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The Millennium Wagner Project

Posted by acdtest on September 21, 2003

The Millennium Wagner Project

he first of a planned six-post series on what is called The Millennium Wagner Project, and it’s performing arm, The Millennium Wagner Opera Company, is kicked off here by weblogger CTD of Ionarts. It’s the first installment of an exclusive interview with the Washington, D.C. project’s founder, and executive and artistic director, Wagner scholar and musicologist Carol Berger. Says Ms. Berger about the project:

The Opera Company is a subset of its parent, the Millennium Wagner Project. This is very different from most opera companies like the Lyric Opera or the Metropolitan. They have a larger entity, which is a performing entity, an opera company, and within the Opera Company they have a subset, such as the Metropolitan Opera Guild or an education department. Those departments within the Opera Company do things such as education, lectures, community outreach, and fundraising, but everything is subservient to the performing entity, which is the Opera Company. The reason that I have structured the Millennium Wagner Opera Company in the exact opposite way of the standard set by these opera companies today, by having the opera company become a subset of the Project, has to do with something I believe spiritually about Wagner. It has to do with the message of Parsifal, because I believe that Parsifal was Wagner’s culminating statement on everything he had been building toward in all of his music dramas, what he called “fellow feeling” or “shared suffering,” this concept of Mitleid. “Durch Mitleid wissend, der reine Tor” is the message of Parsifal, which means through the experience of sharing the suffering of others and doing something about it, we become enlightened. That is the subtext of all of our work.


That is what I think is Wagner’s primary message to the world, that people need to be sensitized to the suffering in the world and to go out and help people. Not to feel sorry for them: Mitleid is not pity or compassion, it is really shared suffering [literally “pain-with or with-suffering”-ed.]. If you read his late essays, especially the volume of essays called Religion and Art, you see that Wagner is involved in antivivisection societies, animal rights, the whole notion of suffering in the world. If Wagner were alive today, I believe he would be an activist in many social, economic, and environmental causes. So I have structured the performance company, the opera company, under the rubric of the Project because the Millennium Wagner Project, the outreach project, is the community outreach piece that does programs for the poor, the sick, the aged, the people I call sidelined in life, the ones you don’t usually see sitting in the seat next to you in an opera house, the disabled, the mentally handicapped, the vision-impaired. That is our larger cause, because in the end I am not looking for an egotistic product in which this is all about performance. My belief is that the greater purpose of Wagnerians in life is a spiritual purpose, an active selflessness, to go out and help people.

[all emphases mine]

These, unhappily, are the words not of a Wagnerian, but of a Wagnerite; one devoted principally to the man Wagner and his prose writings and libretti rather than to his music-dramas on their own terms, and it bodes nothing but ill for the work of the performance company. Few things are more destructive to the realization of the music-dramas than that they be driven by philosophical, social, and political “messages” and “concerns” rather than by considerations of art. With Wagner especially, the only important thing is the products of his colossal creative genius; his music-dramas. With the exception of his technical and professional writings, the rest is silence.

I look forward to reading more of this exclusive interview with Carol Berger on Ionarts.

UPDATE (21 September at 6:45 PM Eastern): A Wagner scholar takes exception.

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