Mastodon Ivan Hewett, talks with Daniel Barenboim about Proms 2013 - The Wagnerian

Ivan Hewett, talks with Daniel Barenboim about Proms 2013

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday 8 May 2013 | 5:08:00 pm

Talking about Wagner with Daniel Barenboim is fascinating, but you have to be quick on your feet. His thoughts come so fast it’s hard to get a word in edgeways. “The thing about Wagner is we’re always wrong about him, because he always embraces opposites,” he says, àpropos nothing in particular – the thought just pops into his head. “There are things in his operas which viewed one way are naturalistic, and viewed another way are symbolic, but the problem is you can’t represent both views on stage at once.”

I’m with Barenboim in the director’s office at the Schiller Theatre in Berlin, the temporary home of the opera company Barenboim has led for the past 21 years, the Berlin Staatsoper. It’s the morning after a performance of Götterdämmerung, the final part of the company’s new production of the four-part epic that makes up Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung. This summer, Wagner fans in Britain can savour the production when Barenboim brings his company to the Proms, for the first complete Ring cycle in a single season.

If Barenboim is tired after conducting that five-hour marathon, he’s not showing it. Wagner fires him up in a special way, as if between these two short, forceful men there’s a special affinity. Barenboim’s involvement with Wagner goes back more than 30 years, to a production of Tristan and Isolde on the other side of town, at the Deutsche Oper. “I prepared for that like a military campaign,” he laughs. “I immersed myself in Liszt and then Berlioz and then Bruckner, so I could encircle Wagner from every angle.”

After that Barenboim became a favourite at Wagner’s own theatre in Bayreuth, where, among other productions, Barenboim worked on a now-legendary Ring with Harry Kupfer. He’s conducted five productions of Tristan and Isolde, and recorded all Wagner’s major works with stellar casts. Wagner has become a kind of crusade for him, even to the extent of causing a scandal back in 2001. That was the year he conducted the Tristan prelude in Israel, where Wagner’s music is informally banned.

Barenboim is keen to put the record straight about that. “I and the Staatsoper were invited by the Israel Festival to perform the first act of the Valkyrie [the second part of the Ring]. Then at the last minute the Israeli Ministry of Education found out and threatened to withdraw the festival’s entire subsidy. I didn’t want to cancel, so we went and played a different programme of Schumann and Stravinsky. Then I thought, let’s at least try to play something of Wagner as an encore, if the audience agrees, which they did. But then there was a scandal…” He sighs at the memory.

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