Tag Archives: Richard Wagner

for every season there’s an opera, especially autumn

Fall is my favorite season apart from the glorious month of May. (I’m a sucker for spring flowers. What can I say?) As fall blazes on in the Mid-Atlantic states, my favorite eclectic radio station plays the traditional fall tunes–covers and original songs. Just this morning, they played Eva Cassidy’s version of “Autumn Leaves,” Cheryl Wheeler’s medley, “When Fall Comes to New England/When October Goes,” Ralph McTell’s “A Leaf Must Fall,” and Iris Litchfield’s “Autumn Colours,” to name a few selections.

I’m very susceptible to seasonal influences in food, drink (all Octoberfest beers, for instance), and of course music. So, it occurred to me there may be operas that suit certain seasons better than others.

Autumn operas
Raisa Massuda of Baltimore claims that Purcell’s The Tempest is her absolute fall favorite! Purcell is generally regarded as the greatest English composer before the 20th century. Listen to this air from the Tempest and judge for yourself. There’s an appropriate solemnity to it–fall is the death of living things, after all.

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Tenor Mitchell Sturges suggested Tosca or anything Strauss as perfect operatic fare for fall. He went on to explain that, “Fall brings a gravitas with it that both Puccini and Strauss excel in.”

The story of Tosca is intensely dramatic–relentless tragedy. If like me, you mourn the end of fall because cold, cruel winter is sure to follow, then choosing Puccini’s Tosca, arguably the most Wagnerian of his scores, makes perfect sense.

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Another opera lover I met through Twitter who goes by the username Am Zénon,  lover of all great art and music and literature (Zénon is the fictional physician and philosopher from L’ Oeuvre au Noir by Marguerite Yourcenar),  claimed a favorite fall composer instead of a single opera. “Wagner, definitely Wagner in autumn, with his drama and music, stirring deep into inner life,” makes autumn the best time for appreciating his work. So many choices for listening to Wagner, so I chose a portion of the overture to Tannhäuser, which was first produced in Dresden on October 20, 1845. As I am listening to the work, looking outside my window, seeing red, gold, and orange-leaved trees, made more vibrant in the muted sunlight of late afternoon, it too seems a fitting homage to fall, blending minor and major keys and mournful strains of horns.

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What’s your opinion on the perfect opera for fall? All three pieces are perfectly evocative and make for rich and rewarding fall listening.

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Filed under Audience participation, Classic Opera

a castle für Wagner und Lohengrin: wunderbar!

Neuschwanstein / Barbara Bosha

Neuschwanstein Castle, one of the most visited castles in Germany and a popular tourist destination in Europe, was built by King Ludwig II of Bavaria, aka the “Fairytale King.” Located in Bavaria, near the town of Fussen, construction of Neuschwanstein began in 1869, originally projected to last three years.  But Ludwig II wanted the castle to be perfect, therefore  Neuschwanstein was unfinished at the time of Ludwig’s death in 1886. 

King Ludwig was an ardent admirer and supporter of the birthday boy (born 22 May 1813, died 13 February 1883), Richard WagnerNeuschwanstein literally means “New Swan Stone,” in honor of the title character from one of Wagner’s operas Lohengrin, also called “the Swan Knight.”  

Lohengrin, the Swan Knight

Lohengrin, a character from German Arthurian literature, is a knight of the Holy Grail sent in a boat pulled by swans to rescue a maiden who can never ask his identity. In 1848 Richard Wagner adapted the medieval tale into his popular opera Lohengrin

Neuschwanstein Castle was built in his honor and many rooms in the castle’s interior were inspired by Wagner’s characters. The third floor particularly reflects Ludwig’s admiration of Wagner’s operas. The Singers Hall, which occupies the entire fourth floor of Neuschwanstein also contains characters from Wagner’s operas. Ironically, Wagner never visited the castle– he died before it was completed. 

Neuschwanstein Castle  looks like a fairytale castle but is full of paradox. Built in the 19th century in Bavaria  during a time when castles no longer had any strategic or defensive purpose, Neuschwanstein looks like something medieval. However, it was equipped inside with state-of-the-art technology at that time. On every floor were toilets with automatic flushing system as well as an air heating system for the entire castle. 

