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Opera meets politics in L.A. dust-up over Wagner

July 22, 2009

In the latest controversy over the operas of Richard Wagner , the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has voted to support a production of the composer’s “Ring,” but said that his anti-Jewish views would not be glossed over.wagner-opera

The question over the performance by the L.A. Opera, scheduled for next year in conjunction with a related festival, generated heated debate among the supervisors, who govern an area with a population of more than 10 million residents.

Supervisor Michael Antonovich argued it was “impossible” to separate Wagner the man from his music and that his ”music and racist writings inspired and then became the de facto soundtrack for the Holocaust.”

Stephen Rountree, chief operating officer of the L.A. Opera, countered that “the festival is not about Richard Wagner; it is about music and art in L.A.” 

In the end, the Board of Supervisors voted to approve a proposal from Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who is Jewish, to support the L.A. Opera’s planned production. Yaroslavsky said that Wagner, whose best known composition is “The Ride of the Valkyries,” has been “rightly reviled” for his racist views.

wagner-opera2Wagner lived in the 19th century, before the rise of Nazism in Germany, but his anti-Jewish writings and his ideas influenced Nazi leaders who seized power in 1933 under Adolf Hitler. In Israel, Wagner’s music is not performed because of his association with the Nazis. David Stern, the musical director of the Israeli Opera, said last year that he will uphold the ban on Wagner’s work in the Jewish state. 

“I don’t think it’s such a great loss to Israeli audiences,” Stern was quoted in Israeli newspaper Haaretz. “I still conduct Wagner in other places around the world, but there are many other things that are worthwhile to conduct here.”

Photos: Opera singers perform during a dress rehearsal of a Wagner opera in Vienna (Reuters/Leonhard Foeger)


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