Saturday, 22 February 2014

Faber Pocket Guide to Wagner, by Michael Tanner

Why I read it: Although I didn't have the sitting capacity to sit through the 16 hours of opera in 4 days that an entire Ring Cycle would demand, I did manage to see Die Walkure in Amsterdam this month and thought I should have at least some idea of what I was watching.

Podcasts: There are many on Wagner, mostly focusing on whether his racism led to Nazism, but none on this book specifically.

Brow: People think that opera is intimidatingly high-brow because it's mostly in a foreign language, but actually the plots are quite simple, and frankly goofy, and that, in combination with the costumes, set and the fact that a character will often take 25 minutes to die on stage, makes it more kitsch than high art. Nonetheless, as long as it retains its reputation as being an expensive, difficult art form reserved for the moneyed set, it will remain in its rarefied brow ranking.

Summary: The book starts with a short biography of Wagner, a notoriously difficult man, then analyses his operas, then finally deals with his antisemitism and whether it led to the Holocaust.

But should you read it? It's the Wagner 200 year, and so you can expect to see a lot of advertisements for his operas, especially since, racism or no, it's the one way opera houses can guarantee they will sell out for at least a few nights. If those adverts do arouse your curiosity, by all means buy this book so you'll have some idea of what you're watching and the fevered, brilliant, temperamental (he hated France nearly as much as he hated Jews, for not liking his operas) mind it sprang from.

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