Wednesday 29 May 2019

Johanna Rosine Wagner: Mother Of Richard

We have noted over the years how few images of Wagner's mother, the elusive and somewhat enigmatic, Johanna Rosine Wagner, ever appear in Wagner biographies. And so, we present, Wagner's "Stepfathers" portrait, of unknown date. One that Wagner described as "flattering".

Tuesday 28 May 2019

The Awakening: Wagner and Rumi

The Awakening is a short film by Ivan Maria Friedman, taking the poem of Sufi mystic Rumi and setting it to the Vorspiel of Das Rheingold.
The juxtaposition of a Sufi mystic and Wagner might at first seem a strange one, but in truth, it was  Wagner who first noted, in his letters to his longtime friend August Röckel, a link between the Ring and another Sufi mystic, and poet, Hafiz. As noted by Wagner scholar Peter Bassett, in his monograph "Buddhist and Hindu Concepts in Wagner’s Stage Works":

"His awakening, so to speak, to the literature of the east, can be traced to the early 1850s. In 1852 he wrote from Zürich to his former assistant August Röckel languishing in Waldheim prison, about the poetry of the fourteenth-century Persian mystic, Hafiz, whose works were then being edited by Hermann Brockhaus. ‘We with our pompous European intellectual culture’ wrote Wagner, ‘must stand abashed in the presence of this product of the Orient, with its self-assured and sublime tranquillity of mind.’ In 1814, Goethe had been drawn to the poetry of Hafiz and used it in his collection of twelve lyrical poems West-Eastern Divan, symbolizing exchanges and mixtures between the orient and the occident.

Wagner’s reading of Hafiz informed his ideas on a number of Ring-related issues. He wrote again to Röckel while working on his Rheingold poem, saying: ‘Study Hafiz properly. … something similar will also become clear in my Nibelungen.’ Perhaps he had in mind these words of the poet: ‘Man of self, raised up with endless pride, we forgive thee – for love’s to thee denied’.

The Persian poet also had something to say about fate and destiny that is relevant to Wagner’s treatment of Erda. Wotan believes that success, life and power are all that matters, but Erda tells him that all things that are will end; he is not the ultimate controller of his fate. Hafiz describes the futility of resisting an appointed destiny, and offers only one solution: ‘cast the world aside, yes abandon it’."

Monday 27 May 2019

Das ist kein Mann!

If there is one line in the whole of the Ring that can produce unintended laughter, muffled or not, it is Siegfried's "Das ist kein Mann!" [Ed: for the uninitiated: "This is no man!" The rather innocent Siegfrieds first words upon removing the sleeping Brunnhilde's breastplate - he has just "rescued her from the circle of magic fire that had surrounded her.)  A line seemingly designed to trick the unsuspecting. new heldentenor. Especially, if they do not have a firm conductor or director. Or on opening night they ignore the warnings. Over the years we have seen different performers, tackle this line much differently. From the most heroic sounding, to "let's just do this quickly" (Ed: Or in the case of  Christian Franz "you really want me to sing this?)

All of this made us think it would be interesting to compare some of the greats. And thanks to Youtube, we find this much easier than you might imagine. Geeky? Without doubt. Nerdy? Would we be Wagnerians otherwise? But intriguing nevertheless. It also helps compare different conductors approach to the Ring. We fully understand if this little article is of limited appeal.  Although, it may introduce you to a recorded Ring you may not have previously considered.

But without further explanation, we give you: "Das ist kein Mann!" or "How do I sing that without generating titters". And yes, before you ask, we really do occasionally spend time doing this sort of thing.

Sunday 26 May 2019

Das Rheingold -150th Anniversary Performance. Birmingham UK

It would seem a terrible shame to miss this one.

2019 is the 150th anniversary of the first performance of Richard Wagner’s opera, Das Rheingold (22nd September 1869) – the Birmingham Philharmonic Orchestra will be performing the opera on 13th October 2019 in Birmingham’s Symphony Hall

The cast includes 14 fantastic soloists including internationally and nationally renowned performers who have performed in opera houses and concert halls around the world including previous performances of Das Rheingold at Bayreuth.

