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From Seattle to Australia, and across Europe, Wagner compositions from the “Ring” with its Valkyrie cry “hojotoho”, to the romantic “Tristan und Isolde” which provides the soundtrack for the world’s end in Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia”, draw audiences of all ages.
“It gives a higher feeling, you get goose bumps,” artist-photographer Christopher Gemenig, 27, a stud in his lower lip, said recently during the interval of Wagner’s swan-knight opera “Lohengrin” at the Dresden Semperoper.
Gemenig, and his companion Mia Mueller, whose flame-red hair bolstered their resemblance to Wagner’s doomed lovers Tristan and the Irish princess Isolde, acknowledged that despite Wagner having joined ranks with anarchists in a failed revolution in mid-19th century Dresden, the taint of Hitler ran deep.
“Hitler liked the music and all that Hitler likes is evil. I think that’s a curse of Wagner,” said Gemenig, whose favourite bit is the overture to “Gotterdammerung”. “But I think this is not a problem for me, and for many people it also is not.”
As they have every year since 1990, Germany’s first couple, Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband, quantum chemist Joachim Sauer, will attend the summer festival at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, the opera house Wagner built with money he borrowed from Bavarian King Ludwig II and never repaid.
“It never ends, it’s so rich,” Sauer, 63, said in a rare interview with Reuters, speaking of the appeal of Wagner’s operas. “And they are all so very different.”
These days Bayreuth is always sold out and has a waiting list that can be as long as a decade.
A little way down the “Green Hill” from the opera house, visible from the balcony of an annex built for Ludwig where Hitler acknowledged the Nazi salute of the crowd in the plaza below, is an outdoor exhibition called “Silenced Voices”.
Adult-height placards display short biographies and the smiles or serious gazes of singers, musicians, conductors and stage directors who were progressively shunned by Bayreuth, as the festival drew closer and closer to the Fuhrer.