther Festival Foundation, which sets it quite apart from the structure of state operas of Germany which are entirely owned and operated by the German government.

    A.C. is correct, however, that Bayreuth is overseen by a 21 memember Board comprised mainly of representatives of the Bavarian government, German federal authorities, and Bayreuth city officials. Wolfgang Wagner, however, has a lifetime contract as the Director of the Festspiel. One should also understand that the board has stated that the Directorship of the festival should remain in the hands of a Wagner excepting some sort of extraordinary circumstance. In other words, Bayreuth is private, and the policy of the Board is to keep the Directorship in the hands of the Wagner family.

    Wolfgang wanted his wife Gudrun to succeed him as Director, but she died a few years ago. It is expected that his granddaughter Katharina will replace him, but with the co-leadership of her half-sister Eva Wagner-Pasquier. A final decision on the Directorship will not be made until the end of this season on August 28th.

    A.C. vitriolic comments are an excellent example of the kind of denial I mentioned that Wagnerites have about the racism in Wagner’s operas. Notice that A.C. provides no proof or documentation for his statements, but angrily tells us that the two distinguished musicologists I mention, Marc Weiner and Paul Rose, who have written and published extensively about Wagner’s works, are all wrong.

    And A.C.s assertion that Hitler was not influenced by Wagner’s writings is also incorrect. In his book, John Toland, Adof Hitler (New York: Doubleday, 1976) p. 22 documents an eye witness account of how even as a young man Hitler went into a political trance upon his first hearing of Rienzi and spoke of the mission he had before him. On pages 35 and 36 he documents that Hitler spent several weeks working on an opera libretto based on Wieland the Smith after he learned that an outline of a music drama based on it had been found in Wagner’s posthumous papers. In his Introduction to his translation of Mein Kampf, Ralph Manheim notes that the main source of Hitler’s pet phrases was the theater and the opera. Hitler didn’t cite Wagner in Mein Kampf, but this is not proof that the writings of Wagner did not influence him. And in any case, as Weiner and Rose have pointed out, the anti-Semitic symbolism in Wagner’s operas is so clearly coded that Hitler would not have had to read Wagner’s prose to recognize it.

    It might also be relevant to remember A.C.’s racist assertions in these pages a few months ago. He said that the Vienna Philharmonic has the right to exclude people on the basis of race because it is nominally a private organization. He also said they have the right to exclude women. In reality, the VPO is the same orchestra (minus untenured members) as the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, which is entirely owned and operated by the Austrian Federal Government. It is against the law for government institutions in the European Union to discriminate on the basis of race or gender. The VPO thus has no right, not legally, and certainly not morally, for their discrimination. A.C.’s thought embodies so much of what is wrong with classical music. It is fortunate that people with his foppish and anachronistic views are becoming more and more isolated.

    William Osborne

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  17. A.C. Douglas

    Astonishing. You can’t get your facts straight even after you went furiously Googling to get the facts after I exposed your ignorant and totally in error initial statement for the outright fabrication it was.

    Wolfgang no longer has a contract for life. He officially gave up that right some four months ago. He’s done and out. Gudrun died some eight months ago, not “a few years ago.” And one should NOT “understand that the board has stated that the Directorship of the festival should remain in the hands of a Wagner.” The board stated no such thing. The board is NOT in any way obligated to replace Wolfgang with another member or members of the Wagner family if none are deemed capable by the board to handle the job. But as the board several years ago chose Eva Wagner-Pasquier to succeed Wolfgang but failed in its attempt to force him out at that time, there’s no question the board will find her acceptable at month’s end with, I suspect (but don’t actually know), the hope she’ll be able to control the inept Katharina, and perhaps, after a year or two, force her out altogether. There certainly is strong sentiment, not only within the board but in all of Germany, to have a Wagner in the directorship of the Festspiele to not break tradition as the Festspiele is as much a national German cultural institution as it is an opera festival, and in Eva — a proved opera entity — they have the perfect replacement for Wolfgang and therefore need not look elsewhere which if they chose to do is there perfect right to freely do.

    As to your typical PC leftist tactic of tendentiously begging the question with your once again ignorant, “A.C. vitriolic comments are an excellent example of the kind of denial I mentioned that Wagnerites have about the racism in Wagner’s operas,” there’s no racism in Wagner’s operas to deny. And no anti-Semitism either. Not so much as a trace of either. And if you think for even an instant I’d attempt to engage in rational discussion on this matter with someone as mindlessly PC leftist agenda-driven as you — even if this were the proper forum for it which it’s clearly not — and not to even speak of your appalling ignorance of Wagner, Wagner’s works, and Wagner’s life, you have another think coming, sir. I’m not in the habit of squandering my time engaging in circle-squaring exercises. I will, however, direct you to a primer of sorts on the subject written by me some four years ago in response to another of your ilk. It can be read here. Read it or not as you see fit. What you choose to do in the matter is your concern entirely and none of mine.

    Oh, and as to your typically PC leftist attempt to smear me by declaring me a racist for my publicly expressed opinions in the matter of the VPO, well it’s no smear sir, but — for once in this colloquy — a correct statement by you of my opinions in the matter; opinions which I continue to hold to this very day. That you consider those opinions those of a racist is — once again — your concern entirely and none of mine.

    See how that works?

    Good fellow. I knew you would.

    ACD

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  18. A.C. Douglas

    Oops

    My,

    …which if they chose to do is there perfect right to freely do

    should, of course, have read:

    …which if they chose to do is their perfect right to freely do.

    ACD

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  19. William Osborne

    Please note that A.C. did not admit that he was wrong in when he claimed that Bayreuth is not a private institution. And please note that I pointed out that the Board is not obligated to appoint a Wagner to the Directorship. As I noted, an exception can be made under extraordinary circumstances. And note that A.C. has not provided any evidence or documentation for his claim that Hitler had not read Wagner’s prose writings, or that there is no anti-Semitism in Wagner’s operas. He provides nothing to counter the view of the two distinguished Wagner scholars or two Hitler biographers I cited.

