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Why Wagner?

Rainer Traube / alsSeptember 25, 2012

Richard Wagner: composer and conductor, stage director and author, philosopher and playwright. Once a devoted revolutionary, later a professed anti-Semite. Wagner: a deeply German heritage as well.

Portrait of Richard Wagner Copyright: ddp images/AP Photo/Trinquart, file
Portrait of Richard WagnerImage: dapd

Yet another anniversary. And a whole page on dw.de, a whole year long, devoted only to Richard Wagner. Couldn't we just think small this time?

No way. Wagner is truly one of the biggest and best: a composer and conductor, director and writer, philosopher and dramatist. But like all major figures, he is one of the most controversial and continues, even to this day, to evoke everything from blind devotion to radical rejection. Mainly, however, it's because his artistic work has been so momentous. "Epochal" is the way historian Thomas Nipperdey described Wagner, an Earth-shaker and music innovator of Bayreuth's famed Green Hill. Wagner was the originator of a new form of opera and even during his own lifetime he was considered an ambassador of the period.

Wide view of the famous Bayreuth Festival Theater inside Copyright: David Ebener dpa/lby
The famous Bayreuth Festival TheaterImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The golden thread through the Wagner universe

The 200th anniversary of the composer's birth will be the golden thread running through the cultural events of 2013. "Lohengrin," "The Flying Dutchman" and "Parsifal" will be on concert programs around the world to celebrate this special occasion. But the highlight will be the composer's "Ring of the Nibelung" masterpiece - a four-part saga about the downfall of the gods.

A portrait of Richard Wagner, 1842
A portrait of Richard Wagner, 1842Image: picture-alliance/akg-images

Late 2012 already brought one unique "Ring" performance at the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires - "rescued" at the last minute by director Valentina Carrasco. Filmmaker Hans Christoph von Bock accompanied the artists involved for months ahead of the work's premiere, resulting in a moving DW documentary.

Of course this performance represents just one of many highlights. Who will put on the best "Ring" in 2013? What are the inner workings of Bayreuth's Festival Hall on the Green Hill? Why does Wagner remain taboo in Israel? What lessons can "Parsifal" and "Tannhäuser" still teach us today? You'll find answers to these questions, more stories and all sorts of background information on this Web page - right up until next summer, when Bayreuth will be celebrating Wagner's 200th birthday by bringing a new "Ring" to the stage.

Truths and contradictions

Richard Wagner's great-granddaughter, Katharina Wagner Copyright: Paul Zinken/dapd
Richard Wagner's great-granddaughter, Katharina WagnerImage: dapd

Young Wagner: romantic rebel. Adult Wagner: resolute revolutionary. The image of an anti-Semite foaming at the mouth is the predominant description of the late Wagner. Those who delve into the subject of Wagner more deeply must come to terms with these truths and contradictions. One must also confront the Nazis' appropriation of Wagner and his work after his death, which was energetically encouraged by his family. Overall, Richard Wagner has a profoundly German legacy - a legacy DW will continue exploring on its Wagner200 and Colón Ring pages in 2013.

Welcome to the Wagner Universe!