Lieber Herr Wagner

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Indy Lifestyle Online
A director and a conductor, both passionate Wagnerians, complain that Channel 4's Wagnerfest has ruined the composer's reputation

A word of explanation is perhaps due from us still living to you who died before television came into being. The potential of this medium is beyond even your extraordinary vision of what art might achieve and how an entire people might unite in an aesthetic experience. There is little doubt in our mind that were you still around, it would be to this medium and to its big brother, the cinema, that you would be turning your energies, precisely because they are the foremost means of artistic communication of our age - or of any age. These last few days, however, would have given you a crash course in their misuse.

Channel 4 has granted you a mini Wagnerfest - but so far has only seen fit to reduce your achievements and ruin your reputation. Of course, it should be understood that this kind ofnegative delirium is part of television's lifeblood, rather like the vocal gymnastics and untruthful theatrical practices that you sought to eradicate in 19th-century opera. Never once have they tried to explain why almost every composer and librettist to follow you has felt a need to filter their talents through yours or how, in both literature and the visual arts, your ideas have changed the course of what we now accept as the major Western canon and probably what we think of as the function of art itself.

Without you, it would be hard for us in the theatre, at least, to recognise ourselves at all. You changed everything - from architecture to lighting, from rehearsal procedure to acting style (which major dramatist before you is on record as instructing actors not to "play out" to the house but to act and react across the stage in real conversations?). Nothing you gave to us has been pointed out by these programmes. Only what Hitler made of you seems worthy of notice.

Any programme that set out to survey your life seriously without tackling your anti-semitism would be a lie, but one that treats you only as a Jew- hater is a bigger lie. It is, in fact, the kind of censure that the Nazis excelled in. Few of us who spend our lives trying to measure up to your artistic vision can ever feel anything but disgust for the stupidity of your writings against the Jews. But the stage works themselves offer another story. They are also full of love, redemption and despair; they are full of startling intellectual ideas and the most significant psychological insight in the 19th century until Ibsen; they are full of world-changing music.

You might well ask: couldn't there have been a moment during the week to have got this across to the people who might only ever encounter my work in this Channel 4 festival? We are almost too embarrassed to answer - maybe such an idea is simply too exacting, too complex, too Wagnerian for television.