Avner Dorman's new opera goes inside Wagner's Wahnfried
6th January 2017
Named for Wagner's villa in Bayreuth, Wahnfried is a satirical study of the story of Houston Stewart Chamberlain — a man who thought himself the living embodiment of a Wagnerian hero, only to realize that he could never aspire to true greatness.
Directed by the visionary Keith Warner with libretto by acclaimed German playwrights Lutz Hübner and Sarah Nemitz, Wahnfried was commissioned by Karlsruhe Staatstheater to complement their new production of Wagner's Ring cycle. The opera house's Music Director, Justin Brown, conducts a cast that includes Matthias Wohlbrecht as Houston Stewart Chamberlain, Christina Niessen as Cosima Wagner, Andrew Watts / Eric Jurenas as Siegfried Wagner and Barbara Dobrzanska as Anna Chamberlain. The opera will run in repertoire until May 12.
Chamberlain is a failed entomologist, looking for a calling to give meaning to his life. He finds it in the music of Richard Wagner, and in German nationalism. Wagner's widow, Cosima, enlists Chamberlain to lead the effort to immortalize Wagner's music and link it with the nationalist cause. He writes The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century — the first major work advocating Aryan supremacy and the fight against Jewish influence. This opera tells of how Wagner's music became associated with Nazism and how Cosima, Chamberlain, and the Wagner circle became central to German nationalism. With an element of black humor coloring the narrative, Wahnfried emphasizes the grotesque nature of the pseudo-science and hatred underlying Chamberlain's theories and horrific consequences.
Says Dorman of the opera's subject, 'This is a great story, clearly, one that offers fantastic opportunities for satire and a certain amount of playing off Wagner's own sound-world, since this narrative is in many ways a grotesque offshoot from what he achieved. But it's not just a fascinating tale, it's a parable. A parable about what terrible things can happen when a mediocre spirit and intellect are welded to overwhelming ego and ambition. And few can doubt that this is a warning from history to our own times. Opera with all of its power and scale is the perfect art form to express that'.
Israeli-American composer Avner Dorman's music is championed by many leading conductors, among them Riccardo Chailly, David Robertson, Zubin Mehta, Robert Spano, Christoph Eschenbach, Marin Alsop, and many others. Among his best-known works are the percussion concerti Frozen in Time and Spices, Perfumes, Toxins!, the Ellef Symphony, and the Mandolin Concerto (written for Avi Avital). He is also the music director of the chamber orchestra CityMusic Cleveland.
● Performances: January 28, February 2 and 16, March 19, April 12 and 24, May 12
● Audio preview: music and photos in rehearsal
● Acrobat brochure: get the details