Performing the “Ring&rdquo
WHAT are we to do about Richard Wagner? Nothing in the years since his death in 1883 has succeeded in mitigating the essential unpleasantness of his personality. Indeed, few men in the history of art can have been so unfortunate in so many of their admirers; few can have had a world outlook of such unparalleled evil erected in the image of their ideas of art and life. Whatever else Wagner was, the Nazis found a hero in him. And whatever else he was, this worshipper of power wherever he found it remains one of the famous anti-Semites of history.
It thus might have been thought that Wagner-man and artist alike-would have forever lain entombed in the ruins of Hitler’s Valhalla. But on the contrary, admiration for Wagner’s art, which even during the darkest days of World War II had not been completely extinguished among Germany’s Western enemies, began a steady rise after 1945. The first sign of this popularity was the worldwide interest in the reopening of the Bayreuth Festival in 1951, devoted as always to the performance of Wagner’s ten major operas. The 1951 festival, which featured a revolutionary staging by the composer’s grandson, Wieland Wagner, of both Parsifal and Der Ring des Nibelungen, has now been folowed by the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the founding of the festival in 1876. Since Bayreuth was established as a stage for the presentation of the Ring, it is only fitting that the centennial season should have presented still another controversial production of that cycle, this time by the young French director, Patrice Chereau.
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