Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Music

Richard Wagner’s Impact on His World and Ours

Richard Wagner, by Alexei Talimonov

The international conference “Richard Wagner’s Impact on His World and Ours” is now over, and the conference committee would like to thank all those who attended for their participation, and especially all those who contributed papers, lectures, workshops and concerts to what was a highly successful event.

In this section:


You may now view videos of the keynote lectures, discussion panels, workshops, and concert below.

Apologies for the slightly jerky camera work in a couple of places, and for missing the first couple of minutes of one or two of the sessions. Hopefully nothing too vital is lost. In addition, sound quality is often rather poor, but turning up your computer volume or speakers will help with this.

Keynote lecture 1: BARRY MILLINGTON: “200 Not Out: Wagner the ultimate all-rounder”

Keynote lecture 2: MICHAEL EWANS: Two landmarks in Wagner production: Patrice Chéreau’s centenary Ring (1976) and Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s Parsifal (2004)

Keynote lecture 3: HEATH LEES: Transformation at Tribschen: how a French literary trio became a Wagnerian musical trio

Panel 1: Ring for its time and its place – Opera North’s fully staged concert version, 2011-2014 (Kara McKechnie, Jennie Daniel, Martin Pickard)

Panel 2: Wagner and Israel (Malcolm Miller, Margaret Brearley, Na’ama Sheffi, Noam Ben-Ze’ev)

Workshop 1: Wagner for the uninitiated: A director’s perspective (Christopher Newell, Rosamund Cole, Martin Pickard)
Not available

Workshop 2: ‘Deeds of music brought to sight’: Anna Bahr-Mildenburg as Isolde (Kristina Sélen,  Cornelia Beskow, and Nigar Dadascheva)

Workshop 3: Dancing Wagner: what can embodiment of Wagner’s music reveal? (Daniel Somerville)

Concert: The Songs of Richard Wagner (Atalya Tirosh, Malcolm Miller)


NB Owing to last-minute withdrawals and changes, the final programme may vary from this slightly

In this section:

Thursday 30 May 2013

9:00-10:30: Registration

10:45: Welcome

11:00-12:00: Keynote
BARRY MILLINGTON: “200 Not Out: Wagner the ultimate all-rounder”

12:30-14:00: Lunch

14:00-15:30: PARALLEL SESSION 1a

  • Katherine Syer (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA) The art of narration: Sieglinde’s nightmare and the end of a curse
  • Solomon Guhl-Miller (Rutgers University, USA) The impact of Byron and Goethe on the character of Wotan in the drafts and sketches of Das Rheingold and Die Walküre
  • Daniel Paul (Psychoanalysis, Clinical Psychology, USA) Wagner and incest

14:00-15:30: PARALLEL SESSION 1b

  • David Trippett (University of Cambridge, UK) Wagner’s Italianism, Bellini’s Norma, and Sinnlichkeit
  • Malcolm Miller (Institute of Musical Research, Open University London, UK) Spinning the yarn: Intertextuality in Wagner’s use and re-use of songs in his operas
  • Cathal Mullan (NUI Maynooth, Ireland) Wagner as song composer: A new perspective for the 21st century

15:30-16:00 Tea/Coffee

16:00-17:00 WORKSHOP 1

Christopher Newell (University of Hull, UK), Wagner for the uninitiated: A director’s perspective
With soprano Rosamund Cole and pianist Martin Pickard

In this workshop, a short extract from Act I Scene iii of Die Walküre will serve to demonstrate how a stage director, singer and music director ‘negotiate’ the production of a scene. On occasions this may be a matter of resolving issues which have little to do with the opera and lots to do with the psychodynamics of the collaborators. This may find expression, on one hand, in deep and insightful discussion, or on the other, in tawdry disagreements about whether the artist should stand up or sit down to sing. Varying approaches to performing the same scene will be demonstrated, thus challenging the modern performer to examine objectively their acting style and experiment with old and new means of expression. At the same time traditional rehearsal-room power structures initiated by Wagner are upturned and we are left questioning who is leading the creative process: performer or regisseur, and which approach most touches the audience. The focus of the demonstration is on how interpersonal dynamics inflect the pragmatics of stagecraft described so memorably by Noel Coward as ‘Don’t bump into the furniture’, and how productions teams for the ‘operatic oeuvres’ tiptoe around this issue.


