Breaking: Israel bans Wagner cinecast from the Met

The Metropolitan Opera was all cockahoop a few weeks back when Russia, China, Israel and a host of other nations joined its cinema beam-up from Manhattan central to 1,600 theatres around the world.

But international relations come with a snag. Peter Gelb has just admitted that the Jerusalem Cinematheque will not take two Wagner operas in its package – Siegfried and Götterdämmerung.

Wagner is regarded in Israel as an antisemitic antecedent to Hitler.

‘This is not censorship,’ said the cinema manager.

Read on here.

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  • Very deeply depressing – especially after the IPO/Proms ruckus, and the points made then about freedom and democracy in Israel. Who will be ‘hurt’ by these screenings? – no-one is forced to watch them. Censorship of the arts is wrong, by Nazis, Soviets, or by anyone else. (And of course the whole ‘Wagner led to Hitler’ farrago is nonsense anyway).

  • Wagner’s Ring has absolutely NOTHING to do with anti-semitism. Nor does it in any way glorify German racialism and Aryan Nazi supremacy. It is a cautionary tale of the dangers of
    lust for power and riches.
    But unfortunately , Hitler read his own lunatic ideas into Wagner. Blaming Wagner for the Naziism and the holocaust is like blaming Christ for the Spanish Inquisition .

  • What’s going on is that public performances of Wagner are considered deeply offensive in Israel and the Cinemateque,as a publicly subsidized institution, felt that it was in their best interests to not be at the forefront of breaking this taboo.

    Whether or not you consider the feelings of holocaust survivors and their offspring legitimate, the fact is that this is how they feel.

    When Barenboim performed Wagner, it was not a matter of “artistic expression.”
    Rtaher, it was a matter of his arrogant self imposing his own views on others, after he had PROMISED to not have his German orchestra present Wagner on Israeli soil.

  • According to the fount of knowledge Wikipedia, “Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the general body of people as determined by a government, media outlet, or other controlling body.”

    How is this not censorship?

    Richard Wagner’s dates are 1813 to 1883. It is acknowledged that he wrote an anti-Jewish article in the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik but that was a very long time ago, was directed principally at Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer and belongs to another era, and not to his music. It is known that some in the Third Reich liked Wagner’s music but that hardly makes him complicit in their atrocities fifty years or more after he had died six years before Hitler had even been born. I cannot think of any anti-Jewish components in Siegfried or Gotterdammrung, maybe someone else can.

    Shostakovich and Prokofiev wrote Russian music in the time of Stalin, for me that could never qualify them to be banned in the West because we were hostile to the USSR at the time – their musical inspiration transcends anything as banal as considerations of whether they thought communism was a good idea or not. Digging around in several composers’ lives away from composing could and would reveal all sorts of things we would not want to discuss over dinner.

    If grudges last that long it is Israel’s audiences’ loss. Stick to the music and keep political correctness and politics out of it. If you think audiences will stay away because they do not like it that is a different matter.

    • I think in fact there are anti-Jewish components in ‘Siegfried’ (the characterization of Mime for example) – but there are anti-Jewish components in Shakespeare, G.K. Chesterton, the letters of Robert Schumann and Ludwig van Beethoven, etc. etc. etc. If we are going to blacklist people of the past by reading back into them what happened after they were dead, where do we stop? Who has actually consulted ‘holocaust survivors and their offspring’ (which would include my wife, a Wagner fan and grand-daughter of a murdered Jew) to examine whether they are really deeply offended if other people listen to the music of Wagner (or Beethoven or Schumann for that matter)? This all strikes me as sententious posturing.

        • It is true that there are countless examples of anti-Semitism in the arts and letters of Western culture, but there are none so closely linked to genocide as Wagner and the historical use/abuse of his music. This is accounts for the reactions in Israel to his work. Their reactions must be considered with sensitivity and compassion.

  • It’s not about holding a “grudge.”

    It’s about his music evoking vivid memories of six million of their brother, sisters, parents, and grandparents being slaughtered. That is a fact, whether or not you understand it.

    If you want to call that censorship, so be it.

  • Scholars like Marc Weiner have shown that characters in the Ring like Mime and Albrecht closely conform to 19th century anti-Semitic stereotypes. Given Wagner’s known anti-Semitism, it is difficult to think this was merely coincidental.

