Exclusive Preview: New Wagner Museum Opens in Germany

Friday, January 11, 2013 - 11:40 AM

This German city, which describes itself as the place “Where Wagner became WAGNER,” will share with Leipzig, Munich, Bayreuth, Zürich, Lucerne and some Italian cities a key role in the celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of the composer on May 22.

Wagner spent important formative years here, developing his ideas and composing some of his early works. His presence is commemorated in a new museum opening January 12 in Pirna, a small town just outside the city limits of Dresden. The building, a former hunting lodge, is a brief walk from the Lohengrinhaus, a farm house where Wagner and his wife Minna lived from May through August of 1846. It is here that he did the first draft of the score of Lohengrin. This building is open to the public as part of the 7 euro (about $9) admission to the museum.

Today, when I went for a sneak preview, the swans who normally swim nearby were wintering somewhere else as a downy snow covered the area. Inside the museum, workers were putting the finishing touches on the six rooms. While even a large palace could not contain the multitudes that were Wagner, this small exhibition effectively synthesizes his origins, his life in Dresden, some of his important protagonists and influences, and has some nifty new technology in which scenes from Der fliegende Holländer, Lohengrin and Das Rheingold are presented using holograms and mirrors. 

One feature of the museum is that one of 24 pieces of Wagner's music will be played as each visitor crosses the threshold. This invites a question, to which the answers have not yet been revealed: Which pieces of music will be chosen? Among the obvious choices are the arrival of the guests from the second act of Tannhäuser and the entrance of the gods into Valhalla that concludes Das Rheingold.

A second question, of course, is which piece of Wagner’s music would you want played as you enter the museum? Post your choices below. Mine would be the incredibly evocative descent of Wotan and Loge to the Nibelheim in Das Rheingold. This is not because of the depiction of their journey to a deep and faraway place but because the music creates such a thrilling sense of anticipation:

Fred Plotkin will report more fully about Wagner in Dresden in a future article for Operavore.

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Comments [17]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boontgon, NJ

The troubles that tear asunder the prospect of REAL echt WAGNERIAN PERFORMANCESare the total lack of singers with squillo, ping, ringing "juicy', not dry secco , delivery, WAGNERIAN BARKING rather than legato full-throated singing, strained, forced and flat singing, unsupported, undersized and underpowered singing, WITHOUT impressive carrying power and with throaty or nasal ugly voice production. Today's news deals with deficits and declining support for the arts. Tandem to this predicament for the talented is the perception that the current situation will continue for a long time to come. Speaking specifically how this precludes the motivation for young operatic singers who must early on choosing their life's work, many have turned to Broadway or the business world. Nowadays Broadway musicals are out for show-stopping sensationalism with laser distractions, monster sets, acrobatic feats and space age technical projections and featuring dancing over singing. So, for the real thing opera singer, Broadway musicals, outside of Phantom of the Opera and an occasional Les Miserables there is little prospect of a sustainable career. The Wagner oeuvre has suffered the most. Husky physiques, witness the iconic John McCormack, do not offer similar size singing voices in power or stamina. Heroic voices like Melchior, Tamagno, Ruffo and the mature Caruso are nowhere on today's world class stages. Instead we suffer to hear miniscule, non-charismatic, non-distinctively memorable singing voices essaying roles far beyond their underpowered, thin not orotund, singing potentialities.Why has the always controversial political or uniqueness for uniqueness's sake been the overriding context in which the Bayreuth Festival has ALWAYS manifested its presence back to the days when Hanslick then Tschaikovsky and later Verdi found it an unfriendly atmosphere or decried its "lack of melody (sic !)?" The daughters of Wolfgang Wagner like their dad have managed to incur the wrath of others either more conservative or radical in their concepts of the evolving Wagner music drama production values/concepts. It is an eviscerating condition that feeds upon confrontation rather than productive aesthetics.

May. 02 2013 05:17 PM
Chris from Dresden

maybe an interesting aspect for all who limit the discussion about the new Wagner Museum on Wagner's antisemitic behaviour. The exhibition has been planned by Michael Hurshell, artistic director and conductor of the Jüdische Philharmonie Dresden

http://www.juedische-philharmonie-dresden.de/en/pages/conductor-artistic-director.html

The orchestra already performed in the museum.

