‘The hot ticket” one morning this week in Bayreuth, the city in southern Germany that hosts an annual Richard Wagner opera festival, was not a performance of the composer’s “Die Meistersinger” in the main theater, but a smaller orchestra in a smaller hall as part of a fringe festival, England’s Guardian newspaper reported.
The Israel Chamber Orchestra was performing Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll.”
It was the first time an Israeli orchestra played a work of Wagner – a prominent 19th-Century composer and outspoken anti-Semite who became a favorite of Adolf Hitler – in Germany.
Hitler, in photo at right dedicating a memorial to the composer in Leipzig in 1934, often had the composer’s works played at Nazi events, and endorsed Wagner’s writings that were critical of Jewish musicians.
Sixty-six years after the end of the Holocaust, 73 years after an unofficial ban on playing Wagner’s music began in pre-statehood Palestine, a decision to perform Wagner is still controversial in Israel, where a protest against the Chamber Orchestra took place at the same time the musicians were playing in Bavaria.
Out of respect for Israeli sensitivities, Roberto Paternostro, the Chamber Orchestra’s conductor, did not rehearse the Wagner piece until arriving in Bayreuth, above. Paternostro’s mother and several other relatives are Holocaust survivors.
“I know that in Israel this isn’t accepted,” he said, “but many people have told me it’s time to confront Wagner, especially those in the younger generation.”
Earlier attempts to break the taboo in Israel, especially conductor Daniel Barenboim’s decision to include “Tristan und Isolde” in the 2001 Israel Festival and the formation of a Wagner appreciation society last year, were highly controversial.
“Wagner’s ideology and anti-Semitism was terrible,” the conductor told Reuters, “but he was a great composer. “The aim in 2011 is to distinguish between the man and his art.”
Most of the music played under his baton Tuesday was by Jewish composers, including Felix Mendelssohn and Gustav Mahler, whose works were banned by the Nazis.