Meeting between Parsifal and the King of Cumberland Mural in Singer's Hall, Neuschwanstein

In 2012, Neuschwanstein Castle will appear on a €2 commemorative coin. It was the prototype castle for Walt Disney’s Disneyworld (U.S.A.)


Filed under Classic Opera, Classical Composers

it’s Wagner’s birthday: Hojotoho!

Klinger grove Wagner monument in Leipzig

Composer Richard Wagner was born today in 1813 in Leipzig, Germany. While one might expect a monument to Wagner to have been erected in his hometown (there are monuments to Wagner across Germany), one might also expect it to be finished. Such is not the case.  

In 1904, a sculptor and painter from Wagner’s hometown Max Klinger was awarded the commission but died in 1920 after completing the marble pedestal only, shown at right.  

The pedestal, into which have been carved characters from Wagner’s operas, was to form the base for a 17-foot high statue of Wagner. The sculpture will be transferred to its originally planned site at the Promenadenring, where the foundation stone for the Wagner memorial was laid in 1913, the 100th anniversary of the composer’s birth.  

As competitive and nationalistic as musical traditions can be, one might not expect  too see a statue to Wagner in Italy unless one knows that during his last few years alive, Wagner lived in Italy, where he worked on his last great opera “Parsifal.”  

Wagner bust in Venice, site of his death


While on a trip in Venice, Wagner died of a heart attack in the Palazzo Vendramin on the Grand Canal. A statue was erected in Venice commemorating his life and work.  

In celebration of the anniversary of Wagner’s birth, here are a few clips of legendary Wagner heroine and Valkyrie Brünnhilde singing “Hojotoho” to choose from. Which is your favorite?  

Here is Norwegian opera singer and a highly regarded Wagnerian (dramatic) soprano Kirsten Flagstad’s early version of”Hojotoho” from Die Walküre, circa 1936:  

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Next is a short clip of Swedish dramatic soprano Birgit Nilsson (born 1918) singing Hojotoho–her way–at the Met in 1996. Her voice–at age 78–is simply a marvel. Just listen to the reception she received:  

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Here’s Swedish soprano Nina Stemme singing “Hojotoho” at La Scala’s Die Walküre in 2010:  

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Lastly, here’s American soprano Deborah Voigt singing “Hojotoho” (with Bryn Terfel) at the Met’s 2011 Die Walküre, part of their new Ring cycle conceived by Robert Lepage:  

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Filed under anniversary, Classical Composers, Sunday Best

Hans Hotter sat on a wall and had a great . . .

Hans Hotter as Wotan

. . . fall.   

But it wasn’t exactly a wall from which Hans Hotter, the German bass-baritone renowned for singing Wotan, fell. It was an artificial mountaintop, and it occurred at the end of an ROH production of Die Walküre in 1961.  

As Wotan struck the rock with his spear, flashbulbs exploded to start the “magic fire.”  So far so good–until everyone in the house was temporarily blinded as a result of the explosion. This caused Hotter, who had turned to leave the stage, to miss his footing and plummet off the mountain, landing with a clatter. Because he wore stage armor, the mishap reportedly sounded something like, “a bomb hitting a corrugated iron factory.”  

Hotter didn’t want anyone unfamiliar with Die Walküre  to think that Wotan committed suicide at the end of the opera, à la Tosca, so he climbed back up the stage mountain, into position, his head suddenly appearing from the chasm into which it had disappeared, only to be followed by the rest of him.  

An Operatoonity microtale adapted from Great Operatic Disasters, 1979, St. Martin’s Griffin


Filed under Opera and humor

in which Wagner opera do I belong?

Link: What Wagner Opera Do You Belong In?

  (100%) 1: Tristan und Isolde

Tristan und Isolde
Your opera is a passionate drama of irresistible love
which can find no happiness in the daylight world.

And what about you, dear readers? In which Wagner opera do you belong?


Filed under Uncategorized