Editorial: Dame Gwyneth Jones Booed Out Of Building - By Wagner Society?

Written By The Wagnerian on Thursday, 27 June 2013 | 2:07:00 am

Our editor takes a break from his holiday- and listening to "trance" by the sounds of things - to note recent events in London

Being a performance artist of any description must be one of the toughest jobs - especially that of a famed Wagner performer. Now I admit, that may sound like an exaggeration but think about it for a moment: years of study; years of rejection as they fight over the few performances (in comparison to Verdi or Puccini for example. - made worse by the fact that the "big" houses are always reluctant to cast anyone but a "crowd puller"); years of putting up with people that insist no one is ever as good as (insert the name of a most likely dead performer that few of those insisting this is the case have  heard live, on the stage); criticism when they miss a performance due to illness, make some ill-thought-out comment, someone miss-understands a tattoo (many symbols were purloined by the Nazis. Allowing them to keep them is as bad as those that allow Wagner to remain Hitler's "property")  that they had (most likely stupidly) crafted when they were a child, produce a bad performance, their voice changes with age and no longer has the same "luster" as it did when they were 35. I could go on, but I think you get my general "drift". To perform Wagner for long would seem to require the psychology of a sociopath -  at least. So, you would think that once they retire things should get easier. However, recent events at the Wagner Society Of London would suggest that this is not the case.

You see, Dame Gwyneth Jones has been asked to step down as President of the Wagner Society (London). And why? Well according to a letter sent to members and leaked a few days ago, "The committee finds itself in fundamental disagreement with the president… over how the society should be run. We believe it is time for the president to stand down and we have suggested that she do so. She has not responded.”

And what are these "disagreements? It seems that she has become "increasing "dictatorial". The committee is especially annoyed, according to John Walsh, that Dame Gwyneth (75) will not allow them to cancel the "...society’s Wagner Bursary Competition, to send young musos to the Bayreuth Festival, because it was deemed a “waste of money,”

Yet this seems an especially strange argument given that it was only two years ago that many societies were using these competitions and their like, as evidence to Bayreuth (not without some justification) as to why they should get their free tickets back. I quote a letter that originated from the New York Society but was countersigned by many others: "Many European societies are participants in the Stipendiaten program, which enables young musicians to attend a few performances at the Festival..."

Now, I may not be aware of all of the facts in this  (I follow the counsel of Groucho Marx regarding clubs) and there maybe very good reasons the committee has called for Dame Gwyneth's resignation. However, at least one "insider" thinks not. The following was sent to "Slipped Disc" today by a former chair of the London Wagner Society, Jeremy Rowe:

I am appalled at this treatment of Dame Gwyneth. I note:

1. She is a world leader in terms of her portrayal of major Wagnerian roles, and she has an important and pivotal relationship with Bayreuth. She should be seen as a asset to the society.


2. The London Society is the only Wagner Society in the world to cancel the Wagner Bursary Competition, a competition founded by Richard Wagner himself over 100 years ago. Their reason is ostensibly that it’s a waste of money. Past winners include many major stars – the bursary gave them an early fillip to their career. Every winner I know of has always said it was an excellent experience – career changing for some. The current Wag Soc committee plan to spend the money giving local training to young singers – nothing wrong with that, but it should be in addition to the Bayreuth Bursary – not instead of. Cancelling the bursary eliminates the opportunity for young singers to be seen on a world platform.


3. Dame Gywneth found out she is being treated this way from colleagues at Bayreuth who wanted to know what’s going on. When confronted, she had no idea what the London committee were doing.


4. The committee are organising a vote of no confidence in themselves; but voters have to put their name on voting papers, and the votes will be received and counted by a member of the committee. Thus they’ll have a list of Dame Gwyneth supporters, ie, anyone voting against them. There will be no independent scrutiny of this voting process.


5. As a former chair and long-time member of the committee, I have received numerous messages of support for Dame Gwyneth, and messages of outrage about the committee. The manner of the vote means that many members say they are hesitant to vote against the committee as the committee will then have a record of their vote.


But even without Jeremy Rowe's letter,  and whatever other reasons exist - if any -  the way that things are now progressing does seem more than disrespectful to a person of Dame Gwyneth's stature; namely sending a letter to all members but not the President and then, according to Dame Jones, not inviting her to a special general meeting the committee has called  on 11 July and were they will attempt to "have her booted out" - to use a colloquialism. 

However, this is a Valkyrie we are discussing and it seems she will not "go without a fight", having sent emails to members that she knows personally and now intending to attend said meeting on July 11.

I  shall watch the unfolding events with interest - be it on a beach, drink in hand, relaxing and listening to some Oakenfold Mix  or other - rather than Wagner.  Although, perhaps this calls for just a little Wagner first: