Wilhelm Guschlbauer Ph.D.
3, Allée des Peupliers
Bures, le 3 october 1995
18 Park Street
London W1Y 4HH
Scott Sullivan's recent tirade against Wagner ("The Lord of the Ring", NEWSWEEK Sept. 25, 1995) is utter rubbish. I had thought that this kind of hostility against Wagner is over since some decades among cultivated persons. All his arguments against Wagner are totally unfounded and have been proven wrong since ages.
Wagner's anti-semitism is just a very tiny - and to my mind, insignificant - aspect of his enormous work. In the "Collected works" (10 volumes, over 3000 pages, edition of 1898), a single article ("Das Judentum in der Musik") of 20 pages deals with the subject, but barely to be called violent. But he wrote also numerous eulogies on Spontini, Spohr, Meyerbeer and Halévy. His anti-semitism never showed up in his works and certainly had not influenced the career of his operas: ever since Wagner's times Jewish conductors, from Hermann Levy, Gustav Mahler, Bruno Walter to Daniel Barenboim and James Levine were ardent Wagnerians. That the Nazis had not understood anything about Wagner in general and the "Ring" in particular, is patent. The "Ring" is a parabola on greed, money, power and its decline, and the struggle of the good against the evil. This highly subversive subject of great actuality has a very pessimistic ending: chaos, just what the Nazis left behind.
I would recommend to Mr. Sullivan the reading of the librettos of some Russian Operas, for instance Moussorgsky's "Khovanchina". Nobody, but the Russians, would dare to play this open, highly nationalistic call for hate uncensored (in this case against the Poles, Lituanians and Germans). Jirinowski has not invented anything! Wagner's text is never aggressive. And Hans Sachs' final scene in the "Meistersinger" only encourages the "German" art, and does not condemn anybody.
Most Wagner operas contain some 3 1/2 to 4 hours of music. So do most of Mozart's: "Le Nozze di Figaro" (always truncated), "Cosi fan tutte" or "Entführung" (never sung completely - no tenor ever sings the 4 murderous arias which Mozart wrote for the poor Belmonte). As for the sopranos, Donizetti's "Anna Bolena", Turandot or Abigail in Verdi's "Nabucco" are as murderous as Brünnhilde or Isolde. Puccini's orchestra is at least as large and powerful (2nd act of "Turandot"!) as Wagner's, not to talk about Mahler, Strauss or Schoenberg's "Gurrelieder".
Why have so many operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini or Meyerbeer not been played except recently? Because they are unsingable! Rossini's "La Donna del Lago", "Ermione" or "Otello" require two and sometimes three first-class tenors! The Wagnerian "heroic tenors" are a recent invention between the two world wars. Wagner wanted his music sung and not screamed. At the turn of the century, Jean de Reszke sang Tristan at the Met and in Paris, but also Faust and Romeo. Leo Slezak in the 20's frequently sang Siegfried, Othello, Tamino (Mozart's "Magic Flute"), Eleazar (Halévy's "La Juive") and a Schubert-Recital in a single week. Wolfgang Windgassen, the Siegfried of the post-war Bayreuthian Wagner Renaissance, was a classical Mozart tenor and continued so till his untimely death (he also sang often Strauss-Operettas!). In this respect the recent Parisian Ring was exemplary: Heinz Kruse, Siegfried in Paris, but also in Hamburg and Strasbourg, sang a few years ago still Pedrillo, the tenor-buffo in Mozart's "Entführung".
Any opera lover wants to hear a "Ring" every few years, as he wants to hear a good "Don Carlos", "Tosca", "Magic Flute" or "Lucia di Lammermoor". To ignore Wagner or hate him, is like brushing van Gogh aside in painting because he painted the sky violet, or call Michelangelo names, because the arms of his Moses are too long.
A little bit more restraint and knowledgeable reporting would help. Pamphlets and tirades have no place in artistic matters and certainly not in a respectable news magazine.
Wilhelm Guschlbauer, Ph.D.