Email And Apologies

As a number of you are aware, the website was down for 5 days at the beginning of this month. This was due to an error by our previous domain host renewing the domain {Ed: Not helped by the fact that its technical team and customer services would make Siegfried appear as an intellectual. "Das ist kein Mann!"). Needless to say, we eventually gave up and swapped domain hosts.  Alas, however, we retained our email host but forgot to update the DNS with our new domain host!. In simple terms, this means we have not been receiving any of your usual emails for the past month or so.  We have fixed it now though and we should be receiving emails again in the next 72 hours - at the most.

So, if you have sent us something via email, if you would kindly email again we will be happy to read and respond if required,

As a way of apology, please, should you be so inclined, find a full recording of Siegfried below.

Tuesday 21 May 2019

A New Meistersinger Production In London. August 2019



9 - 17 August 2019

Greenwood Theatre, London

Fulham Opera, is to stage its most ambitious project to date in central London this August: four performances of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.

Die Meistersinger, which is one of the biggest works in opera repertoire, will be performed in a new production, directed by Paul Higgins and conducted by Ben Woodward, Artistic Director of Fulham Opera. The production features a specially commissioned new orchestral arrangement by Jonathan Finney, for eighteen instruments.

Its high-calibre cast of professional singers includes a welcome return from bass baritone Keel Watson (Falstaff 2015) who is double cast with Steven Fredericks (Don Carlo 2018) in the role of Hans Sachs. Tenors Ronald Sammand Florian Thomas share the role of Walther von Stolzing, and sopranos Catharine Woodward (Falstaff 2016 and Don Carlo 2018) and Philippa Boyle (Don Carlo 2018) share the role of Eva.

Fulham Opera’s Artistic Director and conductor, Ben Woodward says, “Die Meistersinger is absolutely huge, and more challenging than our two last big productions - The Ring and Don Carlo - put together. I am thrilled to have singers on board that I have been looking forward to working with on this repertoire for some time. It might be the biggest, maddest project that a fringe opera company has ever undertaken, but we do feel ready for this to be our next step.”

Regarded as a leading light in London’s ‘fringe’ opera scene, Fulham Opera’s combination of ambitious, big repertoire and superb professional singers has brought it great critical acclaim. It has developed a strong reputation for its performances of Wagner and Die Meistersinger will be its sixth Wagner opera, including two complete Ring cycles, since the company began in 2011.

Director Paul Higgins says, “We can very easily recognise ourselves in the characters in Meistersinger, and we can see our own struggles and ambitions. There are so many strands to this opera, such elitism versus populism, old versus the young, those who belong and those who do not, and a community jealousy guarding its independence and becoming more inward-looking than they had been before. Today we are witnessing a rise in nationalism across the world, and in particular in Europe, and in the UK we have Brexit. In 2019 the issues raised in Die Meistersinger seem even more relevant today.”

This huge project brings Fulham Opera to perform in central London for the first time. With a cast and chorus of fifty-seven singers, it also marks the first time the company will have performed in a full-sized theatre.


Walther von Stolzing: Ronald Samm & Florian Thomas

Magdalene: Sarah Denbee

Beckmesser: Jonathan Finney

David: Edward Mout

Pogner: Gerard Delrez

Kothner: Andrew Mayor

Zorn: Phil Clieve

Eisslinger: John Rodger

Nachtigall: Tom Asher

Schwarz: Simon Grange

Vogelgesang: Roberto Barbaro

The Nightwatchman: Robert Byford

Fulham Opera Chorus 

DIRECTOR : Paul Higgins

CONDUCTOR : Ben Woodward

Cast A: Woodward, Watson, Samm (9 and 14 August)

Cast B: Boyle, Thomas, Fredericks (11 and 17 August)


Friday 9 August at 5.00pm (Cast A)

Sunday 11 August at 3.00pm (Cast B)

Wednesday 14 August at 5.00pm (Cast A)

Saturday 17 August at 5.00pm (Cast B)


£35.00 early bird. £40 from 1st June.


