Let the Truth Be Heard!
By Carol Jean Delmar
The most stunning observation I made after attending the symposium on Richard Wagner’s music and anti-Semitism at the American Jewish University on June 6 was that the event garnered very little press attention; there were empty seats; and James Conlon, who had so outspokenly voiced his arguable opinions on Wagner’s anti-Semitism at the Wiesenthal Center, uttered not one controversial comment at the AJU. The LA Times generated at least five stories over the course of the next few days, but to my knowledge, failed to print one on the lecture to date, which featured testimony by the great-grandson of Richard Wagner who substantiated claims that his family had been embroiled in Nazism.
To better understand the significance of my observations, I will list the two points of view on Wagner, his art and anti-Semitism that have been widely communicated and publicized by LA Opera, one view which takes a middle ground, and the two views that have been suppressed to better promote the “Ring” festival.
— No. 1 (widely communicated, much of it by LA Opera’s music director James Conlon who has been lecturing throughout the county):
Wagner was a great artist. Wagner was a racist. You can separate the two and honor the artist. The characters in his operas were not Jewish caricatures. Hans Sachs’s final aria in “Die Meistersinger” had nothing to do with German supremacy. There is no anti-Semitism in his music and dramas. Wagner would have despised Adolf Hitler. His music had nothing to do with the Nazi regime. Hitler hijacked and used Wagner’s music. There is no link between Wagner and the fact that most of his family members became Nazis and failed to apologize for his behavior. Wagner was an anti-Semite just like many other artists of his generation. He did not wish for the destruction of the Jews. He just wanted them to go away. Ring Festival LA is patterned after the festivals in Bayreuth.
— No. 2 (widely communicated):
All of the above with variations; however Wagner might have embraced Hitler and become a Nazi. We do not know how involved he would have become with the Third Reich. His music was the soundtrack of the Holocaust.
— No. 3 (mentioned as a middle ground):
Wagner was a great artist. Wagner was a racist. You can separate the two and honor the artist for his music. But Wagner’s political philosophies can be found in his works. Some of his characters have the physical characteristics and vocal mannerisms of what Wagner saw in Jews. Hans Sachs does sing about German purity in art. There is anti-Semitism in Wagner’s music and dramas, so the man and his art do harmonize and combine to create “Gesamtkunstwerk” or total works of art. Wagner might have enjoyed being part of Hitler’s entourage. His music was the soundtrack for the Holocaust. His family members heeded his philosophies and became Nazis. Wagner just wanted the Jews to go away.
— No. 4 (mentioned but mostly concealed):
All of the above except that Wagner’s “great solution” paved the way for Hitler’s “Final Solution.” His influence on Hitler through his essays and music made him a singular anti-Semitic personality and the forerunner of the Holocaust. He wanted a world free of Jews and wrote that he wished for their destruction. But still, the No. 4 person is able to celebrate and honor Wagner for his music.
— No. 5 (concealed and suppressed – would detract from ticket sales and promotion of the 115-event LA Bayreuth festival):
Wagner was a great artist or Wagner wasn’t a great artist. You can appreciate his art or not appreciate his art. Wagner was a racist. You cannot separate the man from his art. He created characters to resemble his bigoted perception of Jews. Hans Sachs’s final aria is about German supremacy. There is anti-Semitism in Wagner’s art. He would have been flattered to have had close ties with Hitler and to know that his music was revered as the soundtrack of the Holocaust. It was only natural for his family members to have been influenced by his philosophies and subsequently become Nazis. Wagner wrote about the “Jewish Question” (“Know Thyself”) and wanted the destruction of the Jews (“Judaism in Music”). Wagner’s “great solution . . . there [will] be no longer any Jews” (from “Know Thyself”) paved the way for Hitler’s “Final Solution.” His moral indiscretions and racism have made it unthinkable to celebrate him as the sole honoree of a massive arts festival. Patterning a festival after the Bayreuth Festival is an abominable analogy in light of the fact that a cloud hangs over Bayreuth due to the Wagner family’s Nazi past, Hitler’s presence at Bayreuth, his relationship with Wagner’s daughter-in-law Winifred, Wagner’s daughter’s marriage to Houston Stewart Chamberlain, his grandson’s position as a leader of the Flossenbürg concentration camp, etc. Bayreuth was conceived as a shrine to Wagner’s music and fanatical politics. His behavior cannot be covered up or disregarded. No apologies or excuses for him are warranted. He was the forerunner of the Holocaust. His immorality supersedes his art.
So why do I mention these various depictions which may seem a bit redundant and boring? I mention them because LA Opera and its followers have spent the greater part of a year drilling into the public that Ring Festival LA is justified because you can separate the man from his art, celebrate him as an artist and forget all of the other essentials which LA Opera either hides, denies or excuses. The first two illustrations have made everything feasible for LA Opera. The company labels Wagner an anti-Semite, yet still celebrates him, and the public receives a slanted education on his music and racism.
