The second reply is rather more darkish and sophisticated. Wagner didn’t simply educate audiences the way to really feel feelings, he additionally taught them the way to really feel German. Students say that previously, Germans went to see Wagner’s operas to determine who they have been as a nation. He used operas to carry a mirror as much as German society, as Sophocles and Euripides as soon as did in Greece.
Within the early nineteenth century, as we speak’s Germany was divided into 300 completely different political entities, and there was no central political group. At first, nationalist actions had a robust liberal core: It was all about creating a contemporary society by organizing a central consultant authorities. However all these questions arose about the place individuals come from and the place they belong, which bred growing xenophobia. That mixture of views translated to very highly effective cultural divides, made worse by growing divides between Protestants and Catholics. Wagner navigated these divides very cleverly. He knew that to achieve success, to create one thing that will unite Germans, he wanted a message that will overcome different types of cultural division. Sadly, that message was xenophobia and anti-Semitism — which he unfold not solely by way of his operas but additionally by way of books and essays.
We’ve since seen leaders all around the world use that very same tactic of making a nationwide id by excluding individuals on the margins. The obvious instance is Adolph Hitler, who, impressed partly by Wagner’s phrases, envisioned an Aryan nation and tried to solid out all who weren’t a part of the “grasp race.” At present, we see politicians right here following the same, albeit much less excessive, script — for instance, drumming up help from white voters by concentrating on immigrants from non-European international locations.
The truth that the best composer of the nineteenth century, and presumably one of many best cultural figures of all time, has discovered himself on the middle of recent anti-Semitism and fashionable racism scares individuals away from his music, because it ought to. However for me, that’s the place it will get actually attention-grabbing.
Q: How does the brand new exhibition in Berlin, which you curated, tackle Wagner’s advanced legacy?
I wished to determine a technique to create an exhibition that was largely historic — that’s, largely targeted on Wagner as a cultural phenomenon — however that didn’t ignore the music and the emotion. So the exhibition is named “Richard Wagner and the Nationalization of Feeling,” and it has 4 components that study how Wagner perceived completely different emotional circumstances of society and reacted to them in his music.
The 4 components are alienation, Eros, belonging and disgust. “Alienation” examines Wagner’s concern with what Germany may lose artistically from turning into an industrial-capitalist society. “Eros” focuses on Wagner’s best and least political opera, “Tristan und Isolde,” which is an extremely highly effective love story that has offered the premise for a lot movie music. “Belonging” is about how Wagner explored the thought of belonging to a robust nationwide neighborhood in his music. And “Disgust” is the place we discover the methods during which Wagner expressed racism and anti-Semitism by creating characters who have been bodily unattractive and morally repugnant.
These 4 areas are each thematic and roughly chronological. There are many work, manuscripts and letters from or associated to Wagner, and there are additionally objects from well-liked tradition, which you may now name “kitsch” — Wagner-branded chocolate bars, kids’s books based mostly on his operas. Every of the themes features a sort of opera area the place individuals can watch unique performances of excerpts from key items of his music from two of the world’s main Wagner interpreters. We wished to contextualize his music, as a result of Wagner all the time mentioned he thought-about the music, the textual content and the stage to be equally vital.
My final aim was to current a fancy story that teaches us all in regards to the final 200 years and the way difficult they’re. I hope the exhibition teaches us about ourselves, about how we’re advanced beings with advanced loyalties. Wagner was a genius in music and drama; he made leisure that actually grabs the feelings, and there’s huge pleasure in getting misplaced in it. It’s very shifting and really wealthy, but additionally very disturbing. Pleasures are advanced.
Q: How do you assume Wagner would react to being the namesake of a Russian paramilitary group that’s now taken half within the combating in Ukraine?
It’s not the primary time Wagner has been appropriated like this. He died in 1883, however ideologically, he was a really highly effective software for Nazi Germany many many years later. And that’s as a result of a lot of his considering and writing could be very anti-Semitic. It’s clear from his essay “Judaism in Music” that Wagner believed Jews have been lesser individuals. He expressed racism within the purest sense: By arguing that Jews’ inferiority is positioned within the physique quite than within the thoughts, and thus it can’t be “corrected” by way of training or another course of.
However Wagner all the time exists on two sides. He was anti-Semitic, however he additionally strongly recognized with outsiders. Lots of his extra sympathetic characters determine as individuals who have been persecuted, and a few even look like Jewish. The truth that he apparently each hated and recognized with Jews may stem from his personal insecurities: He felt threatened by two different well-liked composers, Felix Mendelssohn and Giacomo Meyerbeer, who have been born Jewish, and he frightened that his stepfather had Jewish ancestry, which he believed would mirror badly on him.
So it’s laborious to know what Wagner would have considered the Nazi motion, or of organizations just like the Wagner Group who might have anti-Semitic views. For one factor, Wagner’s personal views have been advanced and complicated; for one more, he had no inkling of an impending Nazi motion when he died. However, I consider him as an enabler of sure views that made their method into the Nazi ideology very simply.
Q: Is it attainable to separate the artist from the person? Can individuals respect his music whereas ignoring his racist views?
I don’t purchase the narrative that Wagner’s writings are terrible however his work is harmless. Wagner students usually debate about whether or not his racism additionally comes by way of in his compositions, and my view is that it does. There are not any express Jewish characters in any of his operas, however lots of his villains — individuals who can not communicate or sing, people who find themselves ugly, males who lack conventional masculinity — are understood to be Jewish as a result of they adhere with frequent stereotypes: they’re hyper-nervous, for instance.
So no, I don’t assume it’s attainable to disregard Wagner’s racism. But I additionally don’t assume meaning it’s unattainable to understand his music. Yearly, there are such a lot of considerate productions of Wagner’s operas being mounted all around the world that show that these two truths can exist concurrently. Individuals like Barrie Kosky, a Jewish director, are placing Wagner’s work on the stage in interpretations that steadiness deep respect and deep criticism.
However the query stays: What duty does Wagner have for some the horrors of the twentieth and twenty first centuries, for anti-Semitism, racism, Nazism and, finally, the genocides of World Conflict II? On the one hand, he has circuitously participated in or been answerable for violent actions. On the opposite, he’s not harmless so far as this ideology is worried. That’s a debate that can proceed endlessly, I think about.