    He is right though that Gudrun died only a few months ago. She died of a blood clot after an operation in a Bayreuth hospital. Her death was very unexpected.

    As for A.C.s claims that Wagner’s operas are not racist, even prominent members of the Wagner family would completely disagree with him. The most notable is Gottfried Wagner, the son of Wolfgang Wagner who is the current Director of Bayreuth. Normally, Gottfired would have been the heir apparent of the Bayreuther Directorship, but he completely broke with his father (and most of his family) over their seeming unwillingness to address the family’s Nazi past. Gottfried also rejects the racist nature of Wagner’s operas. He now lectures internationally on these topics. (He has a Ph.D. in German cultural studies.) Gottfried often faces extraordinary contempt, and even hatred in Germany. It was Gottfried’s break with his family that has led to so much turmoil in the succession of the Bayreuther Directorship.

    It is also no surprise that A.C. finds Katharina Wagner “enept.” Last year she premiered her stage direction of the Meistersinger von Nuremburg at Bayreuth. It was Regietheater to the extreme and dealt directly with Germany’s Nazi past, as well as her own family’s history. The production was extremely controversial, but to Germany’s credit, these sorts of productions are never censored.

    It is interesting to see A.C. confirm once again his view that the VPO has the right to discriminate on the basis of race, but that he paradoxically does not view this as racist.

    Anyway, we see illustrated here the bizarre qualities of the Wagnerites. My wife quipped that they have a cultish, mystical quality like Opus Dei. The $80 dollar price for streaming a Bayreuth broadcast is perhaps a way of maintaining this cultish, exclusive character. Each year about 500,000 people apply for 58,000 tickets.

    BTW, two of my wife’s former students, Frank Filipitsch and Mattias Dangelmaier, are permanent members of the Bayreuther trombone section – though like most members of the orchestra, they are not Wagnerites in the sense illustrated above. Just like Katharina, most of the people who work there take a more distanced and objective view.

    William Osborne

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  20. operabase

    The reason that the Stuttgart house repeatedly won the Operahouse of the Year in the poll of the German speaking opera critics is interesting. I had the chance of asking one of the artistic team responsible for their 11 wins in 12 years what he thought the reason was, and he put it down to the size and stability of the organisation and particularly the ensemble. The operas were cast from the ensemble and the house made sure that there was enough preparation time before each performance run (even on revivals) that the singers knew the piece (and each other) well. The amount of reheasal time gave them the necessary familiarity to have the dramatic edge.

    The moral of the stoty is that the total overall experience can be best in a small, busy house with a good ensemble. These are rarely the houses that get involved in DVDs, webcasts or big screen relays.
    Mike

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  21. William Osborne

    Mike’s information is very interesting. I too have wondered why the Stuttgart Opera has had such success.

    In Germany I have heard opera folks speak of two general systems for running houses. One is the ensemble system with a set group of permanently employed singers who literally spend years working together and develop ensemble sensibilities not unlike orchestra or chamber musicians. They also develop close working relationships with the house’s conductors, stage directors, costumers, choreographers, rehearsal pianists, and the set and lighting designers.

    The other type is the star system. A house focuses less on ensemble and instead hires expensive opera stars who usually only have a minimum of rehearsal before performing. (Sometimes just a walk through for the staging.) Germany favors the ensemble system, while the bigger houses in the USA (of which there are only about four) prefer the star system. The Met is a good example of a the star system and Stuttgart an ensemble house. Most American houses have such short seasons that the ensemble system would hardly even be possible anyway.

    In Germany, the star system is often harshly judged. It creates very expensive opera, and indeed, the Met caters to a very wealthy crowd. The top ticket prices in Stuttgart are about $170 dollars and at the Met about $2800 dollars, or 16 times higher. (See today’s Times which lists the Met’s top prices.) In most of Europe, of course, such prices are seen as absurd. They generally feel good opera seats should be accessible to all who are genuinely interested.

    Europeans also criticize the star system because they think it often produces mediocre opera by reducing it to a mere showcase for bel canto exhibitionism.

    The explanation Mike received about Stuttgart’s success is not fully satisfactory, because almost all of the houses in Germany work under similar circumstances. They almost all use a permanent ensemble of singers and have lots of rehearsal time. So why does Stuttgart stand out?

    Some feel that Stuttgart is simply more creative. It has premiered a lot of new operas, and its stagings have been especially interesting. Some say Stuttgart was raised to its success under the administration of Pamela Rosenberg. People thought she would work wonders in San Francisco, but things didn’t work out. Perhaps the most important reason was that she could not adapt to the American funding system and the problems it causes. She was not experienced at running a perennially starved house with only a five month season.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  22. rtanaka

    One interesting thing I always notice in discussions about Wagner’s anti-semitism is that a lot of people believe that it’s somehow possible to detach the artwork from the artist themselves. This mind-body separation is something unique to Western culture, since most philosophies of the world tend to emphasize the harmony or consistency between the two. This idea is so prevalent that you can see similar arguments being used even for musics as late as Stockhausen and Cage — they’re a reaction toward former styles but nonetheless utilizes much of the same arguments.

    This idea of the artwork needing to be “detached” from the artist can seen as early as in the writings of Immanuel Kant, where he posited the idea that artworks should exist separately and autonomously once it was created. (You can also see Adorno echoing similar sentiments as well, in modern times.) The notion that ideals have the ability to transcend one’s physical being has very strong correlations to the Judeo-Christian notions of the “after-life”, where in order to get into heaven, one must submit themselves towards a higher power. Without this spirit of transcendence, ideas such as nationalism and statehood would not have been possible — Kant laid out the groundwork of ideas, which Johann Fichte later used as a way to lay out his plans for German nationalism.