The third illustration is far superior to the previous two. It takes a middle position and for the most part would probably coincide with Marc Weiner’s analyses. Weiner, a professor of Germanic Studies at Indiana University and the highly acclaimed author of “Richard Wagner and the Anti-Semitic Imagination,” was the keynote speaker. He is known for spelling out the physical and vocal Jewish traits in Wagner’s characters. Yet here is a man who still relishes hearing Wagner’s music and would argue in favor of the “Ring” festival. Alas, people like me are glad that he is around to dispel the advocates of No. 1, but he savors the music too much to allow Wagner’s immoral traits to interfere with his guilt-free pleasure. He therefore has the ability to mingle and be accepted by the No. 1 Wagnerians while still being accepted by the non-Wagnerians who fit into Nos. 4 and 5. At the very least, I hope that he is able to lure the No. 1’s into the No. 3 category. Every little bit helps.
The last two categories are the hidden and suppressed positions. Peter Gimpel, the heckler at the Wiesenthal Center, could not tolerate the No. 1 position because his views coincide more closely with No. 5, and he knows that the evidence exists to refute No. 1. LA Opera leaders are aware of the data, but they continue to communicate No. 1 and suppress No. 5. The public has been educated with inaccurate information and is therefore unable to draw the proper conclusions. So Gimpel, a scholarly independent publisher of Judaica, became excited and attempted to be heard.
I too am in the No. 5 camp and do not believe as E. Randol Schoenberg was portrayed by the afternoon moderator per an article in the Jewish Journal – that the Jews should “get over it” and appreciate Wagner alone for his music. How can anyone get over Wagner, who philosophized by ranting repeatedly in his essays for the annihilation of the Jews?
The symposium at the American Jewish University could have exposed the LA Opera charade, but the LA Times, which is a sponsor of the festival, did not write a story after the event thus far. There is still time. Only the Jewish Journal, another sponsor of the festival, briefly touched upon the issues. I also did not see Eli Broad or Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in the auditorium. I was hoping that this lecture would stimulate their thought processes.
James Conlon, who fits most clearly into the No. 1 category and represents LA Opera as its music director, seemed to fear the exposure. After all, Marc Weiner had disproved some of his Wagnerian abstractions in the morning. And Gottfried Wagner would be able to invalidate other Conlonisms after he left. Please see my post on “James Conlon at the Wiesenthal Center.”
He appeared ill-at-ease, seemed more humble than usual and even a little insecure. He did not offer any of his Wagnerian opinions and spent his few minutes praising LA Opera for “its coming of age” which he called its “Bar Mitzvah.” The Sigi Ziering Institute, which was named after Marilyn Ziering’s late husband, sponsored the symposium, and Conlon thanked her for her support. Ziering gave $3.5 million to initiate LA Opera’s “Recovered Voices” project. Conlon said no more and departed for his pre-performance lecture at the Music Center followed by his conducting gig of the final opera in the first cycle, “Götterdämmerung.”
Conlon had played it safe. It was a smart move, I thought. Maybe he’s learning.
Next it was Gottfried Wagner’s turn to speak. The renowned musicologist and multimedia director slipped into Los Angeles from Milan without fanfare. Wagner, the author of “Twilight of the Wagners: The Unveiling of a Family’s Legacy,” was ostracized by his family for disclosing its secrets and ties to the Third Reich. How dare he expose evidence that the family had attempted to hide. How dare he be courageous and moral. How dare he reveal what Bayreuth really represented, even after the family’s supposed de-Nazification.
Gottfried Wagner continues to set the record straight today. Always on the side of the Jews, he stopped off on Shabbos to mingle with congregants at a local temple. His welcoming to LA was tepid. The Los Angeles powers wondered what he would say. The answer is that he offered a variation of what he maintained in the Tony Palmer documentary shown at UCLA a few weeks earlier, but this presentation was live in LA.
He made his points convincingly with artwork and projections. He spoke of the old Bayreuth and the Bayreuth after 1945. He commented about his great-grandfather’s obsession with the “superiority of the German race,” linked Alberich and Mime to “dark Jewish figures,” referred to Richard Wagner’s hope that Germany would “be free of Jews” (from his essays “Hero-dom and Christendom” and “Know Thyself”), commented about Cosima’s “Diaries” and fascist Winston Stewart Chamberlain’s marriage to his great-grandfather’s daughter Eva, pointed to Wieland Wagner’s role as a leader of the Flossenbürg concentration camp, and addressed the differences between Wagner and other anti-Semitic artists, to show that his great-grandfather’s brand of anti-Semitism was unique and paved the way for Hitler.
He endured rude comments from speaker Sander Gilman during the roundtable discussion, who didn’t stay on topic and attacked him on a personal level in an unstatesmanly fashion. The audience was on Gottfried Wagner’s side; and when the lecture was over, people congregated onstage to talk to him. After all, who could be more credible in substantiating the truths about the Wagner family than a member of the family?
There is no way to determine in which category Gottfried Wagner would want to be included. His views might be a mixture of the final three.
Gottfried Wagner is an independent thinker who evaluates his great-grandfather’s music and genius realistically without excusing him or his family for their failings. He believes that his great-grandfather created total works of art which integrated his racist intent into the body of the compositions and dramas.
Aware of the controversies surrounding LA Opera’s festival and “Ring” production, Gottfried Wagner came to LA to communicate his singular message without regard to the strife. On the Monday after the symposium, he boarded a plane back to Milan just as he had arrived the previous Thursday – quietly and without fanfare. His presence in LA has still made a difference.