Thursday, July 30, 2009


The music community in the Los Angeles area is embroiled in a big brouhaha all because the L. A. Opera is in the middle of planning what they call the “2010 Ring Festival Los Angeles,” a city-wide arts celebration that will spotlight Richard Wagner’s 19th century, four-opera “The Ring of the Nibelung.” Seems one of the Los Angeles County Supervisors issued a statement that Wagner was well-known for his anti-Semitic views and that the festival would “be an affront to those who have suffered or have been impacted by the horrors” of the Nazis. He’s going to ask the county board to send a letter to the Opera, requesting that it shift the focus of the festival from Wagner by featuring other classical composers.

According to the LA Times, this will be the LA Opera’s first-ever staging of all four operas in the “Ring” cycle. More than 50 arts institutions will be producing exhibitions and educational programming related to Wagner and his music. Among those are LACMA, the Getty Museum and the LA Philharmonic. Symposiums will be held to discuss Wagner’s anti-Semitic writings and personal views. Leader of one of the discussions, Kenneth Reinhard, a professor of English and comparative literature at UCLA says that “Wagner was himself dramatically anti-Semitic, but his music is not and there is no reason to censor his music or fail to address his personal beliefs.”

Backers say to change the course of the LA Opera’s plans now would be a monumental financial disaster. The LA Opera has already spent or committed $32 million, much of what still needs to be raised. One of the local music critics says that forfeiting that kind of money would shut down opera in Los Angeles for a very long time.

Subsequent letters to the editor on the Time’s Op-Ed page run the gamut of opinion. Most, pros and cons alike, are rational and interesting to read. And although I don’t think any one carries more weight than another, because there are always two sides to a thing, I had to laugh at one in particular: it seems that Wagner also wrote the “Wedding March” from “Lohengrin” and the writer suggests if we ban Wagner’s music, all the people who marched down the aisle to it should be ashamed of themselves! (Not having marched down any aisle in either of my weddings, luckily I am not a candidate for embarrassment).

But I do have a little confession to make: When we were getting ready to book our flight to Istanbul for our move there, the company Jerry was contracting with had a secretary who handled all the flight arrangements. I told Jerry to let her know that under no circumstances did I want to land in Germany. I would change planes anywhere but there. Yes, Germany is different now than during the war, but I still cannot get out of my deepest soul the first picture I saw in 1945 at the end of the war when I was a 10-year old. I saw for the first time Nazi’s inhumanity toward Jews and others. I saw the pictures of the survivors at Buchenwald, not the dead but the living. To my ten-year old eyes, it was far and away the most horror I had ever seen. Inside my adult self is still that child and that picture. Not ever wanting to be in Germany for any reason is irrational, I know. But I can’t blame those who feel “honoring” Wagner’s music, wonderful as it may be, is akin to honoring the man and his sickness.

I am glad I don’t have to vote on whether or not to celebrate Wagner’s “Ring.”

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