    From most angles — historical, political, economical, philosophical — there are very clear, unambiguous connections between Wagner and the growing anti-semitism at the time. He was merely reflecting what was going on in his country, and people looked up to him as being the epitome of German national socialism, which is why it was played at so many Nazi rallies during the early 20th century. Wagner apologists are quick to dismiss connections between his anti-semitism and his music, but what’s missing in those defenses are alternate theories of what exactly is his music referencing. If not that, what is it trying to say?

    Mahler knew that Wagner was mocking Jews in his Mime, but conducted it anyway because he largely didn’t have a choice. If I remember correctly, Israel still has a public ban on Wagner’s music precisely because they believe it has anti-semitic undertones in it. The best defense of Wagner I’ve heard so far is that although he didn’t really “believe” in anti-semitism but he was merely “playing” the political system that required of its constituents to have deplorable points of views. Although at that point I can’t figure out which is worse.

    Reply
  23. Trevor

    “Mahler knew that Wagner was mocking Jews in his Mime, but conducted it anyway because he largely didn’t have a choice.”

    Mahler adored Wagner’s music; his signature piece was Tristan und Isolde, and he went into a mild depression when Wagner died.

    Reply
  24. rtanaka

    Mahler adored Wagner’s music; his signature piece was Tristan und Isolde, and he went into a mild depression when Wagner died.

    I don’t think anybody said that the issue wasn’t complex — Wagner did supposedly have a number of Jewish friends as well, while he was alive. But this should not be used as a blanket excuse to try to distract people from the content of his works, which are obviously anti-semitic and has been used for purposes of anti-semitism.

    “No doubt with Mime, Wagner intended to ridicule the Jews with all their characteristic traits — petty intelligence and greed — the jargon is texually and musically so cleverly suggested; but for God’s sake it must not be exaggerated and overdone as Julius Spielmann does it… I know of only one Mime and that is myself… you wouldn’t believe what there is in that part, nor what I could make of it.” — Mahler

    “That is Gobineau music” Richard says as he comes in, “that is race. Where else will you find two such beings looking at each other! Here is just forest and rocks and water and nothing rotten in it.” — Cosima Wagner

    So the anti-semitism there in the music in obvious ways for obvious reasons, and the evidence is growing in favor of it every day. You don’t have to feel guilty for liking his music as long as you can develop enough objectivity to view it from a historical perspective. In that sense, his music still holds a lot of value and is worth listening to. It’s important.

    Reply
  25. A.C. Douglas

    Some Needed Straightening-Out

    Rtanaka wrote:

    One interesting thing I always notice in discussions about Wagner’s anti-semitism is that a lot of people believe that it’s somehow possible to detach the artwork from the artist themselves.

    Not only possible, but an ineluctable automatic consequence of the creative process that becomes more pronounced the greater the artist’s gift, and which is all but totally absent in the work of the least gifted where a one-to-one relationship between the quotidian thinking of the artist and what’s expressed in the works he creates prevails. Or as T.S. Eliot put it, “”[T]he more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates.” Needless to say, in the works of transcendent creative geniuses such as Wagner, this phenomenon is at work in its most extreme form.

    From most angles — historical, political, economical, philosophical — there are very clear, unambiguous connections between Wagner and the growing anti-semitism at the time. He was merely reflecting what was going on in his country, and people looked up to him as being the epitome of German national socialism, which is why it was played at so many Nazi rallies during the early 20th century.

    In Germany, the anti-Semitism of Wagner’s time needed no “growing.” It had been long established and deeply ingrained in Lutheran Germany from the time of Martin Luther himself, a vicious and vocal anti-Semite. And Wagner’s anti-Semitism went far beyond the expression of the anti-Semitism of his time; so far beyond that his thoughts and writings on the matter embarrassed even his anti-Semitic friends. And other than Hitler himself, hardly anyone in Nazi Germany “looked up to [Wagner] as being the epitome of German national socialism.” It was only Hitler himself who promoted that idea, and arranged for Wagner’s music from Die Meistersinger to be played NOT “at so many Nazi rallies during the early 20th century,” but at the party congresses held in Nuremberg.

    Wagner apologists are quick to dismiss connections between his anti-semitism and his music, but what’s missing in those defenses are alternate theories of what exactly is his music referencing. If not that, what is it trying to say?

    Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of Wagner and his works knows just how preposterous is such a question. The music of Wagner’s operas doesn’t “referenc[e]” anything outside the drama itself, and what it’s “trying to say” is what the drama itself requires of it to say. Period. Full stop.

    Mahler knew that Wagner was mocking Jews in his Mime, but conducted it anyway because he largely didn’t have a choice.

    Mahler “knew” no such thing. That Mahler imagined Wagner was mocking Jews in the character of Mime does not make it true. The fact of the matter is that for Wagner it would have been quite impossible for him to mock Jews in any way in any of his operas for the simple reason that Wagner held the absurd, even lunatic, belief that Jews or anything having to do with Jews should in no circumstance or in any way ever be represented onstage.

    As for your contention that Mahler conducted the Ring even though he believed the character of Mime mocked Jews “because he largely didn’t have a choice,” it’s patently absurd. Mahler conducted Wagner’s operas by choice, the Ring very much included, because he loved them, and knew them to be the supreme products of one of the greatest composers in the entire history of music.

    If I remember correctly, Israel still has a public ban on Wagner’s music precisely because they believe it has anti-semitic undertones in it.

    There is NO “public ban on Wagner’s music” in Israel. There is instead an unofficial “understanding” that Wagner’s music should not be performed publicly in Israel as long as survivors of the Holocaust are still living there as they find that music mortally offensive NOT because “they believe it has anti-semitic undertones in it,” but because they associate that music with the Nazis and with the death camps even though Wagner’s music was never played in those death camps.

    ACD

    Reply
  26. A.C. Douglas

    My,

    …even though Wagner’s music was never played in those death camps.

    should have read:

    …even though the Nazis never publicly played Wagner’s music in those death camps.