Act 1: 1 hour

Interval 1: 20 minutes

Act 2: 1 hour

interval 2: 30 minutes

Act 3: 2 hours


Greenwood Theatre

55 Weston Street



Click here for location on Google Maps

About two minutes’ walk from London Bridge Station

Sunday 19 May 2019

Book Recommendation: Richard Wagner And The English

I have found myself, once again, reading Anne Dzamba Sessa's excellent, 1978  book  "Richard Wagner And The English". This is a book that charts the influence of Wagner, on the intellectual, artistic and social life of Victorian England, and in part beyond.  It's a fascinating read, both well written and researched. It's not perfect, but it gets close

While long out of print (secondhand print copies sell for "silly" prices")  It can be bought as an ebook from google play books. 

Highly recommended. A review is long overdue and will follow shortly.


Saturday 18 May 2019

A Lecture Series On Die Walkure

A nine hour, or so, lecture series on Die Walkure. Recorded in 2012

The Opera in Its Time (Simon Williams)
The Growth and Evolution of Love (Jeffrey Swann)
Contrasts with Das Rheingold (Simon Williams)
Wotan's Spear and Its Music (Jeffrey Swann)
Redemption Through Love (Simon Williams)
Staging Die Walküre and the Ring (Simon Williams)
Wotan and Fricka (Jeffrey Swann)

Sunday 12 May 2019

Stefan Herheim, "Opera for me is not about entertaining people or giving them a good time"

In an interview with the Telegraph, Stefan Herheim told Rupert Christiansen "Opera for me is not about entertaining people or giving them a good time" [Ed: We know Stefan. We know. But despite the best efforts of many, some of us still do]. Then what is it about? "It is about bringing us together to confront our most pressing and dreadful problems. Perhaps art can’t change the world, but it can change the way that people can think and feel. This makes opera a spiritual experience for me.”

Of course, some art [Ed: Surely all, in some small way?] seems to have tried to do this from the outset and was one, if not the only, intention of the creator. Verdi's Traviata or Puccini's Madame Butterfly comes to mind. And of course, much, if not all of Wagner's work. So, does that mean keeping the message and lessons of the creators intent - if they exist? Nearly, but not fully. “I always aim to tell the story and to get to its essence, but I want to add other perspectives. Opera audiences need to see with their ears and hear with their eyes: it can never be a simple experience, and if audiences all leave the auditorium thinking differently about what they have witnessed then I have succeeded.”

Deutsche Oper Berlin And A New Ring From Stefan Herheim

Deutsche Oper Berlin has announced that the first part of the new Stefan Herheim, will premiere, logically enough, with Rheingold one Friday, 12.06.2020. Donald Runnicles will be holding the baton. Full cast details below.

So, what can we expect from a Herheim Ring? In the interview below, Herheim gives us some clues:

"Since I began preparing for the RING DES NIBELUNGEN, I have been considering how the end of GÖTTERDÄMMERUNG could look. An ending that leaves the question of the future of man, of overcoming the old order, open. As long as we are failing in modern society due to lust for power, exploitation, betrayal and violence, the RING remains an 'artwork of the future'. To find ways toward the future we must begin searching for the prerequisites for being human. This search is reflected in the drama itself, as well as in the figure of Richard Wagner. He worked on this piece for over a quarter of a century. The self-"actualisation expressed therein also reflects Germans' longing for national identity.

Wagner And “Game of Thrones”: Where they Intersect?

Alex Ross is always worth reading, especially about Wagner.

By Alex Ross. 

When Arthur Schopenhauer read the libretto of “Die Walküre,” the second instalment of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, he found himself discomfited by the goings on in Act I, in which the twin siblings Siegmund and Sieglinde, separated children of the god Wotan, fall madly in love. “You are bride and sister to your brother,” Siegmund exclaims. The music that churns ecstatically in the closing bars indicates that consummation is imminent, with the hero Siegfried as the destined result. Next to the stage direction at the end—“The curtain falls quickly”—Schopenhauer sardonically wrote, “Denn es ist hohe Zeit”—“Because it’s high time.”

