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Wagner Festival in Washington?

Renoir, Portrait of Richard WagnerAn article (Wagner-Wahn im Internet by Jochen Breiholz, August 19) in Die Welt was the first press reference I have seen to the formation of a festival dedicated to the operas of Richard Wagner to be based here in Washington, D.C. The founder, Carol Berger, claims that the festival will be the American answer to the Bayreuth Festival, although she admits that she has not raised as much money for the festival as she had hoped. Indeed, Breiholz seems to think that even the proposed budgets of the productions are laughably small for the forecast performance of Parsifal here in Washington, D.C., in March 2004. According to their Web site, the group in question, the Millennium Wagner Opera Company, is planning four "touring performance cycles of Parsifal, Die Meistersinger and Bach. A production of Tannhauser is also in rehearsal. The company will appear in Opera recital of highlights from operas." I have heard of at least one of these people before: Carol Berger has given some lectures with the Wagner Society of Washington, D.C., and she is a true believer.

To make a strange parallel, in many ways Wagner reminds me of former President Bill Clinton: he was a brilliant person, larger than life and with larger-than-life personal faults. Also, just as with President Clinton, there are people who hate Wagner, who see nothing but his ego, racism, and negative influence on the operatic world like the association of the Nazi party with his family and ignore the genius of what he created; and there are just as many people who love Wagner, who see nothing but his radical vision of a new art form and ignore his faults. Carol Berger and members of Wagner Societies around the world like her are in the latter group. The mission of the Millenium Wagner Project, in their own words, is spiritual, to "search out the sidelined in our midst, to bring healing thru music's unconditional love, or as Wagner would put it, 'redemption through love'." They also claim that "the Millennium Wagner Project and the Millennium Wagner Opera are Wagner-Bashing Free Entities. That means you will not find artistis, scholars or men of the cloth running around here using derogatory names in regard to Wagner. We suggest those who feel impelled to experience negativity to aim their guns at the political activities of icons Chopin or Brahms. 'He who is free from sin, may he cast the first stone'." (I think that "men of the cloth" may be a reference to Fr. M. Owen Lee, who has written about Wagner and has provided commentary on the ChevronTexaco Met broadcasts for years. Fr. Lee has been very frank about the truth of what people don't like about Wagner's life but has ultimately been, I think, an apologist for Wagner's music. If you want to learn about Wagner's ideas as he expressed them, check out The Wagner Library run by Patrick Swinkels.)

While I would love to see the Millenium Wagner Company succeed and create a festival here, I have my doubts. There are no published dates for the performances supposedly being planned. On their Web site, you may write to ask to be notified when those dates and locations become known. I will follow this story and write again if I learn anything.

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