    ACD

    Reply
  27. A.C. Douglas

    I should have made clear in my,

    The fact of the matter is that for Wagner it would have been quite impossible for him to mock Jews in any way in any of his operas for the simple reason that Wagner held the absurd, even lunatic, belief that Jews or anything having to do with Jews should in no circumstance or in any way ever be represented onstage,

    that Wagner held that absurd belief NOT as an ideological matter, but as an aesthetic one. He felt that any onstage representation of Jews or things Jewish served only to irredeemably degrade the artwork.

    ACD

    Reply
  28. William Osborne

    Please note once again how many broad, sweeping, absolutist statements A.C. makes, without providing a single citation.

    Regarding the racist caricatures in Wagners operas, A.C. writes:

    Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge of Wagner and his works knows just how preposterous is such a question. The music of Wagner’s operas doesn’t “referenc[e]” anything outside the drama itself, and what it’s “trying to say” is what the drama itself requires of it to say. Period. Full stop.

    Apparently these people “without even a modicum of knowledge” would include John Toland, the esteemed Hitler biographer; Ralph Mannheim, the translator of Mein Kampf; Marc Weiner, the highly respected musicologist who has published volumes about Wagner; and Paul Rose, a respected historian of German cultural history. And add to that Gottfired and Katarina Wagner. The list could go on and on. A.C. even speaks for the people of Israel, as if they were all of the same mind about why they do not want to hear Wagner.

    Consider A.C.s passionate denial and self-delusion, and then try to imagine the attitudes you might confront in Bavaria!

    William Osborne

    Reply
  29. A.C. Douglas

    Please note the tendentious, PC Leftist, agenda-driven blindness displayed by social activist William Osborne to the fact that Richard Wagner could not have possibly done what William Osborne and his ilk insist he did as he was prevented by his own deeply held aesthetic beliefs from doing so: put onstage in any form a representation of Jews and so-called Jewish traits. Add to that Mr. Osborne’s tendentious blindness to the evidence of the historical record that’s absent even so much as a hint that Wagner ever contemplated doing such a thing, much less actually accomplished it.

    Note as well how the PC Leftist social activist assumes without a shred of evidence to support him that the people of Israel who care about such matters “do not want to hear Wagner” when all the evidence is that those who feel that way are very much in the minority — a minority decreasing with each passing year — the great majority wanting very much to hear Wagner.

    Consider Mr. Osborne’s PC Leftist agenda-driven blindness, and then try to imagine the attitudes met with in the words and writings of dedicated professional Wagner-haters and -slanderers such as Marc Weiner, Paul Lawrence Rose, and Gottfried Wagner.

    ACD

    Reply
  30. rtanaka

    I believe the two quotes I posted above speaks for itself, including the latter, where Wagner himself ties his music to the idea of race.(Gobineau, by the way, was a racial theorist, highly influential to Nazi philosophy.) The argument can be further reinforced by how Wagner and his family sustained themselves throughout this period, which should dispel any doubt that there might be left.

    Was there really any reason for Wagner to have to “transcend” his anti-semitism in his works, especially during a time period where such sentiments were widely accepted? He didn’t have to transcend anything, really — all he had to do was be himself, and he would be rewarded as such. And the guy himself, well…you know.

    Reply
  31. William Osborne

    Add to that Mr. Osborne’s tendentious blindness to the evidence of the historical record that’s absent even so much as a hint that Wagner ever contemplated doing such a thing, much less actually accomplished it.

    A.C., I listed several sources to support the view that Wagner’s works contain anti-Semitic elements. It is a much debated issue, so why not provide us with some sources by respected scholars who have provided substantive evidence and arguments to counter the claim that the operas are racist? Who are they? What have they written? How have their books or articles been received?

    William Osborne

    Reply
  32. William Osborne

    Perhaps it might be worth considering the larger historical forces that produced Wagner’s views, not only about Jews, but also the philosophic and cultural concepts that contextualized his racism.

    Certainly one of the most important would be Romanticism’s transcendental idealism.
    Here is an excerpt from a speech Hitler gave for the dedication of museum that illustrates how these views began to affect the political climate of Germany:

    “Art is an exalted mission requiring fanaticism. He who is chosen by providence to reveal the soul of a people around him, to let it sound in tones or speak in stone, suffers under the power of the Almighty as a force ruling him, and will speak his language, even if the people do not understand or do not want to understand. And he would prefer to take every affliction upon himself than even once be untrue to the star that guides him internally.”

    Symphonic music was considered the most German of arts, and people had long been conditioned to believe that its artist-prophets “suffered under the power of the Almighty”, and that they rose above the mundane world in an “exalted mission” to “reveal the soul of a people”–a mission culturally isomorphic with that of their Führer’s. And through the phenomena of the conductor and composer as artist-prophets, they could see that transcendental élan and passion could justify and enforce the subjugation of others, while at the same time symbolizing cultural superiority–behavior that also characterized Hitler.

    Artists such as Wagner served as the embodiment of these ideals in Germany until the end of WWII. We may find that National Socialism was not just the result of transient historical forces, or merely external social circumstances, but also a manifestation of long standing Western cultural values. A society whose art venerates ethno-centricity, cultural nationalism, human objectification (as seen in the conductor/musician relationship,) and transcendentally justified autocracy, might use them constructively in a symphony orchestra, but it must also acknowledge that the same cultural values can contribute to forms of totalitarianism. A close look at Adolf Hitler reveals that a 19th century aesthetic of Radical Will, ultimately accompanied a 20th century morality of Radical Evil.

    The larger design of Hitler’s ideology as an artist-prophet even included the recreation of humanity according to a new aesthetic. From this perspective, the Holocaust was a work of art, a “purification” of culture, a “sculpting” of the human race. In fact, Wagner also spoke of urgent need to cleanse Germanic culture through the eradication of the Jews – though the method of eradication he proposed was through conversion to Christianity.

    We often do not realize that some forms of aesthetic thought can be genocidal. These forms of thought evolve gradually over time and can coalesce in ways that can be very unpredictable. It is important that we consider that ways Wagner contributed to these developments, especially considering the enormous influence he had on Hitler.

