A further installment of my mini reviews of talks presented at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentenary symposium at the Univ. of South Carolina:
"Saar Magal's 'Hacking Wagner' ": Olaf Schmitt of the Bavarian State Opera, Munich
Saar Magal is an Israeli choreographer who doesn't think Wagner should be banned in Israel. There is a need both to challenge the notion of Wagner's quasi-religious atmosphere, and also to challenge the ban on his works in Israel.
Schmitt asks: Is there anti-Semitism in Wagner's music? Can music be polluted?
Schmitt notes that there is now an Israeli Wagner society.
Referencing interviews from a documentary, Schmitt recorded one interviewee saying that for Israelis, Mahler is a substitute for Wagner. Zubin Mehta stated that we must wait for another generation to pass before performing Wagner might become acceptable in Israel. Another interviewee stated that he will not accept this ban even from Holocaust victims, because such a ban constitutes a dictatorship. He asks why anyone should wait for all the survivors to pass away prior to lifting the ban. Ascher Fisch noted that Israel is accepting German military hardware. Why then, he asks, is Wagner banned? Another interviewee complained that Wagner wrote himself into his artworks, and that he's an egotist.
Schmitt spoke of how the fraught history of Wagner's reception in Israel, and Wagner's anti-Semitism, is being dealt with in current performance arts. As an example, a dancer performed the role of a suicide bomber whose movements cause Wagner themes to play. The audience's chairs were thrown into a pile while Nibelung music played in the background. This made the audience uncomfortable, but involved. Some performers drive in a Volkswagon listening to Wagner's music. Schmitt cites the irony that Volkswagons can be bought all over Israel. He asks: are Israelis afraid they'll like Wagner?
Wagner's notorious essay "Judaism in Music" was employed in this performance art show. While the "Tannhaeuser" Overture played dancers approach audience members with gestures of humiliation. A speaker reads Wagner's 'Untergang' philosophically, not literally. Schmitt suggested that the Fate Motif from the "Ring," and spoke also of the "Todesverkundigung" Motif in this connection [PH: They are introduced in conjunction in V.2.4, as Siegmund, holding the sleeping Sieglinde, sees Bruennhilde, angel of death, approach]
Q&A: Nicholas Vaszonyi asked: what was the intent of the performance? Schmitt answered it was to show how deep and brutal this connection between art and fascism was. It was to put this issue on the table, not to judge.
Someone asked: What is the future of this project? Schmitt stated that this performance art piece has not yet been performed in Israel. But Naami Sheffi wants it done in Israel.
Someone asked: Why did the creators of this performance art piece add a techno beat to the Nibelung [Forging] Motif? Somehow or other PH was unable to record Schmitt's reply.
PH: This is another surreal example of the degree to which folks around the world are performing triple somersaults in the air to try and cope with the disturbing proposition that Wagner could be both a signal influence on the anti-Semitism which motivated the Third Reich [this of course is not the same as saying that he would necessarily have supported the Third Reich], and the creator of such a sublime, world-historical art. I have certainly never resolved this issue either; for me, knowing Wagner fairly intimately as a thinker as I do, it still astonishes me that someone so instinctively given to challenging received wisdom in all areas would so easily subscribe to one of the most thoughtless prejudices ever conceived by human beings, but there it is! Who knows???
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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