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WAGNER and the Christian Religion

I said that "Parsival" (1882) was the last opera by Wagner, who described it as a sacred festival play, and it was produced in a quasi-religious atmosphere. He died in 1883. Can anyone confirm my belief that, feeling the approach of death, he returned to the religion of his youth? Born in Leipzig in 1813, he was a Lutheran, but his stay in Catholic Bavaria affected him. The "Parsifal" opera represented a break with his earlier works, which were based on Germanic myths.

Christophber Jones comments: "I would say that Parsifal was a return for Wagner to the "Christian" epic after the monumental pagan series "Ring der Nibelungen." (I do not know if Wagner sensed death approaching, but knowing his showbusiness instincts, I would have thought that Wagner considered himself immortal.) All this mirrors the very tumultuous relations between Friedrich Nietzsche and Richard Wagner. When they first met at the Wagner's home in Tribschen, Switzerland, Nietzsche presented the composer with an engraving of Albrecht Dčrer's "Knight, Death and the Devil." Nietzsche detested so called hypocritical Christianity which was at odds with his plans for an "overman" or "superman." Wagner was far more Reichsdeutsch and swam with the main currents of the time, including extreme anti-semitism. Interestingly, their friendship was pushed by the most important women in their lives: Wagner's wife Cosima and Nietzsche's sister, Elizabeth. Both women were probably far more radical and certainly more anti-semitic than either of the two men (Nietzsche was very, very ambivalent about Jews and detested anti-semitism.)

It is my personal opinion that the Tribschen years were, in a way, the formative years of modern fascism. Nobody should ever underestimate the enormous influence these two men had and still have on the extreme right in Europe. For example, a very famous documentary was aired in Germany in the late 70's about this and included a lengthy interview with Winniefred Wagner. Most of what she said is well known, but I found her almost anecdotal reminiscences of Hitler's stays in Bayreuth very revealing. For example; that Hitler thought that he was the reincarnation of "Rienzi" and never missed a performance of the opera; that he insisted on always keeping the fireplace lit, like a medieval knight, and how Wieland Wagner was as close to Hitler as a son (Wieland's father was very homosexual) and how Hitler treated him as a son. I have long wanted to meet and talk about this with Wolfgang Wagner, but unfortunately it has not been possible until now

Fascinating! Tribschen was Wagner's estate on Lake Luzern, claimed by many to be the most beautiful lake in the world, and the site of many Germanic legends.

The estate is on a peninsula just south of the city of Luzern. It was Wagner's summer home from 1866-1872. He married Cosima there. Wagner wrote the opera "Rienzi" while he was in Paris ( (1838-40), but could not get it produced there. However, it was a great success when it was performed in Dresden in 1842. The use of Rienzi, or Cola di Rienzo (1313-1354), idealized as a forerunner of Italian nationalism, is a strange abuse of history. He called himself the tribune of the sacred Roman republic and dreamed of a popular Italian empire, with Rome as its capital. He called for a renewal of the papacy, which owned much of Italy. Naturally this infuriated the Pope, and in 1350 he was forced to take refuge in Prague. He was sent to the Papal residence in Avignon to face the Inquisition. However, the new Pope, Innocent VI, pardoned him and sent him to Rome with Cardinal Albornoz. He was made a senator and entered Rome in triumph. He ruled it in the name of the Pope, who was in Avignon. However, his rule was unpopular and he was murdered. Was it Wagner who popularized him as a symbol of nationalism? Probably Hitler knew little about the historical Rienzi and was just fascinated by Wagner's opera.

Ronald Hilton - 08.21.03