    We might also remember that these developments also help us better understand post-war American music.
    John Cage, for example, established that all sound could serve as the material of music, which could be presented in aleatoric forms independent of the artist’s will. Due to the historical context, this had a profound effect. War ravaged Europeans knew that the Third Reich was, in part, a manifestation of their cultural values, and this former student of Schönberg offered a new world, an emancipation of sound freed from a genocidal past.

    Anyway, the problems we are discussing go far deeper than Wagner and Hitler. It is important to look at the larger aspects of intellectual and cultural history that produced composers like Wagner, and ultimately the social forces that produced the Third Reich. This will be difficult as long as people deny the racism in Wagner’s works, though that form of denial is slowing fading as time heals wounds and diminishes the horror of the Holocaut and war in distant memory.

    William Osborne

    Reply
  33. A.C. Douglas

    A.C., I listed several sources to support the view that Wagner’s works contain anti-Semitic elements. It is a much debated issue, so why not provide us with some sources by respected scholars who have provided substantive evidence and arguments to counter the claim that the operas are racist? Who are they? What have they written? How have their books or articles been received?

    What is that, William? Some sort of joke? The “substantive evidence and arguments to counter the claim that the operas are racist” have been given by me right here as they have by others elsewhere (Wagner expert Bryan Magee in his, The Tristan Chord, for one notable instance). That evidence and those arguments are absolutely decisive and irrefutable, and can be discovered by anyone who is absent ideological biases and ideological axes to grind, and who has genuine knowledge of the historical record concerning Wagner and of the content of Wagner’s operas and prose writings. I would add only that in addition to the substantive evidence and arguments already here adduced, there’s the little matter that prior to Hitler and the Holocaust it never occurred to any reputable scholar (nor — bar scattered, unscholarly quotes here and there — to anyone else, for that matter) to even suspect there was anti-Semitic content in any of Wagner’s operas. That particular Leftist lunacy had it’s beginnings, along with PC thinking, in the late 1960’s with Robert Gutman’s short biography of Wagner wherein he declared, among other insupportable slanders of the same sort, that ParsifalParsifal! — was racist through and through.

    From Gutman through the likes of Weiner, Rose, Köhler, et. al., it’s notable that none of these professional Wagner-slanderers even so much as acknowledge the existence of the decisive and irrefutable statement by Wagner (in his notorious and loathsome publication, Das Judenthum in der Musik) of his deeply held aesthetic beliefs concerning the representation of Jews and so-called Jewish traits in works of art. And for good reason, too, for to do so would instantly have revealed the preposterousness of their claims of anti-Semitic content in Wagner’s operas. It’s also notable that every single one of these professional Wagner-slanderers fails to explain away the equally decisive and irrefutable fact that nowhere and at no time in word or print — not even privately to his most intimate companion, Cosima, a more rabid anti-Semite than even Wagner himself, who unfailingly would have made note of it in her diaries had he done so — did Wagner — a man who held forth at Wagnerian length on every aspect of his intentions in his operas — ever so much as even hint at his intention to represent in his operas Jews or anything to do with Jews or so-called Jewish traits.

    The clear fact of the matter is that, beyond PC Leftist ideological ax-grinding, all those who claim anti-Semitic content in Wagner’s operas are working backwards to the operas from their knowledge of Wagner’s rabid and loathsome anti-Semitism and the Hitler-Nazi-Wagner connection of which connection Wagner is, of course, totally innocent. Had anyone other than Wagner written those operas, no one without an ideological ax to grind would ever even so much as suspect such anti-Semitic content for the clear and simple reason that none exists.

    ACD

    Reply
  34. William Osborne

    The “substantive evidence and arguments to counter the claim that the operas are racist” have been given by me right here as they have by others elsewhere (Wagner expert Bryan Magee in his, The Tristan Chord, for one notable instance).

    Please explain to us, perhaps with some well contextualized quotes, how Magee refutes the claim of anti-Semitism in the operas of Wagner. You write that the “evidence and those arguments” provided by Magee “are absolutely decisive and irrefutable.” Can you tell us why you feel his arguments are absolutes?

    William Osborne

    Reply
  35. rtanaka

    Good golly — let me post the quote in full, then, with full citation:

    In the afternoon, in pouring rain he goes to the bank. But in the evening the 3rd act of Siegfried, very well played by Herr Rubinstein pleases both him and us. “That is Gobineau music” Richard says as he comes in, “that is race. Where else will you find two such beings looking at each other! Here is just forest and rocks and water and nothing rotten in it. Here is a couple who rejoice in their happiness, immerse themselves in the happiness of being together — how different from Tristan!” He deplores the foolishness of the public, which cares only for Die Walkure, but praises Herr Neumann, who is disseminating the whole work abroad. “How curious that it should have to be a Jew!”

    – Cosima Wagner, Diaries: Vol 2, October 17, 1882.

    So there you go, Richard himself makes the connection — although, like his personality, it’s full of contradiction and paradox. There are hints of this stuff everywhere throughout the diary but it would be pendantic to point out every single one of them out because they’re so numerous. But what’s knid of interesting is Wagner’s open desire to gain acceptance of the racial theorist’s approval:

    “One feels so useless, so superfluous!” R. exclaims as we are talking of Gobineau’s indifference toward his works…And again and again during the day we keep coming back to this incomparable man, until in the evening Richard plays the first bars of “Siegfried’s Funeral March!”

    – Cosima Wagner, Diaries: Vol 2, October 25, 1882.

    So maybe he wasn’t successful at doing so (at least according to his own standards), but nonetheless he was obviously trying to encapsulate the idea of the “hierarchy of races” through his music. Nobody’s saying that he single-handedly created the rise of the Nazi party, but to say that he’s “innocent” would also be a mistake. He was doing this stuff on purpose.

    If you need more quotes, just ask. I have the book right here with me, along with access to the entire UC library system if need be.

