UK's Glyndebourne fest stages tainted Wagner opera

Fri May 20, 2011 8:55am EDT
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By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - The founder of Britain's Glyndebourne festival loved Wagner and performed excerpts from "Die Meistersinger" on the organ, but that was before the Nazis adopted the composer's longest opera as their signature piece.

On Saturday, in its first production of "Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg" and only second Wagner opera, Glyndebourne will attempt to show that a work used to stir up nationalism and anti-Semitism by the Third Reich is fitting musical fare for its well-heeled patrons, fortified for the seven-hour journey with lobster tail and rack of lamb during a long interval.

"I don't think Wagner was imparting ideas which were outspokenly fascist," conductor Vladimir Jurowski, who will lead the performance, said, confronting the issue head on.

"The fact that they (Wagner's operas) have been abused by the Nazis later on only says something about the ambiguity of Wagner's ideas," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Everyone associated with the production, staged by the world-renowned director David McVicar, is aware that a lot is riding on the artistic, as well as financial, success of what is probably the most expensive and ambitious opera produced at Glyndebourne since it was founded in 1934 by wealthy landowner John Christie and his opera-singer wife.

Although details of the staging, as is usual in these affairs, have been kept under wraps, it is known that the historical period of Wagner's tale about a song contest sponsored by an opera guild in 16th-century Nuremberg has been moved to Wagner's time, the 19th century.

In addition to the soloists, there will be some 140 people on stage, including circus performers, a full orchestra in the pit and a chorus of about 90.

These are big -- and costly -- forces for the Glyndebourne Opera Festival, which gets all its funding from sponsors and ticket sales, but the fact that all 10 performances of an opera which begins just before 3 p.m. and, with two intervals, ends almost seven hours later, are sold out is music to the ears of general director David Pickard.   Continued...