Glyndebourne lifts Wagner opera from Nazi taint

Mon May 23, 2011 9:57am EDT
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By Jonathan Lynn

GLYNDEBOURNE, England (Reuters) - A new production of "Die Meistersinger" at the Glyndebourne festival sets aside the Nazi associations of Wagner's controversial opera to focus on its timeless story of art and love.

The idea of mounting Richard Wagner's five-hour drama at Glyndebourne -- the original and for many the ultimate country-house summer opera festival, where the champagne picnic in the stately gardens is as much part of the evening as the music -- struck some as incongruous.

But John Christie, who founded the festival at his house in 1934, always wanted to put on Wagner, and had organised a small private performance of part of Meistersinger six years earlier.

And the standing ovations garnered by director David McVicar and baritone Gerald Finley when Glyndebourne opened its 2011 season with its new staging of Die Meistersinger on Saturday showed just how popular it could be.

Die Meistersinger -- only the second Wagner opera to be put on at Glyndebourne -- is not only the longest but also the warmest and most humorous of the German composer's pieces.

But its final scene, with calls to honor German art and rid German culture of foreign influences, were exploited by Hitler's Nazis to back their nationalist and anti-Semitic policies.

Other recent productions too have sought to turn their back on these associations.

In McVicar's staging of the closing scene, with its procession of town guilds and singers, takes place in a good-natured, carnival atmosphere, recalling nothing more sinister in comparison to the mood in the "Lord of the Rings" film when the hobbits celebrate Bilbo Baggins's 111th birthday.   Continued...