Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Richard Wagner at 200

Today, May 22, we celebrate the birth of Richard Wagner.  The composer was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1813, 200 years ago today.  But how do we celebrate the birth of such an important person in history? And why does today not feel any different? It seems to me that audiences have not stopped celebrating him, his incredible life, and his amazing artistic legacy. It has been a celebration that has lasted for 200 years, and fortunately promises to continue for 200 more.

I read somewhere that Richard Wagner is the most discussed historical person after Jesus Christ. This might be so. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of books have been written about his life, his controversial views, and his love affairs. Of course, there are also his thirteen operas. More books have been written about them. From among all the music that he wrote, in a lifetime of composing, these are the works that placed him in the pantheon of the immortals; and out of these, normally only ten are performed. Not a very good record when we compare his output to that of the other composer with whom he shares the same year of birth -- Giuseppe Verdi. The Italian master was prodigious in his writing, often finishing a work in a matter of weeks during his early and middle periods. Wagner often took years to finish a project. The Ring of the Nibelung took more than twenty. It's hard to be a fast worker when you are modernizing and revolutionizing 19th century theater. Of Verdi's thirty completed operas, more than half are in the repertory of most opera houses. For their 2013-2014 season, the Metropolitan Opera will perform two works by Verdi (surprisingly few) and not a one by Wagner -- not surprising and understandable. It seems that no opera house can survive a season without mounting at least one work by Verdi, but Wagner is a little more problematic. His music dramas are a little more expensive to put on, and a little harder to cast. Perhaps this is why a performance of a Wagner work is such a special event. It takes a little extra effort to set it up and get through it. But, in return, what amazing things it gives you back.

I suppose that the best way to celebrate his work, his life, and his legacy is to continue celebrating him the way we have all these years. My wishes on this bicentennial are the following: May Bayreuth always continue to mount his works, and may all the other opera houses in the world follow suit. May the powers-that-be nurture the kind of voices needed to fill the great roles that he created. And may producers, and anyone responsible for Wagner productions around the world, always remember that his music and words are sacrosanct, and that they should be treated with respect.

Happy Birthday, Maestro! Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag!


Elizabeth said...

I like your last paragraph! Wagner has had a lasting impact on my life (I wrote a Wagner music story about it : )

Piano Music said...

Wagner's music and efforts will never be forgotten! Piano sheet music