17:30-18:30 ROUNDTABLE: A Ring for its time and its place – Opera North’s fully staged concert version, 2011-2014

Kara McKechnie (University of Leeds), Stuart Leeks (Opera North), Jenny Daniel (University of Leeds/Opera North), Martin Pickard (Head of Music, Opera North)

Jenny Daniel (Opera North, University of Leeds) – ‘Provincial Hope’ to ‘Civic Pride’: The Yorkshire Ring experience then and now

In 1911, Ernst Denhof brought his touring Ring cycle from Edinburgh to the North of England. This unlikely venture was the work of a lowly musician and teacher of no great means, who engaged the Scottish orchestra, and singers and musicians from Covent Garden, in order to create a full and complete Ring for the North. Leeds would then have to wait for two generations, through two world wars and a further thirty years for another Ring cycle. This finally arrived in 1975-6, a touring production from English National Opera, the parent company of Leeds’ own Opera North which would be formed just two years later, beginning its own staged concert Ring cycle in 2011.

This presentation is a comparative history of the events, publicity and reception of each of the three Ring cycles in Leeds: 1911/12, 1975/76 and 2011-14.

Stuart Leeks (Opera North) – From Tristan to Siegfried: Opera North’s ‘concert’ performances in Leeds Town Hall 2010–13

Stuart Leeks writes on theatre and opera. He has been Editor at Opera North since September 2010.

Martin Pickard (Opera North) – Leeds Town Hall as a musical space: casting and musical preparation of Opera North’s Ring

Opera North’s Head of Music considers practical and artistic issues affecting the casting of the Ring dramas. He examines the implications of presenting a staged concert version as opposed to a fully staged production and considers the question of continuous casting, i.e. whether to cast the same role with a single singer across several of the operas. In the context of the Opera North Ring, which has a cast of both British and international singers, he examines aspects of the project’s musical preparation and identifies some of the particular challenges of coaching singers in Wagner.

Kara McKechnie (University of Leeds) – Leeds Town Hall as a space for dramatic performance: The Opera North Ring – aesthetics and reception of a fully staged concert performance

Opera North’s Ring cycle was conceived for the specific environment of Leeds Town Hall and tailored to the specific strengths of the company. It can be seen as an example in recent production trends of the tetralogy, some of which question the need for unity in production (Stuttgart 1999–2000), some of which adapt Ring excerpts into concert settings (The Hallé, 2011). Opera North’s hybrid concept of ‘a fully staged concert performance’ (director, designer and lighting designer Peter Mumford) gives opportunity for aesthetic consideration, including the following:

  • The performers’ communication with each other, the audience and the conductor
  • The orchestra as an actant in performance
  • The role of intermediality and the use of words in performance

19:30-21:00 CONCERT: Wagner Songs
(free to conference delegates, £10 (full) & £8 (concessions) for non-delegates, tickets available at the door)

With soprano Atalya Tirosh and pianist Malcolm Miller


  • Tout n’est qu’images fugitives (Soupir)
  • Gretchen am Spinnrade
  • Trois Mélodies (Paris 1838-9)
  • ‘Dors Mon Enfant’
  • ‘Mignonne’
  • ‘L’attente’
  • Der Tannenbaum (Riga, 1838)
  • Fünf Gedichte für eine Frauenstimme [Wesendonck Lieder]
  • ‘Der Engel’
  • ‘Stehe Still!’
  • ‘Im Treibhaus’
  • ‘Schmerzen’
  • ‘Träume’

Friday 31 May 2013

10:00-11:00 Keynote

MICHAEL EWANS: Two landmarks in Wagner production: Patrice Chéreau’s centenary Ring (1976) and Nikolaus Lehnhoff’s Parsifal (2004)

