Wagner's Theatrical Legacy
[Your music] possesses greatness, and it makes one experience greatness. I have encountered everywhere in your works the solemnity of the great sounds, the great aspects of nature, and the solemnity of the great passions of man. One feels himself immediately carried away and subjugated. . . . I felt all the majesty of a life that is more ample than our own. . . . Throughout, there is something exalted and exalting, something aspiring to mount higher, something excessive. 1
These words, written by Charles Baudelaire to Wagner after the French poet had heard one of the 1860 concerts in Paris, describe accurately the paradoxical appeal of Wagner's work. Like most successful opera, it exhilarates, leading us perhaps "to think ourselves greater than we are." 2 At the same time, as those who have sat through an uncut performance of Twilight of the Gods may testify, Wagner's music can also leave one with the strangely morbid feeling of having been buried beneath a mountain of sound. Wagner excites and exhausts to greater extremes than any other classic composer or dramatist. No doubt this is partially the reason for the fascination that his work has consistently exercised on subsequent generations. Given the growing popularity of opera in contemporary Europe and America, there is no sign, over one hundred years after his death, that this fascination is abating.
Few artists in turn-of-the-century Europe, regardless of the medium in which they worked, could escape his influence. Giacomo Puccini, who