    Reply
  36. A.C. Douglas

    William Osborne wrote:

    Please explain to us, perhaps with some well contextualized quotes, how Magee refutes the claim of anti-Semitism in the operas of Wagner. You write that the “evidence and those arguments” provided by Magee “are absolutely decisive and irrefutable.” Can you tell us why you feel his arguments are absolutes?

    Magee refutes those claims precisely as I and other knowledgeable Wagnerians who are not dedicated to finding and determined to find anti-Semitic content in Wagner’s operas have refuted them. I’ve here several times pointed out those two decisive and irrefutable pieces of evidence that make it impossible that Wagner included or could have even contemplated including such content. They’re decisive and irrefutable prima facie, and need no further explanation except for those who like Rose, et. al. are dedicated to finding and determined to find such anti-Semitic content, and for whom no explanation contra will suffice. As Magee puts it,

    It is difficult to know what to say to writers who, in spite of this manifest evidence to the contrary [i.e., the evidence here presented by me], still go on banging away obsessionally about Wagner’s operas presenting us with anti-Semitic caricatures. In most cases it is the same writers who say that Geyer [Wagner's stepfather who some believe was his real father] was Jewish, or that Wagner thought he was, or thought he might have been; and that the Nazis publicly promoted Wagner’s works throughout the Third Reich. One is tempted to turn away from such people with a shrug of the shoulders and say that it is, after all, they who have the problem. For the rest of us, our problem, if we have one, is a purely logical one; namely the impossibility of, as people often put it in ordinary conversation, proving a negative. One cannot, for instance, prove that unicorns do not exist: the most one can do is present arguments against believing they do.

    Clearly, you are among those who “go on banging away obsessionally about Wagner’s operas presenting us with anti-Semitic caricatures,” and so, taking Magee’s suggestion, I, having already presented the “manifest evidence to the contrary,” simply “turn away … with a shrug of the shoulders and say that it is, after all, [you] who have the problem,” not I.

    ACD

    Reply
  37. A.C. Douglas

    Rtanaka wrote:

    So maybe [Wagner] wasn’t successful at doing so (at least according to his own standards), but nonetheless he was obviously trying to encapsulate the idea of the “hierarchy of races” through his music.

    Wagner was attempting no such thing. Those Cosima diary quotes you supplied are pure gibberish. They make no sense whatsoever. In addition, as is known by every knowledgeable Wagnerian, Wagner, who at first thought the ideas propounded by the racist Gobineau, which ideas Wagner encountered very late in his life, matched his own, in fairly short order saw they did nothing of the sort, and ended by repudiating similarities between his ideas and those of Gobineau.

    It’s easy for those without a fairly comprehensive knowledge of Wagner to quote him or others quoting him out of context to “prove” just about anything one wants to prove for or against him. Those of us who know Wagner rather more in depth, know what to take in earnest, and what to dismiss as being yet another of his not infrequent on-the-spot declarations of “insight”, which are in fact nothing more than the at-the-moment products of Wagner’s brain’s fevered and ceaseless intellectual activity. It’s always wise to remember that, with Wagner, what really counts — the only thing that counts — are the supreme products of his creative genius: his operas.

    ACD

    Reply
  38. William Osborne

    A.C. I’m afraid that the prima facie argument doesn’t work for a lot of people when it comes to the racism in Wagner’s operas. As Marc Weiner and others have demonstrated, the anti-Semitic coding in his operas is so transparent it is difficult to deny their existence. As the research continues, it is becoming clearer that in reality the prima facie evidence actually confirms the racism. We cannot take it as coincidence that Wagner was a rabid anti-Semite and that his operas are full of anti-Semitic clichés in the portrayal of characters like Mime and Albrecht.

    Wagner was a very seasoned theater artist and knew very well that he should not over-define his metaphors. In Opera and Drama he cautions against arousing critical reason in audiences and instead suggests that they be influenced on an emotional level. He had already received wide-spread criticism for his anti-Semitic articles and knew that his operas would be reduced to political tracts if he made his metaphors too literal. His calculations, of course, worked fairly well. He was able to express his anti-Semitism through innuendo and thus disguise his real intentions. This only makes the anti-Semitism even more despicable, because it is expressed in a devious and cowardly manner.

    There is an interesting consistency in your thought, however. In an earlier post I noted the role transcendental idealism played in the work of Wagner, and even in the forms of totalitarianism that appropriated his work. I notice that with oft repeated phrases such as “the supreme products of his creative genius” you seem to subscribe to a similar transcendentalist view of art. As your posts make clear, your world is thus divided between the cognoscenti and the imbeciles, the refined and the proles, the cultivated and the stupid. If only Wagner’s metaphors had remained on that level and had not also included transparent, racist coding.

    We often forget that similar forms of transcendental idealism also strongly affected much of modernism. As a result, we have inherited a new music world that has largely isolated itself. We are the transcendent ones struggling against a world of proles.

    William Osborne

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  39. A.C. Douglas

    William Osborne’s last post has caused me to review my last post from which he quotes the closing portion of the closing line, and I now see that portion is missing a word. So, to set things aright…

    The closing portion of the closing line in my last post that reads,

    “…the supreme products of his creative genius: his operas.”

    should have read:

    “…the supreme products of his transcendent creative genius: his operas.”

    ACD

    Reply
  40. rtanaka

    The quote is a clear statement that Richard saw racial aspects in the Siegfried, through the mouth of the composer himself. You’ve also completely ignored the passage of Richard Wagner lamenting over the fact that he was unable to gain approval of Gobineau, which contradicts your claim that he repudated his connections with the racial theorist’s beliefs. If “that doesn’t make sense whatsoever”, is your best retort, then I guess there’s not much to say.

    I believe the evidence is fairly clear and speaks for itself. There’s probably not much use in beating a dead horse at this point.

    Reply
  41. A.C. Douglas

    The quote is a clear statement that Richard saw racial aspects in the Siegfried, through the mouth of the composer himself.

