Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich is objecting to Los Angeles Opera’s long-planned 2010 “Ring Festival LA” because of its celebration of the composer Richard Wagner.
Antonovich, who represents the 5th District, including much of northern Los Angeles County, said in a statement: “To specifically honor and glorify the man whose music and racist anti-Semitic writings inspired Hitler and became the de facto soundtrack for the holocaust in a countywide festival is an affront to those who have suffered or have been impacted by the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialistic Worker Party.”
Set to take place between April and June, 2010 and include all four parts of Wagner’s 19th century “The Ring of the Nibelung” for the first time in Los Angeles, the “Ring Festival LA” is scheduled to include a partnership with 75 other cultural and educational institutions throughout Los Angeles, with symposia and special exhibitions discussing the Cycles’ importance. It is expected to attract tourists from around the world.
According to a July 14th press release, on Tuesday, July 21, Antonovich will ask the County Board of Supervisors to send a five-signature letter to LA Opera requesting that the festival shift its focus away from Wagner to include other composers such as Mozart, Puccini and Verdi.
“We have gotten a lot of phone calls from people who are really upset that the city and the county are making Wagner the focal point of their operatic season,” said Tony Bell, Antonovich’s spokesman.
Wagner’s work has already been part of L.A. Opera’s 2009 season, however, without a public outcry. Asked about the timing of Antonovich’s protest, Bell said: “The timing of doing the right thing really knows no time boundaries.”
The Jewish position on Wagner is not one-sided, however.
In a cover story for the Jewish Journal titled “Why Wagner’s Music Deserves a Second Chance” (Feb. 19, 2009), attorney E. Randol Shoenberg, who is president of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust and a board member of the Los Angeles Opera, argued that the composer’s work deserves an airing and reevaluation by the Jewish community.
LA Opera’s website acknowledges that Wagner is “rightly reviled as having been an anti-Semite,” but adds “it is the Company’s belief that opera has value not only as musical and theatrical entertainment, but as a way to gain important historical insight and to explore moral issues.”
Seminars will be held throughout the festival, including discussions of Wagner’s anti-Semitism.
Plácido Domingo, director of the LA Opera, added in a statement, “Opera, and especially the “Ring,” invites exactly this sort of intensive analysis and discussion, and the Festival will provide many different forums for gaining insights into the past and exploring moral issues.”
“The arts are important precisely because they offer so much more than entertainment, and have profound influences on politics and history, while reflecting the times in which they were created,” Domingo said. “For example, I am proud that LA Opera has been a leader in presenting operas by composers who were affected by the Nazi regime via our Recovered Voices project, which has brought several unfairly neglected works to our stage with great critical and audience acclaim. The arts allow us to immerse ourselves in worlds and experiences that can lead us to greater enlightenment and understanding for us all.”
Rehearsals for the festival have already been held, and tickets have been sold.