11:00-11:30 Tea/Coffee

11:30-13:00: PARALLEL SESSION 2a

  • Gwen D’Amico (City University of New York, USA) – Opera and politics: Die Meistersinger at the intersection of New York City and World War II
  • Jane Angell (Royal Holloway University of London, UK) – ‘Our Wagner’: the reception of Richard Wagner’s music in England during the First World War
  • Aleksandar Molnar (University of Belgrade, Serbia) – ‘Went up in smoke The Holy Roman Reich/All the same for us would stay the holy German art.’ Political implications of Hans Sachs’ final monologue in Wagner’s Meistersinger in Germany from 1867 to 1945

11:30-13:00: PARALLEL SESSION 2b

  • Matthias Wurz (Music University, Vienna, Austria) – Exploring 20th-century vocal tradition in Wagner’s operas: conductor Berislav Klobucar and soprano Birgit Nilsson
  • Peter Kupfer (Meadows School of Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, USA) – ‘Ehrt Euren deutschen Meister’: (Re)producing Wagner in the German Democratic Republic
  • Lydia Mayne (Stanford University, USA) – Was ist Deutsch? Wagner’s use of dialect and rhyme in Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg

13:00-14:30 Lunch

14:00-15:30 ROUNDTABLE: Wagner and Israel

  • Chair: Dr Malcolm Miller (Institute of Musical Research)
  • Dr Margaret Brearley (author of Hitler and Wagner: The Leader, the Master and the Jews, and formerly Archbishop of Canterbury’s Adviser on the Holocaust)
  • Noam Ben-Ze’ev (music critic, journalist, Haaretz)
  • Roberto Paternostro (conductor, former director of Israel Chamber Orchestra)
  • Prof Na’ama Sheffi (Professor of History, School of Communication, Sapir College, Sderot, Israel; author of The Ring of Myths: The Israelis, Wagner and the Nazis)

The Wagner Bicentenary marks 75 years since the start of the unofficial ‘ban’ on Wagner performance in Israel: on 12 November 1938, in protest to the events of Kristallnacht just 3 days earlier, the Palestine Orchestra, formed in 1936 by refugees from Nazi Europe, removed Wagner’s overture to Die Meistersinger from their concert programme. Since then, attempts to perform Wagner in Israel have foundered amidst public controversy.

The double anniversary offers a timely moment in which to consider a nexus of issues surrounding the ‘ban’, how it developed historically, how it is expressed today and whether it may be ‘lifted’ in the near future. Our panellists, either from Israel or professionally involved with Israeli society, bring the fruit of their distinct perspectives on this highly sensitive and far-reaching topic. We shall hear about the experiences of a Wagner conductor leading one of the first ever performances by an Israeli orchestra in Bayreuth, the cultural commentary of an Israeli modern historian who has surveyed the ‘ban’ since its inception, the insights of a leading theological commentator and Wagner scholar, expert in the moral maze of Wagner’s theories and their impact on Nazism; and an up-to-date survey of the current scene by a leading Israeli journalist and critic.

We hope our discussion will stimulate lively audience participation and open the way for further research and thought on the subject, touching as it does on a range of issues from Wagner reception and anti-Semitism to cultural politics, international relations and civil liberties. Questions to be considered will include:

How difficult is it to perform Wagner in Israel? What type of protest does one encounter? Are there groups of listeners who do want to hear Wagner? How do Holocaust survivors who want to hear live Wagner feel about the ‘ban’? What do Israeli performers themselves feel? Is a ‘ban’ relevant given the relative ease to travel to other countries to hear Wagner and the increasing availability of Wagner on the media and internet? To what extent does classical music and opera have an impact in Israel?

Historical and recent context

Just as a recent Wagner Journal debate demonstrated, in its often fierce rhetoric, that there is still much disagreement as to the significance of Wagner’s anti-Semitism in his oeuvre, so too are opinions divided as to the virtue of performing Wagner in Israel. Whilst one might argue for freedom of expression, so too is there a freedom to enact what amounts to consensual censorship, for there was never any legal prohibition. For those upholding the ‘ban’ the act of restraint communicates an important message, for those against it, it represents a historical distortion and a curb on artistic freedom. It is the purpose of the panel to explore the issues surrounding the symbolism of Wagner in Israel, which are far from clear cut, aesthetically or morally.