    It’s nothing of the sort. It’s pure gibberish, as I’ve said. It makes no sense at all, most particularly as what was being remarked on was Act III of Siegfried which contains a colloquy between Wotan and Erda, a confrontation between Wotan and Siegfried, and closes with an extended love duet between Siegfried and Brünnhilde.

    You’ve also completely ignored the passage of Richard Wagner lamenting over the fact that he was unable to gain approval of Gobineau, which contradicts your claim that he repudiated his connections with the racial theorist’s beliefs.

    I’ve ignored nothing, and it’s not my “claim” that Wagner repudiated Gobineau’s views on race. It’s a fact. That Cosima Gobineau diary entry was made when Wagner was at the midpoint of his relationship with G when Wagner still felt he’d found an intellectual soul mate in him. The repudiation came a month or two later (shortly before W’s death).

    ACD

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  42. A.C. Douglas

    Rtanaka: After checking authoritative sources, I see that I badly misremembered the Wagner-Gobineau relationship. Wagner clearly felt a deep kinship with Gobineau and his racist ideas right up to the end. As Newman writes,

    The essay on Herodom and Christianity that appeared in the September (1881) number of the Bayreuther Blätter was in part the outcome of his talks with Gobineau, partly of his recent reading of the Inégalité. Here we have in its crudest form the Wagnerian dogma of degeneration and regeneration and the evils that come from the mixing of “bloods”. By this time his mind had almost lost the capacity for thinking; it had hardened into a medley of a priori verbalisms which he mistook for historical facts and scientific reasoning.

    I can’t for the life of me figure out who it was I was thinking of whose ideas Wagner once embraced but then repudiated shortly before his death, but it clearly was not Gobineau.

    My apologies for the misinformation.

    ACD

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  43. A.C. Douglas

    Left out the key Newman quote in my last. It here follows. Please insert immediately after the Newman quote in my last.

    Then, some pages later, writing of Wagner in Venice at the end of 1882, some few months before his death, Newman writes:

    Gobineau’s death [in late 1881] had been a great blow to him, for despite their occasional intellecutal divergencies he had become warmly attached to that exceptionally fine spirit.

    ACD

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  44. rtanaka

    Thanks for the correction…I was wondering about that myself, especially since the months after Gobineau dies and Wagner went through the trouble of helping with his funeral arrangements. The person you’re thinking of may have been Shopenhauer, whom Wagner was an admirer of as well. The philosopher was also into the “racial pyramid” idea at the time:

    We come back to the subject of race, wondering which theory is right, Schopenhauer’s or Gobineau’s. Richard feels they can be reconciled: a human being who is born black, urged toward the heights, becomes white and at the same time a different creature. — Oct, 16, 1882

    Wagner and Gobineau obviously had some disagreements — one of them being that the composer believed that the “lesser races” could be “saved” though conversion to Christianity. In that sense, he’s an optimist (even though Schopenhauer was a pessimist), though in a sort of prothletizing, condescending sort of way. In a lot of ways I think his music encapsulates attitudes found in evangelical thinking.

    Nobody’s denying that Wagner was a complicated guy, and he may have had some genuinely insightful things to say about the world or humanity at large. Still, I think we should look at the composer as a human being instead of treating him like a prophet or devil incarnate. He was just a product of his time — nothing more, nothing less. What bothers me the most is the hero-worshipping culture around him that makes some followers blindsighted to his flaws.

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  45. A.C. Douglas

    The person you’re thinking of may have been Shopenhauer, whom Wagner was an admirer of as well.

    Hardly merely “an admirer.” Wagner was a deeply devoted (and deeply knowledgeable) Schopenhauerian right up to the end.

    He [Wagner] was just a product of his time — nothing more, nothing less.

    You’re quite wrong about that. What Wagner was was a transcendent creative genius; the sort that comes along maybe once every couple of centuries — if we’re lucky.

    What bothers me the most is the hero-worshipping culture around him [Wagner] that makes some followers blindsighted to his flaws.

    Yes indeed. You’re hardly alone in feeling that way. We Wagnerians have nothing but contempt for that sort whom we call Wagnerites, which is an insult of the highest order.

    ACD

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  46. William Osborne

    Aspects of Schopenhauer’s thought might be a key to understanding the darker side of Wagner and his appropriation by the Nazis. To briefly outline the idea, Schopenhauer advocated turning away from spirit and reason to the powers of intuition, creativity, and the irrational. This view deeply influenced Nietsche, who in The Birth of Tradgedy (1872) proclaimed that art and literature must harness Dionysian elements of the irrational. This view created the radical will of Nietsche’s “Superman” in Also Sprach Zarathustra. Schopenhauer and Nietsche profoundly influenced the German cultural realm, ranging from Wagner and Pfitzner to Wedekind and Freud. Eventually, misappropriated notions of radical will became part of Fascism’s cult of the hero and contributed to the formulation of radical evil.

    In some respects, transcendentalism is inherently self-destructive, because its raises Mind over Nature, or the spiritual over the material. In artistic expression it thus tends toward recurrent cycles of ecstasy, revolution, destruction and remorse – a notably Romantic and Wagnerian pattern.

    These same cycles were vividly illustrated by Hitler’s appropriation of the image of the transcendental artist-prophet. The itinerant painter-cum- artist Führer from the garrets of Vienna was finally heard, and with his “divine” inspiration and “scientific” understanding, hoped to destroy the world and create a revolution based on “scientific” notions of racial evolution, eugenics and euthanasia. Similarly, the Italian Futurists worshipped both modern technology and the romantically transcendent authority of the “superman” and were among the first devotees of Mussolini.

    To this day, the artist-prophet is often viewed as a source of truth and is to be followed through a cycle of destruction and rebirth. (Stockhausen’s comments about 9/11 might be an example.) Hitler envisioned the Third Reich as a large work of music theater to an astoundingly literal degree. Fortunately, his Götterdämmerung was more complete than the revolution that he hoped would lead to a new world order of scientifically bred but romantically transcendent supermen.

