Wagner's Operas and Desire

Wagner's Operas and Desire

Wagner's Operas and Desire

Wagner's Operas and Desire

Synopsis

"Wagner audiences are especially challenged to fathom the meaning of his operas, for there is much mystery as to just what they depict. This study attempts to meet that challenge for the ten operas - from The Flying Dutchman to Parsifal - that Wagner considered to embody his particular poetic genius and which indeed continue to be regularly performed. The texts of the ten works are examined with special attention to the role of erotic passion, a subject usually relegated to secondary importance in Wagner criticism." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

Wagner's operas continue to be part of the classical opera repertoire a century and a half after his first theatrical success in Dresden in the 1840s. Wagner today can be experienced not only on the stage, but occasionally also on public television and often heard on public radio. The persistent interest in Wagner is unthinkable without the music; but this enthusiasm is equally inconceivable without his poetic texts, which he wrote himself.

Opera audiences are not accustomed to giving a great deal of thought to the meaning of the libretti. Yet enthusiasm for operatic music in general is usually not unrelated to some sense of the poetic nature of the action. Wagner audiences are especially challenged to fathom the operas' meaning, for there is much mystery as to just what is being depicted. This study attempts to meet that challenge for each of the ten operas--from The Flying Dutchman to Parsifal--that Wagner considered to embody his particular poetic genius and which indeed continue to be regularly performed.

Partly as a result of my study of the fantastic tales of the German Romantic E. T. A. Hoffmann I became interested in the question of what Wagner was depicting in his operas. Hoffmann, like Wagner, was a poetic author as well as a composer and conductor. My investigations of Hoffmann's works indicated that his stories revolved around erotic passion. I suspected that the same might hold true for Wagner. In this study, each of Wagner's operas from The Flying Dutchman to Parsifal is therefore examined closely with regard to this issue.

Passages from the operas are given in German, because Wagner is usually sung in this country in the original. Quotations from Wagner's writings and correspondence and from secondary sources are rendered in English, or paraphrased. Except as otherwise indicated, these and all other translations are my own. The edition used for the libretti is in each case that of the German publisher Reclam, because those inexpensive paperback volumes are readily accessible to the general educated public and to students. There indeed being no authoritative, historical-critical edition of Wagner's writings per se, I have used for his works other than the ten opera texts the 1983 Insel edition of the Dichtungen und Schriften edited by Dieter Borchmeyer, since that edition is the one most likely to be available in academic libraries or still available for purchase.

I am grateful to the interlibrary loan service of the University of Illinois Library for locating items not available there, and to István Gombocz for helping me identify and secure the secondary sources consulted, as well as to the Research Board of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for the grant that made his service as my graduate assistant possible.

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