With the advent, since the 1980s, of cable TV, radio, CD and internet, as well as courses in academies and universities, Wagner has become more accessible to the Israeli public, yet live performance is still not tolerated, especially in high profile contexts: the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra does not include Wagner in its repertoire, neither does the Israeli Opera mount productions. Two recent incidents in the on-going Wagner saga prove that the issues are still as raw as they were in the early 1950s. In 2012 the Israel Chamber Orchestra and its conductor Roberto Paternostro received the prestigious ECHO Klassik award in Berlin for “bridge-building and crossing boundaries” for the first-ever performance by an Israeli orchestra of Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll in the Bayreuth Stadthalle during the Wagner opera festival. The concert attracted a Knesset debate and accusations from Holocaust survivor groups that it was an act of “moral failure”. Similarly in June 2012 internationally acclaimed Barenboim protégé Asher Fisch was prevented from conducting Wagner excerpts for the recently formed Israeli Wagner Society organised by its president, Jonathan Livni, since Tel Aviv University refused to allow the performance on their premises, the whole affair raising to the fore core issue of civil liberties.

Remarkably, the arguments raised in the public debate surrounding these recent events are the same as those raised 60 years ago, when, in 1952, the first Wagner-Strauss performance in modern Israel was attempted. The main accusation is that Wagner performance represents a “desecration of the memory of the victims of the Holocaust”. Indeed, as the Israeli academic Na’ama Sheffi has argued in her thought-provoking study The Ring of Myths (2001), the Wagner ‘ban’, far from being an aesthetic question, touches far deeper into Israeli society, on issues of national identity, international relations with Germany and, most importantly, Holocaust memorialisation.

Yet, if one of the main reasons offered for avoiding Wagner performance has been, and still is, to avoid offending the sensitivities of Holocaust survivors, the eminent American scholar/conductor Leon Botstein has warned (in his essay ‘German Jews and Wagner’ in Richard Wagner and his World, ed T. Grey, 2009) that one of the ‘unintended consequences of …consensual censorship’, might be “falsifying history”, replacing the “real causes of the Holocaust” with “a facile, convenient and misleading formula”. If so, Botstein continues, “Genuine respect for the survivors might then argue against a ban on Wagner”, and thus “Israel must restore Wagner to the stage for the sake of the survivors, so the causes of the Holocaust can be better understood”.

Even if Botstein is right, to what extent is his utopian vision for Israel of a “comprehensive encounter with Wagner’s music and drama, tempered by critical debate and historical candor” possible in the current climate? It would seem that attitudes may have changed, both those of commentators and some practitioners, as for instance shown in the case of international conductor Asher Fisch who believes that it is only by freeing Israeli society of the perception of Wagner as a Nazi symbol that Israel can take ownership of Wagner and thus deal a victorious blow against the Nazi appropriation of one of the most important composers in the history of Western music.

Malcolm Miller © 2013

16:00-17:30: PARALLEL SESSION 3a

  • Anna Stoll-Knecht (New York University, USA) – Beckmesser in a new light: Die Meistersinger in Gustav Mahler’s Seventh Symphony
  • Luca Sala (Poitiers University (CRIHAM), France) – Romantic traditions and conceptual opera: elements of Wagnerian intoxication and artistic palingenesy in Mieczysław Karłowicz’s Symphonic Poems
  • Wolfram Boder (Independent Scholar, Kassel, Germany) – Louis Spohr’s importance for the early dissemination of Wagner’s operas

16:00-17:30: PARALLEL SESSION 3b

  • Luca Keseru (Eotvos Loránd University, Hungary) – Plastic Reality vs. ‘Plastic Unreality’: The influence of Adolphe Appia’s stage concept on Parsifal (1924) as directed by László Márkus, head director of the Opera House of Budapest
  • Ferenc János Szabó (Institute of Musicology, Research Centre for the Humanities, Hungarian Academy of Sciences) – ‘Ein Tristan von nobelsten Stahl…’: The Influence of a Czech Wagner-tenor on Hungarian Musical Life in the First Half of the Twentieth Century
  • Daniel Cichy (Institute of Music, Silesian University, Katowice, Poland) – Jonathan Harvey’s Wagner Dream – inspiration and context

17:30-18:00 Tea/Coffee

18:00-19:00 Workshop 2 CANCELLED!