    Given its troubling history, it might be worth taking a deeper look at transcendental idealism, and especially its attendant forms of radical will. We might eventually find that there are better approaches to creating profound art than thinking of it in terms of transcendence.

    William Osborne

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  47. A.C. Douglas

    William Osborne wrote:

    We might eventually find that there are better approaches to creating profound art than thinking of it in terms of transcendence.

    Absent the quality of transcendence, no artwork can possibly be profound. An artwork absent the quality of transcendence is, at best, trash art, and at worst, propaganda.

    ACD

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  48. William Osborne

    Absent the quality of transcendence, no artwork can possibly be profound. An artwork absent the quality of transcendence is, at best, trash art, and at worst, propaganda.

    Here again we see the manifestations of transcendental idealism in the language and thought A.C. uses. The first characteristic is absolutism: “Absent the quality of transcendence, no artwork can possibly be profound.” No exceptions. No shades of gray. It is an ideal world beyond this one. The second characteristic is bi-polarity that leads to one-dimensional thought: “An artwork absent the quality of transcendence is, at best, trash art, and at worst, propaganda.” It is a world divided between geniuses and imbeciles. That which does not meet the ideal is trash…or even subhuman…. The world must be cleansed of the trash so that the transcendent ideal can survive without pollution. Destruction and rebirth are essential, regardless of who stands in the way. Only radical will allows for true transcendence.

    Feelings of transcendence are one of the most treasured parts of existence. But when transcendence becomes overly idealized it can turn on life itself and lead to forms of horror. This pathological form of transcendence is what happened to Europe between about 1870 and 1945 – though one could trace the history through a much longer period.
    It was the élan of French soldiers in uniforms with bright red pants mowed down by German machine guns at the beginning of the First World War. It was the passion of the Futurists who declared that war was the highest human endeavor as they embraced Mussolini. It was the ardor of racist cultural nationalism embraced by the German people as they watched Hitler give his speeches propounding the transcendent radical will of world domination. Fifty million people died in that war. Or perhaps they were merely called home to Valhalla.

    William Osborne

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  49. A.C. Douglas

    From the sublime to the absolutely trivial.

    I argue matters of art, Mr. Osborne finds a way to turn that into an argument on matters socio-political.

    Typical.

    ACD

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  50. William Osborne

    I feel that life and art are deeply intertwined. Wagner did too, for that matter. Other (especially transcendental idealists) feel that life only sullies art.

    In any case, I think art deeply influences the way we see the world, and that this idea is very central to understanding Wagner’s music and its effects, both artistic and social. Oscar Wilde formulated it this way: “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” Through art we define who we are, artistically, socially, politically, and even morally.

    William Osborne

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  51. A.C. Douglas

    Through art we define who we are, artistically, socially, politically, and even morally.

    Spoken like a true Stalinist, and all the evil that implies.

    History, I see, has taught you nothing.

    ACD

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  52. rtanaka

    What both Hitler and Stalin had in common was that they were both idealists, willing to ignore reality and sacrifice their own citizens in the name of a higher calling. At that point it doesn’t even matter if you’re doing in the name of Christianity or the Aryan race or the proletariat working classes — you end up becoming the same douchebag asshole who’s willing to do anything in the name of power and influence.

    Unfortunately this attitude seems to permeate through large parts of classical music and the art world in general. It’s what makes our medium seem so shallow and stylized, and why people turn away from it so quickly. I can’t say that I blame people for not listening to our music because discussions like these remind me that we often have so little to offer to our audiences.

    “Genius” is a made-up concept. The idea itself didn’t exist until Kant came along. And the illusion only sustains itself during situations where people are desperate for a messianic figure to come rid of all of their problems. Maybe there might have been a need for Wagner during Germany’s dire economic situations after WWI, but this is the year 2008 — we should be able to rid of ourselves of such delusions at this point.

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  53. A.C. Douglas

    “Genius” is a made-up concept. … And the illusion only sustains itself during situations where people are desperate for a messianic figure to come rid of all of their problems. … [T]his is the year 2008 — we should be able to rid of ourselves of such delusions at this point.

    Spoken like a true postmodernist, and all the evil that implies.

    History, I see, has taught you nothing.

    ACD

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  54. William Osborne

    It is unfortunate that the level of dialog has deteriorated. The actual themes here are very important: racism in music, arts funding in America, the relationships between art and life, the characteristics of pathological transcendentalism, music in the Third Reich, the unusual characteristics of Wagnerianism.

    A.C., people can believe that art and life are deeply integrated and not be Stalinist. People can believe that there is anti-Semitism in Wagner’s operas and not be ignorant or slanderes. People can believe that the racism and sexism of the VPO are wrong and not be ax-grinding, PC leftists. And there is a lot of room for music between transcendence and pop trash. And in his last post, he even tells us post-modernism is evil.

    It is often argued that transcendental idealism produces bi-polar thought, and A.C.’s perspectives would certainly seem to confirm that view. In fact, the history of the Romantics suggests it even produces bi-polar behavior – something observed from Schumann to Mahler.

    The origins of A.C.’s perspectives, however, are probably much more complex. First, he is a racist who believes the VPO has the right to exclude people on the basis of race. I doubt, however, that he subscribes to the views of Germanic cultural nationalism, which he has probably never experienced first hand. His perspectives actually seem closer to Anglo-American classism – a belief that education and social privilege not only provide cultural superiority, but also cultural supremacy. This classism accounts not only for his foppish mannerisms, but even more importantly, his firm belief that his views are self-evident and that his mere declarations suffice as proof. It is manifested in his belief that musical style and “transcendent genius” are based on natural law and that mere observation suffices as proof. The perspective of the culturally supreme viewer, especially if it is himself, need not be questioned.

    Normally, I protest on these pages against mindless forms of post-modernism, but then along comes A.C., whose anachronistic views demonstrate why post-modern thought was so important, and the very healthy effect it had on our society.

    William Osborne

    Reply

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