Mythic and fantasy narratives gravitate strikingly often toward incestuous themes. “Game of Thrones,” the HBO series that a portion of the planet has been watching, is a case in point. It features not only a sibling affair, between Cersei Lannister and her twin brother Jaime but also a liaison between the dragon-mother Daenerys and the outcast hero Jon Snow, who, unbeknownst to each other, are aunt and nephew. The latter relationship matches the other great eyebrow-raising romance in the “Ring”—the love of Siegfried and Brünnhilde. Siegfried is Wotan’s grandson; Brünnhilde is his Valkyrie daughter. It’s not clear whether George R. R. Martin, the creator of “Game of Thrones,” has Wagnerian leanings, but the proliferation of “Ring”-like elements in his saga—dragons, dwarves, ravens, magic swords, shape-shifting devices—suggests that, like J. R. R. Tolkien before him, he may owe a few debts to the wizard of Bayreuth.

Animated Rheingold. Operavox

While these have held up well to the passing of time, sadly, they are very difficult to buy now. Surely time for them to be rereleased?

Parsing Parsifal: Wagner's Erotic Kunstreligion

Edition of Parsifal illustrated by Willy Pogany, 1912
From "The Sidney Undergraduate Journal Of  Musicology. An intriguing read, that does see Parsifal as concluding Wagner's work by pulling together "...multiple threads he spent his whole life weaving.". I am less convinced by this. Would have Wagner's work and thought have stopped developing? Whatever. Recommended.

Parsing Parsifal: Wagner's Erotic Kunstreligion
Rafael Echevarria

Richard Wagner’s final opera, Parsifal, is an enigmatic work that resists simple understanding both as an independent work and as a work within Wagner’s oeuvre. In particular, the themes of religion and sexuality are often addressed independently, resulting in vastly different interpretations. Religious readings focus on the redemption of the Knights and its theological significance, while sexual perspectives have focused on the overcoming of sexual desire. However, these partial perspectives lack sufficient explanatory power for the opera’s overall message. Evidently, a full understanding of Wagner’s ideas requires an integrated account of both religion and sexuality, one which Roger Scruton’s philosophy provides. His post-Kantian philosophy extracts key ideas surrounding the role of erotic love, redemption, and the sacred for human existence and interaction. This article analyses Parsifal by utilising Scruton’s framework to explore the opera’s plot, characters, and music. Simultaneously addressing Wagner’s treatment of erotic love and religion elucidates previously unexamined aspects of Parsifal and re-evaluates key elements of the work. Specifically, the interplay of érōs and agape prove to be the central dynamic of the work, which paves the way for its unique form of redemption. This sacred, yet fully human, redemption is evinced through Wagner’s music and overall structure. Notably, this holistic interpretation also provides important links to Wagner’s previous works, establishing a continuity that coherently positions Parsifal within Wagner’s oeuvre. This new exegesis reveals a renewed Parsifal that concluded Wagner’s development and completed the multiple threads he spent his whole life weaving.

Saturday 11 May 2019

Gods and Monsters: The Musical Journey of Wagner's Ring Cycle

Conductor Brett Mitchell gives a deep dive into Wagner's Ring Cycle, demonstrating how he used leitmotifs to tell one of the greatest stories of all time.

Wagner's Das Rheingold -- A Psychological Analysis

From This SophiaCycles. The author describes this as, " (A) Video Essay takes a look at the first drama of Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle in an a psychological/archetypal way. Looked at as a metaphor for the mid-life crisis, Rheingold explores the many challenges that arise during this liminal time in life. In the end, Rheingold is a fairy tale and it uses many of the same tropes we find in fairy tales from across the world. This does not mean it is a children's fable, however. Just as with other fairy tales, a careful analysis of Das Rheingold yields many deep truths.

An Animated Guide To The Ring

This is actually rather good and in less than six minutes! And who can deny its closing remarks?