    The marriage of Houston Stewart Chamberlain (whose deeply racist philosophy strongly influenced Hitler and the Nazi Party) to Wagner’s daughter Eva is another dark point. We should also remember that Hitler had a very close relationship with the Wagner family and that they even built an apartment for him on the grounds of Bayreuth.

    Many of us can overlook these problems, but due to these strongly negative associations, I’m not sure how anyone could blame the Israelis for not wanting Wagner performed in their country.

    • Marc Weiner …The part alone where he claims that Klingsor from Parsifal is an anti-Jewish stereotype because he castrated himself and catration, you see, is similar to circumsision is enough to have his book dismissed as utter nonsense. I cringed when I read that. Luckily I only borrowed it from a friend so the only thing I irretrievably lost is the couple of hours I most foolishly spent on reading that book and not some of my hard-earned money(which is more then can be said for my friend).

      Also the sentence “The marriage of Houston Stewart Chamberlain (whose deeply racist philosophy strongly influenced Hitler and the Nazi Party) to Wagner’s daughter Eva is another dark point” misses a component which would go something like “which occured 23 years after Wagner’s death”.

      • No, that’s not true. The issue here is not simply Wagner or his music, but the entire history of his musical reception. This includes all of the associations with his music, including its use and abuse by the Nazis. One can always create a kind of pinhole tubular vision focusing solely on his music, but that is not how many people choose to perceive it. The concerns and perspectives of those who take a wider view are also valid. In the same way, your excessively reductive summation of Weiner’s book reveals your own biases.

  • What bothers me is the apparent double standard as seen from here. On the one hand we stood back and many cheered to see four LPO members sacked and some OAE members witch-hunted in the press because they mixed politics with classical music by attempting to open a public debate of a short-term local UK ban of an appearance of the IPO in the context of solidarity with Palestinians. A few weeks later we see the Israeli Government mixing politics with classical music in actually banning (not just proposing a public debate of banning) some Metropolitan Opera appearances.

    Returning to the fount of wisdom Wikipedia, Double Standard is defined as “the unjust application of different sets of principles for similar situations”. In a free-ish world I feel 100pc happy to leave individual Israelis alone to make up their own individual minds whether they want to listen to Wagner or not for whatever personal reasons. In the same free-ish world I respect the rights of LPO and OAE musicians to express themselves without fear of injury by the application of a double standard. It is simply not fair and reasonable to have it both ways. In context the punishment of these orchestral musicians is now seen clearly to have been disproportionately too severe and should be reviewed.

    • It’s not the Israeli Government, Tony. It’s an individual cinema manager in Jerusalem who’s worried about objections from his audience. It’s an act of collective self-censorship, which is, in some ways, more worrying than official censorship.

      • You are quite right, Norman. Sorry I was not completely up to speed with how the Cinemateque functions. I had thought it was run more as a national government operated resource and archive rather than as an independent cinema with non-profit status to acknowledge its unprofitable activities. You are also quite right that the self-censorship being collective in nature makes it feel the more unsettling.

      • I agree that the LPO’s treatment of the four musicians is completely ridiculous and needs to be revised. And I agree that people in Israel need to slowly create a sort of rapprochement with Wagner. But comparing the Israel Phil protests with Wagner and the Holocaust is problematic. As horrible the Israeli-Arab war is, it is not on the same scale of evil as genocide. There are also fundamental differences between disrupting a performance and deciding not to program a composer whose work and family history is associated (fairly or unfairly) with mass murder – and especially in a country whose citizens were the object of that mass murder. If the Israel Phil (or any other orchestra) had played music associated with a Palestinian genocide, the protest would have met with much more sympathy. In short, there are qualitative and quantitative differences between the Israel Phil and Wagner’s historical reception that need to be considered in such comparisons.

  • In Israel, the point is and always has been respect for the holocaust survivors who are still living. There are many valid intellectual arguments pro/con for why Wagner is associated with the Nazi regime as well as the valid points regarding freedom of expression, censorship etc. IPO started playing Strauss finally in the 1990’s and it too was met with some protests initially. And nobody in Israel seems to grasp that the composer of the much-performed-in- Israel Carmina Burana , Carl Orff was a true anti-semite. No, the point is an emotional one, not a rational one really, that Wager is emblematic to Nazi identity in the minds of these poor concertgoers in Israel who survived unspeakable horrors in WWII and just want to find some peace and solace in their old age at the concert halls. Let’s let them and then revisit this topic in 20 years.

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