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An Interview With Allan Leicht. Author Of "My Parsifal Conductor"

Written By The Wagnerian on Wednesday 17 October 2018 | 2:04:00 pm

We recently had the opportunity to catch-up with Allan Leicht, the Emmy award-winning author of the unusual, off-Broadway play "My Parsifal Conductor", As we have already noted, the play is based around the premise that, Wagner and Cosima, find themselves in a moral, political and musical dilemma when King Ludwig II of Bavaria insists that Hermann Levi, the son of a rabbi, conduct Wagner's final masterpiece, Parsifal.

"I am Wagnerite, with all the doubt and enjoyment that comes along with it" Allan Leicht

Given that Allan kindly agreed to this interview during rehearsals, and just prior to opening, this might seem a little shorter than our usual interviews, but given the circumstances, we think this is understandable.

Allan is a multiple Emmy Award, Writers’ Guild Award, Christopher Award-winning writer of, mainly, TV movies, including most notably, Adam, starring Daniel J. Travanti and JoBeth Williams, and Lady in a Corner, starring Loretta Young and Brian Keith, several comedy series, including Kate and Allie, and The Thorns, in collaboration with Mike Nichols; dramatic series, most notably, Mariah  and daytime dramas Ryan’s Hope and One Life to Live. As a director, he brought William Golding’s comedy, The Brass Butterfly, to the New York stage. His musical, The Adventures of Friar Tuck, for which he wrote book and lyrics, premiered at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. He produced Rashi, A Light after the Dark Ages, a video production starring Leonard Nimoy and Sir Paul Scofield and Rambam, The Story of Maimonides with Mr Nimoy and Armand Assante. Allan divides his time between New York and Jerusalem, where he recently appeared as an actor in Shakespeare’s Henry V. He is married to actress and designer Renee Lippin Leicht and they have three children and two grandchildren.

TW: Allan, first thank you for taking the time to talk to us during what I know is a very busy time for you. You have had a long and successful career, but can I ask, what have been the most important events to you?

AL: To me that I am a grandfather is most important. I wrote a movie called Adam. That was important. Adam did what writing wants to do: change things. (Adam was a 1983 movie that dealt with the real world horrendous kidnapping and murder of Adam Walsh along with its impact on his parents. Broadcasts of Adam were followed by pictures and descriptions of missing children, with a hotline being available to take calls regarding the children. This was ultimately credited with finding 13 of 55 children from the 1983 broadcast, and more after each repeat)

TW: Wagner as a subject, and the first performance of Parsifal especially, are unusual subjects for a playwright in the 21st century.- at least outside of Germany, Do you have a particular interest in Wagner, or did something else bring you to this subject?

AL: I am Wagnerite, with all the doubt and enjoyment that comes along with it. In Richard Wagner we learn that genius can have its dark side; in Wagner’s case, the dark side was anti-Semitism and also an insatiable libido (or maybe that was his light side): a great amoral artist torn emotionally by every religion of which he was aware. But that music! That music! As our character of Hermann Levi says in the play, “How blithe we Jews are to judge men by their music.”

TW: What sources have you consulted in the creation of the work?

AL: He smiles, "Please, plays do not require footnotes. Nevertheless, I relied on Cosima’s diaries. Magee, Millington, Bremer, Carr, etc., Haas’ biography of Hermann Levi, My Life by Richard Wagner, several motion pictures, and most crucially an essay by the very eminent, late literary critic and scholar Peter Gay, in his collection of essays Freud, Jews and Other Germans. As Professor Laurence Dreyfus writes in his study, Hermann Levi’s Shame and Parsifal’s Guilt, Dr Gay takes Hermann Levi to severe task for being Jewish and a Wagnerite: a traitor to his people (not to mention Brahms). I was uncomfortable with that. I wanted to better understand Hermann Levi. How could the descendant of a long line of German rabbis dine at the Wagners’ Wahnfried table and conduct “a festival play for the consecration of the stage” that plumbs the depths of Christian mystery? That to me was, is incongruous. And incongruity is comedy. My Parsifal Conductor is a very funny Wagnerian comedy".

TW: There is strong academic evidence that this incident never took place and was instead created by the even more anti-Semitic "Bayreuth Circle" after Wagner's death (it is not even mentioned in Cosima's diaries). I am sure you are aware of this, so what made you concentrate on this? Are you applying the same artistic license that Peter Shaffer applied to his, highly enjoyable, Amadeus? Do you believe the incident happened? Or are you using it to address Wagner and Cosima's anti-Semitism in general?

"I would seem to be weak-minded, even mad to go to the extravagance of an additional, superfluous, inferior conductor."

AL: My Parsifal Conductor more closely resembles, at least in structure, Dickens’ A Christmas Carol than it does the marvellous Peter Shaffer’s marvellous Amadeus. Of course, Amadeus and My Parsifal Conductor are both about composers, but My Parsifal Conductor springs from incongruity — the incongruity of anti-Semitism, Judaism, German opera, Germans, Jews and Cosima’s judgment night, her last night on earth, April, 1930, the stuff of comedy; and with what was going on outside her bedroom windows, a comedy about anti-Semitism. It is about the irrationality of anti-Semitism. Yes, I do believe the incident happened. As Ludwig says to Wagner in My Parsifal Conductor, "I would seem to be weak-minded, even mad to go to the extravagance of an additional, superfluous, inferior conductor."

TW: This entire subject is not one that seems to lend itself easily to comedy. Why and how have you addressed this?

AL: I hope I have addressed the comedy question already. But my inclination is comedy. I like to believe there is truth in laughter, especially the laughter connecting heart and mind. We have a phenomenally talented cast of New York actors, a brilliant director, and unstintingly loyal producers. I wrote what I knew is a very tricky, even dangerous play. Claire Brownell and Eddie Korbich play Cosima and Richard Wagner, unapologetic anti-Semitic pre-Third Reich elites. The Wagners were no mere meat-pie making cannibalistic Sweeney-Todd-Mrs. Lovitts, these Wagners are Geniuses! Anti-Semitic geniuses akin to Dostoevsky or Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot (who also admired Groucho Marx). Please, fact check this for me, but I recall that one-third of Third Reich concentration camp commandants were PhDs. Why is it that high, even the highest, cultures ultimately become anti-Semitic? Funny. (Ed: And sadly more racist in general. An inclination more evident than ever these last few years)"

We conclude and I allow Allan to get on with the important work of fine-tuning his work. However, as he gets up to leave, he turns and leaves us with the following thought, "We’re in rehearsal. Come to see the show. Or it may come to England, where the subject is making current headlines (Allan means antisemitism which, has raised its ugly head once more in politics here in the UK.

We hope the play does reach the UK, especially given how rare such projects are outside of Germany. If you want to see it now, and can get to New York, My Parsifal Conductor will be running till November 3. More information, including booking details, click here: