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Wagner and the Jews

Okay you are not supposed to say these two things in the same sentence.  Wagner and the Jews.  The composer Richard Wagner wrote many operas or music dramas as he called them.  He wrote both the music and the libretto.  But the German composer was known not only for his music but his rampant Anti-Semitism.  This was further reinforced by the Third Reich that used his music and Hitler who loved his work and loved his writings that uplifted the ideals of the Aryan Nation even though they were written in the 19th century.

Born in Leipzig on May 22, 1813 Wagner’s music broke much  new musical ground and he composed many famous operas including Rienzi (1842),Tannhäuser (1845) and Lohengrin (1850). His late stage operas based on Teutonic and Norse mythology are a cycle called The Ring Cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen.

It is this Ring Cycle that is part of the LA Opera Ring Festival.  And these four operas will be staged in the coming month.  There has been a lot of controversy about whether or not LA Opera should stage this.   The Ring itself is not Anti-Semitic but was used by the Nazi’s to further their own aims.  Wagner’s anti-Semitism was real. He wrote a book called  Das Judentum in der Musik (“Jewishness in Music”, 1850), aimed against Jewish composers.

It is customary for Jews to not listen to the music of Wagner or attend performances of his music in protest of his ideas and the way the Nazi then used his music.  And this Ring Cycle here in Los Angeles has also been condemned by many in the Jewish community including the daughter of Holocaust survivor parents and LA Opera critic Carie Delmar. The irony is her father was a Viennese opera singer who once sang a Wagner role in one of his opera performances.

Today at Kol Ami our wonderful Cantor, Mark Saltzman who is known in LA Opera circles will sing and host a concert called “Circling Wagner” . No Wagner will be played or sung.  But it will be a concert filled with the music of the composers Jewish and not who influenced Wagner and those who were influenced by Wagner.  The concert is a 2 pm  today Sunday, May 23 at Kol Ami 1200 N. La Brea Ave. Suggested donation is $30.

 And on June 6 from 10 am to 3 pm at American Jewish University there will be a seminar entitled “Art & Morality-Music of an Anti-Semite.

LA Opera could have chosen a different composer to highlight.  But the Ring Cycle has a major influence on opera.  So let us use this as an opportunity to learn and grow and confront the evils of Anti-Semitism.  We triumphed. Hitler did not.