19:30 German wine tasting and Siegfried-themed finger buffet (£10 to be confirmed – booking required during conference)

Behind the Town Hall’ bistro

‘Speared Dragon bites’, ‘Dragonfruit with Freya’s Apples’, ‘Golden Rings’, Sparkling Riesling wine after Wagner’s own wine-cellar notes, and many other Siegfried-themed deicacies

Saturday 1 June 2013

10:00-12.00: PARALLEL SESSION 4a

  • Jane Ennis (William Morris Society, UK) – William Morris’s Sigurd the Volsung and Wagner’s Ring
  • Michael Allis (University of Leeds, UK) – The Diva and the Beast: Susan Strong and the Wagnerism of Aleister Crowley
  • Michael Papadopoulos (University of Leeds, UK) – Varg í véum: Wagnerian werewolves and messiahs in Tolkien

10:00-12.00: PARALLEL SESSION 4b

  • Joseph E. Morgan (Boston, Massachusetts, USA) – Wagner’s re-conception of Weber’s German Nationalism
  • Golan Gur (Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany) – Richard Wagner and the discourse of national identity in musicology around 1900
  • Irad Atir (University of Bar-Ilan, Israel) – Judaism and Germanism in Richard Wagner’s Art

13:00-14:00 Lunch

14:00-15:30: SESSION 5

  • Anna Predolyak (Krasnodar State University of Arts and Culture, Russia) – Wagner and Russian musical culture of XX–XXI centuries: problems of influence and perspectives for development
  • Anna Ponomareva (Imperial College London, UK) – Inspiration or translation: Belyi’s novels of the Moscow Circle
  • Radosław Okulicz-Kozaryn (Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, Poland) – ‘Where the King Spirit becomes manifest…’: Stanisław Wyspiański in search of the Polish Bayreuth

15:30-16:00 Tea/Coffee

16:00-17:00 WORKSHOP 3

Kristina Selen (choreographer, Opera Studio Oxford, UK): ‘Deeds of music brought to sight’: Anna Bahr-Mildenburg as Isolde
with Cornelia Beskow (soprano), and Nigar Dadascheva (piano).

A music-dramatic performance represents an idea projected into space: it is therefore inevitably the physical embodiment of a specific taste or aesthetic. That is a difficult condition for any art-form to live under for long: give it some fifty years, and our taste will have changed significantly. Music, on the other hand, leaves much freedom of interpretation to its audience, and the listeners’ receptions of it can be extremely varied.

This performance workshop aims to provoke a discussion of the above statement, specifically in relation to Wagner’s music dramas. It will do so through a performance of a ‘reconstruction’ of a scene from Tristan und Isolde, as described by the Austrian soprano Anna Bahr-Mildenburg (1872-1947) in her Tristan und Isolde: Darstellung der Werke Richard Wagners aus dem Geiste der Dichtung und Musik (Vienna: 1936). This detailed ‘performer’s guide’ provides an example of what is usually referred to as the ‘Bayreuth Style’; Bahr-Mildenburg sang frequently at Bayreuth and even co-directed a production with Cosima on one occasion. Thus, the performance would be a practical experiment in the area of aesthetics, taste and style, and it would be accompanied by a more factual presentation of research around the ‘Bayreuth Style’, Cosima Wagner and Anna Bahr-Mildenburg, as well as by an open discussion addressing questions pertaining to the stage representation of artworks that are products of other times and cultures than our own.


18:00-19:00 Keynote

HEATH LEES: Transformation at Tribschen: how a French literary trio became a Wagnerian musical trio

20:00 Conference Dinner

San Lucus Tapas (£20 – booking required during conference)

Sunday 2 June 2013

10:00-11:00 PARALLEL SESSION 6a

  • Chantal Frankenbach (California State University, Sacramento, USA) – ‘The apotheosis of the dance’: Gestures of national transcendence in Wagner’s Artwork of the Future
  • Dragana Jeremić Molnar (University of Arts in Belgrade, Serbia) – Richard Wagner’s construction of reality: ‘Finite Province of Meaning’, ‘Subuniverse of Meaning’ or ‘Deviant Symbolic Universe’?

