An opera about the man who linked Hitler to Bayreuth

The town of Karlsruhe is putting on a new opera at the end of next month. It’s called Wahnfried and it’s about a crackpot Englishman who became the living connection between Wagner and Hitler.

Houston Stewart Chamberlain was an an obsessive anti-semite and Wagner fanatic who married the composer’s daughter Eva and made his home in Bayreuth. Chamberlain’s racialist tome, The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, formed a vital part of Adolf Hitler’s political education. Hitler befriended the elderly Chamberlain and made the long journey to Bayreuth to attend his funeral.

The opera Wahnfried is based on that relationship. The composer is the Israeli-American Avner Dorman and the director is Keith Warner, a veteran of outstanding Ring cycles. Justin Brown conducts.

The cast 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 premiere on January 28.

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  • We should resist with all our power this reductionist labelling of figures such as Chamberlain as ‘crackpots’.

    It sidesteps a salient issue of his time – that anti-semitism was entrenched, especially amongst the establishment classes, and that efforts were being made by scientists like Galton to frame their unfounded racial theories in scientific terms.

    And, indeed, we see these beliefs, and other similar prejudices, held to this day, PRECISELY because these beliefs are marginalised and ‘made safe’ as the views of an unbalanced minority.

    We must ALL OF US take responsibility for the existence and endurance of such beliefs. We must ALL OF US be part of the process that brings them to extinction.

    • Well said. In his lifetime his views as a historian and works like ‘The Origins of the 19th Century’ were taken seriously. That book with it’s poisonous ideology was given overwhelmingly positive reviews in the English press…and here we go again. In any case, an excellent subject for an opera, I hope it’s a huge success.

  • So long as the opera explores the depth of the multiple beliefs, the consequences of each and the negligence and denial of what actually occurred, the responsibilities from multiple sides, I look forward to it. Shallow labels will never eradicate bigotry and bias; an opera must be more than either/or; good characters can offer the multiplicity of factors occurring in the historical moment if the composer and performers aim at complexity rather than superficial characterizations.

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