Here's Paul Heise's review of "Wagner and Wilhelmine Schroeder-Devrient," a talk Anno Mungen (Univ. of Bayreuth) presented at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina in the winter of 2013:
Mungen tells us that Wilhelmine Schroeder-Devrient was the woman who most influenced Wagner. She had a strong personality and masculine features, as well as feminine seductiveness, and had natural singing and performative abilities. She was a virtual genius of performance.
Mungen outlined three themes:
1. The female singer as a working woman
2. The singer's body
3. Wagner's Venus
Mungen stated that the so-called memoirs of WSD are fake, a virtual porno-novel from the 1860's. The writer added her name to increase sales. But there was a link between the world of the theater and the world of prostitution. WSD was open to sex, and had a lot of lovers. Her last husband was 14 years her junior. She kept up her professional singing career after her marriage, and was a very public figure, on to whom many projected their fantasies.
Wagner was influenced in his youth by the Young Germany movement and liberating novels which featured free love and sex. "Ardinghello" is an example.
WSD's singing voice made the experience of her in performance physical and sensual. Among other composers whose roles she performed was Meyerbeer. Her characterizations were strong and dominant.
Titian's painting the "Venus of Urbino" was a model for Wagner's conception of his Venus from "Tannhaeuser," a role WSD created. In fact, Wagner may well have written it for her.
Question: WSD's voice was sometimes out of control and unbeautiful, but she was an electrifying actress [PH: one thinks here of Callas's reputation].
Answer: There was a huge interest in gender construction in the 19th Century theater and opera-house. WSD had a huge expressive range and speaking voice, and was also a coloratura. She did a lot of trouser roles. She invented the German way of singing, but also performed the Italian repertoire. Given her professional life she was not able to care for her children.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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