Jan. 25 2013 07:02 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

TODAY'S AMERICAN VIEW OF "CULTURE" UNFORTUNATELY IS SO GEARED TO THE "POP" CULTURE OF FAST EVERYTHING: FOOD AND FAST SHORT STRONGLY RHYTHMIC, LOUD MUSIC KEYED TO THE YOUNG. MATURE, ADULT AUDIENCES ARE STRIVING TO CONTINUE WITH THE CLASSIC: SYMPHONY ORCHESTRAS, LIEDER AND INSTRUMENT CONCERTS, MUSEUMS AND LIBRARIES, BUT THE FORMER PATRONS ARE LARGELY NO LONGER AROUND OR, CONSIDERING THE SMALL ATTENDANCE AT FORMERLY ENDOWED EVENTS, DO NOT FEEL IT WORTH THEIR FINANCIAL INVOLVEMENT. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor , opera composer, and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. My three websites are www.WagnerOpera.com, www.ShakespeareOpera.com and
www.RichardWagnerMusicDramaInstitute.com, where one may download, free, at RECORDED SELECTIONS, 37 complete selections, "live," from my four solo concerts in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnehgie Hall.

Jan. 17 2013 10:31 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Despite Wagner's anti-semitism it is an indication that one's own personality idiosyncrosies and worse still moral defects does not for many whom regard the exceptional genius of an individual as the prime factor to be considered in viewing or hearing or reading that individual's oeuvre. Famous maestri and one singer who are or were ardent Wagnerians are GUSTAV MAHLER, LEONARD BERNSTEIN, DANIEL BARENBOIM AND GEORGE LONDON. Wagner's father was not the husband of his mother jOHANNA, but LUDWIG GEYER, a friend of the family who was a portrait painter in oils, a composer and a tenor and JEWISH. Wagner's official father was a stage door Johnny who died when the composer Wagner was only a new born babe. GEYER married JOHANNA and the composer child loved GEYER. JOHANNA took GEYER's name so little Richard was Richard Geyer. But at age 13 Richard lost his father GEYER, who died rather young. JOHANNA concerned that the JEWISH name GEYER would severely curb her son's potential in a world hostile to all Jews changed it back to Wagner. The famous story how JOHANNA had taken the one year old child to GEYER, crossing battlefield territory to show him his son is one to justify their love and further indicate the close family relationships. II am a Wagnerian heldentenor, an opera composer, "Shakespeare" and "The Political Shakespeare" and dirctor of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. My websites where one may download my singing in four solo concerts at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall by going to Recorded Selections; www.WagnerOpera.com, www.ShakespeareOpera.com and www.RichardagnerMusicDramaInstitute.com. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor , opera composer, and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute.

Jan. 14 2013 08:15 AM
Fred Keller from South America

I am an Alfred named Fred!!!
And with regard to the music request: Tannhäuser act 2 entry of the guest.

Jan. 13 2013 10:13 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

Which piece of Wagner's music would I want to hear? - I'd go with Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla from Das Rheingold!

Jan. 13 2013 09:55 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

First let me correct an unintentional misnomer in my earlier comments. I meant to sway that Irene's lover's name was Adriano, not what I wrote Adorno. MANY of the greatest perfprmers of Wagner's operas are or were Jewish, including the conductor Wagner himself selected to conduct the premiere performances of PARSIFAL, MAESTRO HERMAN LEVI. Some of the better known Jewish singers, stage directors and conductors: Bruno Walter, James Levine, Alexander Kipnis, Friedrich Schorr, Emanuel List, Frieda Leider, Erich Leinsdorf, Siegfried Jerusalem, Deszo Ernster and Herbert Graf. My own experience is that the today's typical German is NOT anti-semitic. Many are contemptuous of the role of their own ancestors during the Nazi regime. I had a longtime friendship with Friedelinde Wagner who was one of the grandchildren of Wagner, her father being SIegfried Wagner, the only son of the composer. Siegfried himself was a composer and conductor. Unlike his wife Winifred, he was NOT a Nazi. Winifred had supplied Hitler with the paper and pens and finances when he, imprisoned, wrote his seminal MEIN KAMPF. Friedelinde told me how when she, as a child, was placed on Hitler's lap when he visited Bayreuth, she leapt off. After the war, Friedelinde participated in the offstage production of the movie MAGIC FIRE which dealt with WAGNER. I drove Friedelinde in my Nash Ambassador to my performance in the revival of THE MOST HAPPY FELLA. Her comment "that was fine, but it's no opera."

