Stephen Fry is a national treasure over in the U.K. (He is a man of the Left and an outspoken atheist, but — I am assured by a rock-ribbed British conservative of my acquaintance — he is loved by Britons of all shades of opinion.) He has a new documentary coming out in the U.S. later this week, and I strongly recommend it. In Wagner & Me, Fry explores the immense musical achievement and the deeply troubling moral legacy of the composer Richard Wagner.
I think Twain pretty much nailed it when he said Wagner was better than he sounded. The only musical performance I ever walked out of was the San Francisco opera doing Die Meistersinger. (The tickets were a gift.) LWJ and I had to leave, as we kept bursting out into giggles. What can I say? It had lederhosen. It had men in lederhosen and feathered hats turning to the audience periodically and declaring portentously "Die Meeeeeiiiiiistersingggger!!!!", at which point LWJ and I would collapse into desperately suppressed giggles. You do not want to make a bunch of SF Wagner fans angry. I realize it's supposed to be a comedy, but there were nevertheless times when I inferred you were not supposed to be snickering. What it really needed perhaps was a laugh track. I suppose they could have put an SS Hauptsturmführer in the background to make it all less comical but that would have been anachronistic. I probably don't know what I'm missing. I've never even listened to the highlights of The Ring saga, in spite of feeling somewhat duty-bound to do so. Generally, I like German music. I find Mahler deeply moving, although I suspect that makes me bourgeois, which a little research would reveal me to be anyway. Mozart, Bach, even the somewhat overwrought Beethoven, though he has grown on me. My problem with Wagner is that I find myself thinking, when is this going to start getting good? Should I give it another try, or is life just too short? --TS