Richard Wagner and Festival Theatre

By Simon Williams | Go to book overview

Chapter 2 Bohemian in Paris

Wagner's journey to Paris was probably the most frightening experience of his life. The voyage, via London, should, at the height of the summer, have taken a week at most, but the boat encountered a series of storms that put it at the mercy of the elements for over three weeks. The event that stuck most firmly in Wagner's memory was the moment the ship found a brief respite from the storm in the peaceful Norwegian harbor of Sandvika. In the middle of August, the Wagners reached London. There they stayed for a week, trying without success to contact Bulwer-Lytton, the author of Rienzi. Since the London musical world was dormant in summer, they traveled on to Boulogne in France where Meyerbeer was staying.

Wagner was not entirely unknown to Meyerbeer, because he had written to him in 1837, soliciting his patronage for The Ban on Love. Meyerbeer received him in Boulogne, listened to him read the first three acts of Rienzi, and examined the full orchestral score of the first two acts. He gave the younger man a letter of introduction to Charles Edmund Duponchel, the director of the Paris Opéra, so, when Wagner arrived in Paris in the middle of September, he hoped that he would quickly overcome the barriers of privilege and commercial interest that stood between him and a successful career in the Parisian theatre.

He was to be brutally disappointed. Meyerbeer's letter had no effect. Duponchel had no interest in an unknown German composer, nor did the rest of the theatrical and musical world of Paris. Through the good services of Meyerbeer, The Ban on Love was accepted by the Théâtre de la Renaissance in the spring of 1840, but the theatre went bankrupt before

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