A 5 Hour Lecture Series on Das Rheingold

Once again, from the Wagner Society Of Washington. Lecturers: Simon Williams And Jeffery Swann

Because You Didn't Ask For More: Der Fliegende Holländer - In Lego

And if you continue not to ask,, we may also give you, Tristan - in Lego

Richard Wagner's Parsifal - in Lego

It's probably best if you cannot speak German. As the producers say in their introduction, "The plot of Richard Wagner's complex masterpiece as a Lego movie. Don't say later, we didn't warn you". However, should you then want to watch all of act one of Parsifal as a Lego movie, simply click play on the second video

Wagner in der Wildnis: 11 Hours Worth Of Lectures On Parsifal From Simon Williams & Jeffrey Swann

Originally given over a full weekend, in an event hosted by the Wagner Society Of Washinton. Sadly, neglected on Youtube. Worth your attention. Lecture topics include:

Ritual And Theatre In Parsifal, A Showcase for the Evolution of Wagner's Style, The Troubled World of Parsifal, In Search of New Orchestral Colors, and Parsifal and the Avoidance of Tragedy.

Jeffrey Swann: "The Music of Parsifal: A Mixture, a Summation, or a Culmination?"

From The Wagner Society Of New York:

Jeffrey Swann, Ph.D., internationally renowned pianist and lecturer on Wagner topics, gave a superb lecture with piano examples on Wagner's last music drama, with references to its relation to his other music dramas

Tuesday 7 May 2019

Philippe Jordan Talks About Conducting Wagner

Swiss conductor Philippe Jordan, music director of the Paris Opera and music director designate of the Vienna State Opera, is one of the world’s hottest Wagner talents, winning widespread acclaim for his performances of the composer’s music in Paris and at the Bayreuth Festival. Now, he returns to the Met for the first time since 2007 to lead this season’s three complete Ring cycles. In advance of the premiere of Das Rheingold, he sat down with the Met’s Mary Jo Heath to discuss opera’s grandest and most grueling epic.

"With Tristan und Isolde or the Ring cycle, there are moments where suddenly something happens in the music, and the emotion just comes out of you and you don’t know how to deal with it".

You’ve conducted quite a lot of Wagner. What is it that makes his music particularly rewarding for you?
No other composer makes me so emotional while conducting. At the end of La Bohème, if I’m sitting in the audience, I cry. But when I conduct La Bohème, this doesn’t happen. I’m still moved, but I’m very concentrated. With Tristan und Isolde or the Ring cycle, there are moments where suddenly something happens in the music, and the emotion just comes out of you and you don’t know how to deal with it. Sometimes you have to consciously decide to push the emotion down because, otherwise, how will you last another hour of music?

What about the technical aspect of his music? Does it pose particular challenges because of its monumental scale?
Wagner brought me to another level of conducting, more than any other composer. In Wagner, shaping the music over long distances, with a far bigger orchestra than with Mozart or Verdi, requires a special way of conducting, a special way of shaping tempi. For example, you start to think in bigger units instead of smaller details, and you start to trust the orchestra more and let things flow. Also, younger conductors tend to do slow tempi really slowly and fast tempi really fast to make a contrast and a big effect— something I used to do as well. In Wagner, you learn to do the opposite. You learn not to take slower sections too slowly so that the music doesn’t start schlepping and the energy doesn’t fall apart.

Monday 6 May 2019

Jung Discusses The Collective Unconsciousness, Music, Wagner & Perhaps Opeth

Our editor is wakened from, what seems, a prolonged slumber, due to the combined forces of Jung, Wagner and Doom/Death/Prog Metal band Opeth.

I have been spending much time these past few months with the Ring (nothing especially unusual admittedly) and the entire discography of Death/Doom/Prog Metal band Opeth (again not that unusual). With the latter, I have found myself giving special attention to Opeth's much underappreciated 1999, concept album "Still Life".  I appreciate that to many readers this may be an odd, perhaps even horrifying, juxtaposition of artists and their works, And yet, despite the clear musical, artistic and stylistic differences, I find both works seem to reach into the same, deep parts of what Jung would call the Collective Unconcessnious