Wagner Madness Repeats Itself In London: 1839 & 2014

Written By The Wagnerian on Sunday, 9 February 2014 | 6:35:00 pm

London Docks: 1839
"We were on board a merchant vessel of the smallest type. She was called the Thetis; a bust of the nymph was erected in the bows, and she carried a crew of seven men, including the captain. With good weather, such as was to be expected in summer, the journey to London was estimated to take eight days.

Our desire for a complete release from our detested confinement led us, after we had sailed a little way up, to hasten our arrival in London by going on board a passing steamer at Gravesend. As we neared the capital, our astonishment steadily increased at the number of ships of all sorts that filled the river, the houses, the streets, the famous docks, and other maritime constructions which lined the banks. When at last we reached London Bridge, this incredibly crowded centre of the greatest city in the world, and set foot on land after our terrible three weeks' voyage, a pleasurable sensation of giddiness overcame us as our legs carried us staggering through the deafening uproar. Robber seemed to be similarly affected, for he whisked round the corners like a mad thing, and threatened to get lost every other minute. But we soon sought safety in a cab, which took us, on our captain's recommendation, to the Horseshoe Tavern [Ed: Hoop and Horseshoe, Queen Street, Tower Hill], near the Tower, and here we had to make our plans for the conquest of this giant metropolis.



Bar Soho. 23-25 Old Compton Street. 
Known to RW as The Kings Arms?1(See footnote)
The neighbourhood in which we found ourselves was such that we decided to leave it with all possible haste. A very friendly little hunchbacked Jew from Hamburg suggested better quarters in the West End, and I remember vividly our drive there, in one of the tiny narrow cabs then in use, the journey lasting fully an hour. They were built to carry two people, who had to sit facing each other, and we therefore had to lay our big dog crosswise from window to window. The sights we saw from our whimsical nook surpassed anything we had imagined, and we arrived at our boarding-house in Old Compton Street1 agreeably stimulated by the life and the overwhelming size of the great city. Although at the age of twelve I had made what I supposed to be a translation of a monologue from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, I found my knowledge of English quite inadequate when it came to conversing with the landlady of the King's Arms. But the good dame's social condition as a sea-captain's widow led her to think she could talk French to me, and her attempts made me wonder which of us knew least of that language

 I had not the smallest intention of going to the Italian opera, possibly because I imagined the prices to be too ruinous. We thoroughly explored all the principal streets, often tiring ourselves out; we shuddered through a ghastly London Sunday, and wound up with a train trip (our very first) to Gravesend Park, in the company of the captain of the Thetis. On the 20th of August we crossed over to France by steamer, arriving the same evening at Boulogne-sur-mer, where we took leave of the sea with the fervent desire never to go on it again." RW: My Life

August 12 1839 saw Richard, Minna and Robber Wagner arrive for the first time in London. Despite Wagner telling us that, "we had to make our plans for the conquest of this giant metropolis." this was only intended as a short stop on his way conquer another metropolis; Paris. For those of us who have grown older (and "wiser"?), such madness could only be conducted by youth.  But without such youthful exuberance many great things would never happen.
Fulham Opera. Ring 2014

Perhaps it is this sort of "madness" that has lead to a youthful opera company - both as an entity (it was formed only 4 years ago) and due to its young performers - to stage two cycles of Wagner's most difficult and expensive of works; Der Ring des Nibelungen.  Yet if this is the "madness of youth" we can only be grateful as Fulham Opera launch the first of their cycles with, logically enough, Das Rheingold.

And are Fulham ready for the challenge? Well, given that they have already staged each drama separately beginning in 2011 - with much success - it is difficult to see why not. But perhaps we should leave the last words to Artistic Director Ben Woodward who we manged to speak to earlier today; 

"I'm thrilled, I'm excited. It's all ready to go. The past week we've had four dress rehearsals and about six technical rehearsals. It is now literally and figuratively in the lap of the gods. I'm incredibly grateful to all of my singers and crew. I hope they've had a restful weekend and are ready for an extraordinary couple of weeks. 

And it's my (33rd) birthday on Tuesday. I'll be playing Walküre."

For more information and to book tickets visit: Fulham Opera








Footnotes:

1 According to Ed Glinert in: "London Walks - London Stories" The Kings Arms was located at 23-25 Old Compton Street, now the site of Soho Bar. However, my own research has found a list of pubs of London 1839 that places the Kings Arms just a little further up at No 7 Old Compton Street (the Landlord being one, Louis Henry Mathey. Which might fit with Wagner's description of the landlady trying to converse in French with him) now a rather dilapidated building next to a "sex shop" (actually a restaurant - don't ask). To be honest, given the Wagner's limited funds at that time, that rather small building seems the more likely option. This maybe partly confirmed by a travel book for English "Gentlemen published in 1836 (A Hand-Book for Travellers on the Continent: being a guide through Holland, Belgium, Prussia, and Northern Germany, and along the Rhine, from Holland to Switzerland & Germany: John Murray III.) In this rather tediously named book, the author suggests that English servants are often a "hindrance" abroad as they tend to have no grasp of German. The author helpfully suggests that German speakers  in the form of a "courier", are a valuable, if expensive, addition and can be  found and hired at No 7 Old Compton Street. However, no mention is made that this address is an Inn. At the same time in  1817 no 7 Old Compton Street was listed as the address of the charity "The German Society Of Benevolence And Concord". Although this may very well have been "above" the Inn itself - and being in the same building as charity whose aim was to support German expats would have been useful to Wagner. It should also be noted that Freemasonry records of this time note meetings at the Kings Arms Tavern - at no 7 Old Compton Street.   But further research is needed