Richard Wagner could have been a supervillain. Sitting in a cloud of rose oil on flamingo feather rugs, he was an egotistical dandy and a greedhead with a Rottweiler’s instinct for weakness, and he built a lair. Whatever he might have thought about the fuss for the bicentennial of his birth in 2013, we can only be certain of one thing — it would not have been enough.
I count 685 planned performances of Wagner operas in 2013. These are official performances and not the back-alley stuff claiming many children. The very first is a Holländer in Zürich on Jan. 2, and so close to New Year’s one can’t anticipate a sober staging, even in Switzerland. Canada’s first will be a Tristan und Isolde in Toronto on Jan. 29.
Wagner was so broke that Tristan was written Foxconn-style, with the earlier parts engraved while he worked on the next act. Wagner wrote to Liszt: “My Franz, when you see the second act of Tristan you will have to admit that I need a lot of money.”
Legendary Wagnerians Gottlob Frick as Gurnemanz, and Amy Shuard as Kundry, in a production of Wagner's Parsifal at Covent Garden, London, Feb. 23, 1966. (Erich Auerbach/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
While New Yorkers will wait until February’s Parsifal at the Met to pay $400 for their first taste of Him in 2013, they will have the exceptional opportunity to enjoy Robert Lepage’s glam-bang Ring cycle beginning April 25.
Wagner settled down to write the Ring tetralogy after announcing that his work was no longer mere opera — it was now a medical procedure of the spine and buttocks requiring three days and an introductory evening. In 2013 you can undergo complete treatment cycles in Berlin, Hamburg, Melbourne, Milan, Munich, London, Seattle, Paris and Vienna.
Deutsche Oper Berlin participates in this collective insanity with five productions in quick succession in March. It’s part of their own 100th anniversary year and includes Wagner’s first stage success, Rienzi — adding Die Feen (The Fairies) and Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love) makes the three works we don’t talk about when we talk about Wagner. In 2013 they are only being performed in Leipzig, where He was born. It is an important city because, if Napoleon had not been defeated that year, leaving over 100,000 corpses in the area and killing Wagner’s father with a typhus outbreak, little Dick might have followed his dad into the Leipzig police instead of being raised by a theatre-loving stepfather. It would have suited certain tendencies in his character. And there wouldn’t be 345,293 productions of Holländer this year.
A young girl rolls out the red carpet in front of the Bayreuth Festival house in preparation for opening night. (Oliver Lang/AFP/Getty images)
The lair at Bayreuth doesn’t activate until May 22, when the birthday concert will conclude with a séance and regular weeping as per tradition. A drying-out period follows until the festival, July 25–Aug. 28.
If you need a shelter from the storm, Wagner's still banned in Israel.
That’s all I know. Good luck.
The Wagner Journal was very kind in letting me browse their archives. I hope they don't mind what I did.
Bayreuth, Wagner and anti-Semitism: a timeline
5 Metropolitan Opera broadcasts you absolutely can’t miss this season
on Dec 25, 2012