Wagner’s music: Better than it sounds?
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Wagner’s music: Better than it sounds?

A zillion years ago, when our sons were young, my husband and I took turns bringing them to the opera. On one occasion, it was my turn to bring our elder son, Bram, and the opera on the program was Richard Wagner’s “Parsifal.”

I had read Wolfram von Eschenbach’s “Parsifal” in a medieval literature class in graduate school but had never heard the opera – nor was I aware, at that time, of Wagner’s anti-Semitism. Bram and I were startled to encounter, on the streets leading to the Met, protesters bearing signs and placards – and shouting to passers-by to boycott the opera. Some of the signs read “Hitler’s favorite composer.”

At any rate, I could not see how not attending the opera could punish Wagner, who was long dead, and we pushed past the protesters and went in.

We did not stay long. After the second act, I think it was, we turned to each other and decided to leave – not in moral protest but (sorry, music lovers) in utter boredom.

A week or so ago, I mentioned to my now-grown son that I was having trouble falling asleep. “Why don’t you listen to “Parsifal?” he said.

Meanwhile, my alma mater, Bard College, is calling its music festival this summer “Wagner and His World.” Rather than a worshipful rendition of what might be called Wagner’s Greatest Hits, it will include a performance of an opera by the Jewish composer Giacomo Meyerbeer and panel discussions that I am sure will cover Wagner’s sometimes baleful influence. I am eager to attend the discussions and the Meyerbeer, at least.

Mark Twain had some memorable comments about Wagner’s music. He said it was better than it sounds – and that he hadn’t heard anything like it since the orphan asylum burned down.

RKB

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