November 1, 1885
When Wagner came to Vienna during the winter season of 1876 to hear his Tannhäuser and Lohengrin, 1 first having personally prepared them thoroughly, his statement following the performance of Tannhäuser that his objective as producer had been to make his works intelligible to the public "insofar as the available forces would permit" was felt by the entire press to be offensive. 2
The critical dwarfs with their clever, guileful formulations found this utterance from the mouth of the Titan altogether rude, and so they whined and struck angry attitudes and rushed in closed ranks against the indomitable Wagner (poor wretches), and huffed and puffed and sweated and croaked and generally behaved so comically and oddly in their awful indignation -- the dear little fellows against the all-powerful -- that they seemed, each and every one, to have taken leave of their senses. All hell, as I have said, was let loose by this statement of Wagner's to the public, a statement, moreover, thoroughly called for. Or was Wagner supposed to acknowledge in Herr Labatt3 (of singular memory) an artist uniquely predestined to realize his ideals?
If the performances of Tannhäuser and Lohengrin at that time had a more consecrated character, if they did away, at least, with the most glaring absurdities, it was primarily Wagner's doing, the singers' only insofar as they were either intelligent enough to allow themselves to be taught by him, or bright enough to take his hints, or, finally, talented enough to carry out his instructions. Only Frau Ehnn may well have been numbered among the latter. Still and all, Wagner must have recognized in the "available forces" the obstacle preventing the performance of his works in a degree of perfection that would be possible under more favorable circumstances, and should be possible in a theater of the first rank.
Adequate forces were available, it should be added, to master the new Venusberg music and setting. 4 One could bring off this daring enterprise even today, but to demand effort, time, industry and money from the management of our Court Opera when something serious is afoot would be a far more hazardous venture. And so it's the same old story all over again. Wagner