10:00-11:00 PARALLEL SESSION 6b

  • Lauma Mellena (University of Latvia) – Richard Wagner productions in 21st-century Latvia: The Ring of the Nibelungen at the Latvian National Opera (2006-11)
  • Plamen Kartaloff (Sophia Opera and Ballet, Bulgaria) – The universe called Wagner, and us: Der Ring des Nibelungen, a director’s perspective

11:00-11:30 Tea/Coffee

11.30-13.00 WORKSHOP 4

Daniel Somerville (University of Wolverhampton): Dancing Wagner: what can embodiment of Wagner’s music reveal?
Active participation is sought – contact the conference organisers for more detail

What can moving the body to Wagner’s music tell us that other approaches to analysis of his work and influence may not? Choreographer Daniel Somerville leads a practical performance workshop for singers, movers and anyone game enough to move about in response to Wagner’s music; all levels of experience are accepted. The workshop aims to introduce participants to the basics of Somerville’s practice, which is concerned with the ‘operatic-ness’ of movement and in particular to the role of embodiment through techniques originating in the Japanese contemporary movement practice, Butoh. Using Wagner’s music as it was never intended, re-contextualising it, the workshop seeks to reveal to participants new understandings on a personal level through embodiment of the music and its philosophical and thematic material. The workshop will culminate in a structured improvisation to the ‘Orchestervorspiel’ from Lohengrin.


13:00-14:00 Lunch

14:30 Film screening and discussion

Tony Palmer: The Wagner Family

17:00: Film screening and commentary

Romeo Castellucci’s Parsifal (2011)

A rare opportunity to see extracts from an archival recording of Castellucci’s 2011 production of Parsifal for La Monnaie opera, Brussels.
Introduced by Elena Papalexiou (University of the Poloponnese) and Avra Xepapadakou (University of Crete).

Eleni Papalexiou is a lecturer (appointment pending) at the Department of Theatre Studies-University of the Peloponnese (Nafplion, Greece), where she teaches contemporary theatre. She has a PhD from the Université de la Sorbonne – Paris IV (Centre de Recherche sur l’Histoire du Théâtre) and a Post-Graduate in Drama Studies from the Université Paris III – Sorbonne Nouvelle. For the academic year 2012-2013 she is affiliated with the University of Crete, teaching Greek drama, performance analysis and contemporary theatre. She has published two books: Greek Tragedy on the Modern Stage, Lille: A.N.R.T., Université de Lille, 2005 (in French) and Romeo Castellucci/Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio: When the Words Turn to Matter,Athens: Plethron editions, 2009 (in Greek). She has also published several papers and articles on the modern stage. She is the main researcher of the Research Project ‘Archivio’, concerning the theatre archive of Romeo Castellucci and the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio.

Avra Xepapadakou is a lecturer at the Department of Philology, Division of Theatre and Music Studies, University of Crete, where she teaches History of Theatre and Opera. Her research interests focus on nineteenth-century theatre, music and cultural life. She has published articles and papers on topics such as the relations between Italian and Ionian opera, the question of westernization/orientalism in Modern Greek theatre and art music, the foreign opera troupes touring in nineteenth-century southeastern Europe and the Orient. The subject of her recent book is the Ionian opera composer Pavlos (Paolo) Carrer (Athens: Fagotto Editions, 2013). She is the project leader of the Research Project ‘Archivio’, concerning the theatre archive of Romeo Castellucci and the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio.

About the Conference: Conference Comittee

Dr Anastasia Belina-Johnson, Dr Stephen Muir, Prof Derek Scott, Prof Julian Rushton, Dr Martin Pickard (Opera North)

The conference committee would like to thank the following for their support of the conference, both financial and logistical:

Conference Venue

The conference will take place in the School of Music at the University of Leeds, which features the spectacular Clothworkers Centenary Concert Hall.

The University campus is near the centre of Leeds which has many excellent restaurants, and the usual selection of city-centre food outlets for evening dining.

Clothworkers Hall

Conference Fees

Fees for the conference are as follows:

4-day conference package

  • Full price: £60
  • Student price: £40
Day rates
  • Full price: £20 per day
  • Student price: £15 per day

Members of the Royal Musical Association are entitled to a 10% discount on all the above rates


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