Jewish Conductor Seeks to Mark Richard Wagner's 200th Anniversary Without Hate

Hungary Festival on 200th Anniversary of Anti-Semite's Birth

getty images

By Reuters

Published May 22, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Opera companies throughout the world are staging Richard Wagner’s “Ring” cycle this year to fete his 200th birthday on May 22, but Hungarian Jewish conductor Adam Fischer is having no part of it during his “Wagner Days” festival in June.

Fischer, who launched his festival in 2006 in the Bela Bartok concert hall at the Palace of Arts in Budapest, will have a new “Meistersinger von Nurnberg”, rounding out productions of pretty much all the major operas in the Wagner canon.

But he told Reuters in an interview that he has steered well clear of the “Ring” this year, because of a hair-raising experience in 1983 when he was a young conductor.

That was another Wagner anniversary year (marking his death in 1883) and Fischer was conducting a “Ring” cycle in Germany when one of the singers for “Das Rheingold” was taken ill.

“We had a cancellation and we found that every opera house was doing Wagner, and it was as difficult to have a replacement as it would be for a concert on New Year’s Eve,” he said over coffee in the concert hall’s lobby, with a view of the Danube and the rolling hills of Budapest in the background.

Eventually a replacement to sing the role of the giant Fasolt was tracked down, but his native language was French, not German, making a bad fit with the rest of the cast.

Lesson learned: Fischer this year is putting on Wagner operas that do not require the specialised singers needed for the “Ring”, but will nevertheless show off the hall’s vibrant acoustics. The “Ring” will return next year.

Fischer said he was particularly pleased to be reviving a two-year-old staging of Wagner’s Knights of the Holy Grail opus “Parsifal”, conceived by two young women directors, Alexandra Szemeredy and Magdolna Parditka, almost as an oratorio, with the choir beaming their voices from three levels.

He said Wagner, whose experiments with acoustics reached their apex in his purpose-built opera house at Bayreuth, with its covered orchestra pit, had wanted the chorus to sing on different levels. This was pretty much impossible in an opera house, but could be done in Budapest.

“A VERY ROMANTIC ARTIST”

“He had that very strong will and imagination and knew much better than everybody else,” Fischer said of Wagner’s innovative spirit. “He was a very romantic artist.”

He was also a strident anti-Semite but Fischer, who is Jewish, draws the distinction that Wagner lived at a time when anti-Semitism was often manifested in social and cultural discrimination. Few could have envisaged the Nazi extermination policy - or that Wagner would be Hitler’s favourite composer.

While playing Wagner’s music still causes an uproar in Israel, Fischer said it also has disturbing connotations for Germans, as he discovered when a woman in the audience at Bayreuth told him afterwards she had become dizzy during his conducting there of a performance of Siegfried’s funeral march.

She said the funeral march had been played on the radio in wartime when the names of the latest German military casualties were announced. As a young girl, she and her mother had listened breathlessly to find out if her father was among them.

“I hope that for the next generations, this music will be free of these associations,” Fischer said.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.