Wagnerian Operas – “A composer whose music is better than it sounds”
That was Mark Twain’s take on Wagner. Wagnerian operas have always caused controversy; you either love them or hate them. Wagner completely changed the way opera was written and performed. Wagner’s second Wife, Cosima von Bülow, was Franz Liszt’s daughter with whom he had three children.
Warning! The plot outlines include spoilers
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|Wagnerian Operas||Premier||Acts, Duration||Wagner’s Greatest Operas with Plot Summaries|
|The Flying Dutchman||2 January 1843 in Dresden||4 duration, duration: 2.5 hrs||A Dutchman who has been cursed sails on a ghost ship on the high seas. In a bay, he meets Captain Daland to whom he promises a lot of money if he can marry his daughter Senta. She dreams of saving the Dutchman (who can only be redeemed by the boundless love of a woman) and agrees. However, Eric – her lover – wants to prevent this. The Dutchman hears his pleas and sails away in desperation. She runs to a rock and throws herself into the sea out of love for him thus ending the Dutchman’s curse.|
|Lohengrin||28 August 1850 in Weimar||3 duration, duration: 4 hrs||Elsa is suspected of having killed her brother Gottfried. Her adversaries, Ortrud and Friedrich von Telramund, prosecute her. King Henry the Fowler is her judge. She tells him of a knight who appeared to her in a dream to save her. The knight establishes her innocence and agrees to marry her on condition she never asks him his name. But in the wedding night already Elsa breaks her promise. Before he can reply, Telramund storms into their chamber, and tries to kill the unknown person, but the knight is faster and kills him. Soon after, the knight reveals his identity as Lohengrin, Knight of the Holy Grail, and then the Swan releases her missing brother Gottfried. But Lohengrin must go, whereupon Elsa dies of grief.|
|Tristan and Isolde||6 October 1865 in Munich||3 acts, duration: 4.5 hrs||Princess Isolde is betrothed to Tristan’s uncle King Mark, but she doesn’t want to marry him. In her grief, she wants to take revenge on Tristan, who previously murdered her former fiancé. She wants to kill herself and Tristan with a poisoned drink which her companion Brangraine. But the good soul instead brings a love potion, which immediately arouses deep feelings of love in both. Isolde later marries Mark but still meets Tristan secretly. Her husband is informed by Melot of their deceit and can’t believe that his friend and nephew has betrayed him. Out of shame, Tristan falls on Melot’s sword. Isolde tries to save him, but he dies in her arms, whereupon she also dies of grief.|
|Ring of the Nibelungs||1869-1876||The Ring consists of the four operas “Rhinegold” (22 September 1869 in Munich, one act, duration: 2.5 hrs), “The Valkyries” (26 June 1870 in Munich, 3 acts, duration: 4 hrs), “Siegfried” (16 August 1876 in Bayreuth, 3 acts, duration: 4 hrs) and the “Twilight of the Gods” (17 August 1876 in Bayreuth, 3 acts, duration: 4.5 hrs). The story begins with the creation of the world and ends with its doom. In between are scenes of greed and lust for power and an ailing world order reminiscent of our own. Wagner prophesied in the “Ring” that the world would end, indeed must end so that a new, better world full of love can result.|
|Parsifal||26 July 1882 in Bayreuth||3 acts, duration: 4.5 hrs||King Amfortas of the Holy Grail is wounded in a fight against Klingsor and can only be healed when the wound is touched by the Holy Lance. The lance, in turn, must be held by a pure and innocent youth – Parsifal. However, Parsifal is not recognized as such and is ejected from the castle. He enters Klingsor’s magic garden where he meets Kundry, who immediately tries to entice him, but Parsifal is unimpressed, whereupon Klingsor hurls the sacred spear at him. However, it stops and floats above his head. The garden immediately decomposes and turns into a wilderness. Kundry curses him to disorientation and it is only years later that Parsifal appears with the holy spear and heals Amforta’s wound saving the King and the community by reuniting the Holy Grail and spear.|
|Tannhäuser||19 October 1845 in Dresden||3 acts, duration: 3.45 hrs||Tannhäuser is a minstrel and lover of the goddess Venus. After an amorous stay in her realm he comes back as a mortal below the Wartburg castle. Elizabeth who fell in love with him before his Venus adventure hears he has returned just as a song contest is taking place. She attends and has to save him when he sings a love song to Venus. In order to avoid eternal damnation, he must ask the Pope for forgiveness in Rome. In vain. Back at the castle, Elisabeth prays also vainly for his forgiveness. He returns deciding to go back to Venus but encounters the Elizabeth’s funeral. He begs her to pray for him then kneels down and dies, his soul redeemed.|
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