Jan. 13 2013 04:59 PM
Fred Plotkin from Dresden

Funny how almost everyone suddenly is named "Fred" or "Phred." I don't see a whitewashing of Wagner's anti-Semitism. I encounter many Germans who are very candid and upfront about the country's history, more so than anti-Semites in other European countries. Nothing could ever justify the atrocities that took place by the Nazis. Remember that Winifred Wagner was British, not German. Many German Wagner lovers I know are much more willing to acknowledge and address Wagner's anti-Semitism than are non-Wagner fans. It comes with the territory and the Wagner fans know that. Now...do you all want to answer the question I posed about which music you would want to accompany you upon entering this new Wagner museum?

Jan. 12 2013 04:59 PM
Fred #1 from Queens

I, of course, understand that horrible people are capable of producing great art. Wagner is perhaps one of the best examples, but an honest discussion about his life, family, and Bayreuth can not overlook or ignore his impassioned antisemitism. Unlike other great artists and writers Wagner is unique. His place and time in history as a national figure make his rants about the Jews particularly odious. It's also difficult to forget the family's embrace of Hitler and Nazism. (Winifred Wagner, who years later ran Bayreuth passionately adored Hitler.)

If you read Gottfried Wagner's "Twilight of the Wagners", published in 1999, you will learn that antisemitism, Bayreuth, and the Wagner family has continued into modern times.

I am Jewish and do listen to Wagner; I even go to an occasional Wagner opera.

To Chris in Dresden- Don't worry. In 2013, I'm not stereotyping modern Germany. An honest survey, however, of Wagner's life must examine his bigotry and its enormous influence, since that is who Wagner was.

Jan. 12 2013 03:33 PM
Chris from Dresden

Dear Fred #1. The museum expresses the ambiguous character of Wagner and his settlement in his time between revolution and reaction, between Marx and Nationalism. So it does not whietewash Wagner. But you should not blackwash neither Wagner nor all the Germans or everybody who is loves Wagner's music!

Jan. 12 2013 09:57 AM
Phred from UWS

I agree with Fred #1. They should really not attempt to whitewash the ugly side of Wagner in such a museum. That doesn't mean his music can't be appreciated on its own terms, but neither should we just ignore it because it was commonplace to be antisemitic back in those days. Given Germany's past, I'd hope it's more than just a footnote. It's up to the press to hold these institutions accountable.

Jan. 12 2013 07:14 AM
Fred Plotkin from Dresden

For the sake of clarity, I should note that the previous commenter named Fred is not Fred Plotkin. The museum, which is small, is devoted to Wagner's life and times and the operas he produced. It is not about his legacy. In that context, there is some documentation of his writings and ideas. He was, of course, anti-Semitic and that is a hateful aspect of him that is hardly news to anyone who considers him. There were many creative artists in the 19th and 20th centuries who were profoundly anti-Semitic, as that was the cultural and political climate in Europe at the time. Sadly, anti-Semitism is hardly dead today. For that matter, all forms of hatred and discrimination against "the other" (whoever that other might be) are persistent in our world today. I would question only "Fred's" assertion that the Ring Cycle is "ultra-nationalistic." By the way, in my short news article, I did not mention that a whole room is devoted to Wagner's impact on the orchestra. One can listen to many of his works and, with a machine created for the museum, watch different musical instruments "play" as their sounds are heard in the music.

Jan. 12 2013 12:53 AM
Fred

Does the museum educate visitors about Wagner's antisemitism?

