Richard Wagner: proponent of a new form of music drama that integrated all the arts, advocate of 19th-century revolutionary movements and designer of an innovative opera house/personal shrine in Bayreuth, Germany.
But also, Richard Wagner: anti-Semitic progenitor of Nazi collaborators.
The white sheep in the Wagner family is the composer's great-grandson, Gottfried, a musicologist, writer and director who seems determined to out-polymath his noted ancestor. Gottfried Wagner, born in 1947, has essentially broken with his family, having exposed its Nazi involvement in his autobiography, Twilight of the Wagners. He has also attempted to, if not to atone for his family's past, at least bring Germans and Jews together via his role as co-founder of the Post-Holocaust Dialog Group.
"He's deeply committed to humanitarian work," says UA German Studies head Tom Kovach. "And his book is explosive and unsparing in its portrayal of his family's complicity with the Nazis and its attempt to cover up that complicity."
Thanks to Kovach, Wagner is coming to Tucson to discuss his various interests and campaigns. As you might expect from the descendant of a man who wrote an opera that takes four nights to perform, he's going to give a series of different talks over the course of three days.
Monday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m., it's "From Wagner to Hitler: Opera as Ideology in German Culture and Politics." Significantly, Wagner is taking part in a lecture series at the Jewish Community Center at Dodge and River roads. (Richard Wagner's music is effectively banned from performance in Israel.)
Tuesday, March 23 at 7:30 p.m., it's "Confronting Wagner's Opera Today: Lohengrin in Dessau." This will involve clips from a production of Lohengrin that Gottfried Wagner directed in 1995. The multimedia talk will take place in Crowder Hall, located in the UA's School of Music and Dance.
On Wednesday, March 24, Wagner switches to his native German for "Deutsche Geschichte: Familiengeschichte--Der Fall Wagner in Bayreuth." German speakers will gather in Room 137 of the UA's Integrated Learning Center, underground on the UA mall.
Kovach, who came to German studies through his love of music, notes that although he is Jewish and the grandson of a Holocaust victim, he finds Richard Wagner's music deeply interesting (though he admits to being more a Brahms man).
"Anti-Semitism is not a peripheral flaw, but an aspect close to the core of Wagner's work," Kovach says. "But you can listen to an artist's creation without saying, 'This is a wonderful human being.' We have to be critical listeners and viewers, but that doesn't mean we can't be moved by the art."
The Wagner legacy is so complex and involves so many artistic, cultural and moral issues that Kovach believes all sorts of people should take interest in Gottfried's talks.
"Gottfried's style is not academic," Kovach insists. "He doesn't pull any punches."
All of the events are free and open to the public. For more information, call Kovach at 621-1147.