Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Miriam Gross

Magazine article The Spectator

Diary: Miriam Gross

Article excerpt

Last week I went to the exhilarating English National Opera production of Wagner's The Mastersingers -- five hours of wonderful music and singing whizzed by without a moment's boredom. But there was one odd and perturbing factor, I thought. In place of a curtain, there was a huge 'frontcloth'. It was covered with a collage of 103 faces of well-known artists. These same faces appeared again, during the finale, this time in the form of portraits held aloft by members of the cast. They included Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig, Sigmund Freud, Kurt Weill, Billy Wilder, Richard Tauber, Oskar Kokoschka, Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil, Lotte Lenya, Max Ernst, Marlene Dietrich. According to the opera's director, Richard Jones, interviewed in the programme notes, they were all Germans. What was not mentioned was that these 'Germans' had all been hounded out of Germany, most of them because they were Jewish, others because of their 'degenerate art'. All adopted other nationalities. Jones admits that these people may not have wished to be included in his 'frontcloth', and indeed that Wagner himself would have been 'disinclined to them' [sic]. But they were, he says, like the opera's protagonist, 'rule-breakers and makers of new rules' and therefore should be seen as representing 'the dynamic that's at the heart of the opera'. This may in one sense be true, but it completely glosses over the uncomfortable facts of history, both personal and public. The Mastersingers is, among other things, a work which explicitly celebrates the Germanness of German art, warning against foreign influences. I'm sure that Richard Jones had the best of intentions, but to hijack these artists, putting them into a context where they are seen, as it were, singing along with the notoriously anti-Semitic Wagner (whose views had considerable influence on Hitler) seems to me to be in questionable taste.

The other day a friend of mine went to the library at the London School of Economics to search for a government white paper. It was early afternoon, but when she entered the huge state-of-the-art space she was astonished -- it was just like walking into a large airport on a night when all flights had been cancelled. Students -- those not working on computers -- were slumped and sleeping all over the place, mainly on the numerous bean bags provided by the library for the purpose, presumably, of reading in comfort. …

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