From 'The Controversy Over Richard Wagner' by Lili Eylon http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/Wagner.html

While Richard Wagner lived decades before the birth of Nazism, his influence on the National Socialist movement and especially on its leader was enormous. In a tractate, Das Judenthum in der Musik, first published in 1850 under a pseudonym in the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik, Wagner wrote that Jewish music is bereft of all expression, characterized by coldness and indifference, triviality and nonsense. The Jew, he claimed, has no true passion to impel him to artistic creation. The Jewish composer, according to Wagner, makes a confused heap of the forms and styles of all ages and masters. To admit a Jew into the world of art results in pernicious consequences. In Deutsche Kunst und Deutsche Politik, Wagner spoke of the "harmful influence of Jewry on the morality of the nation," adding that the subversive power of Jewry stands in contrast to the German psyche.

All these ideas, together with the ultranationalistic character of his operas, especially "The Ring," provided a fertile feeding ground for Nazi ideology and cultural conception.

Jan. 11 2013 11:56 PM
Scott Rose from Manhattan

I nominate, from Act I, scene iii of Der Fliegende Holländer, Dalland's phrase: Mögst Du, mein Kind, den fremden Mann willkommen heissen!

Jan. 11 2013 11:46 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Although WAGNER had completed the 6 hour composition of his opera RIENZI in September 1840, it took 13 months before it was readied for its October 20, 1842 world premiere.

Jan. 11 2013 06:34 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

FRED, I WOULD CHOOSE THE RIENZI OVERTURE. WAGNER 's RIENZI WAS FIRST PEFORMED IN DRESDEN ON OCTOBER 20TH, 1842. ORIGINALLY IT WAS A 6 HOUR OPERA. MINNA WAGNER COMPLAINED TO HER HUSBAND THAT THE OPERA HE WROTE WAS SO LONG THAT ITS CONCLUSION ALL THE RESTAURANTS WOULD BE CLOSED. HER MAIDEN NAME WAS MINNA PLANER. WISEACRES PUNNED THAT SHE WAS MINNA COMPLAINER. HITLER WAS SO FOND OF THE OPERA THAT HE TOOK THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT OF RIENZI WITH HIM IN THE BUNKER HE OCCUPIED IN BERLIN WHERE HE DIED AND HAD ORDERED THE ENTIRE BUNKER TO BE SET AFIRE AND CONSUMED BY FLAMES. BAD AS LOSING THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT OF RIENZI, IT IS STILL MORE TRAGIC THAT THE PUBLISHER FELT THAT HE HAD TO PRINT ONLY THE EQUIVALENT OF 2 1/2 HOURS OF THE MUSIC, FOR WHO AFTER ITS 6 HOUR VERSION PREMIERE WOULD FIND SINGERS TO DO SO LONG AN OPERA. TWO YEARS AFTER ITS WORLD PREMIERE, WAGNER SHORTENED THE OPERA BY 2 HOURS, PROMPTED TO DO SO BY THE SINGERS AND HIS WIFE MINNA. I HAVE BEEN AT THE SITE OF THE BUNKER AND MUST SAY THAT ITS SIGNIFICANCE WITH THE OPERA IS HITLER'S FATE AS ALIGNED WITH THE BURNING OF RIENZI'S PALACE WITH RIENZI , HIS SISTER IRENE AND ADORNO HER LOVER THAT CLOSES THE OPERA. ON MY OWN FOUR MAIN HALL, ISAAC STERN AUDITORIUM, CARNEGIE HALL SOLO CONCERTS, I HAVE EACH TIME INCLUDED THE FAMOUS GEBET [PRAYER] OF RIENZI. ONE MAY DOWNLOAD IT AT MY WEBSITES: www.WagnerOpera.com, www.ShakespeareOpera.com and www.RichardWagnerMusicDramaInstitute.com. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor , opera composer, and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute.

Jan. 11 2013 06:05 PM
andrew from USA

I choose Tannhauser overture. At my old company, we were expected to stand when it was played on WQXR.

Jan. 11 2013 04:09 PM

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