Listening to Wagner

A friend recently asked me how to get into the operas of Wagner. It’s a vexed question, this one, but I’m going to try to answer it from a very personal viewpoint.

First, my experience. I was a choral singer – I started in a church choir at the age of seven – and also belonged to a local dramatic and operatic society. My first on-stage outing was as a page to the Duchess of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers. These experiences guided how I approached Wagner – I sought out the choral parts, and there are many.

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angel with trumpets
An angel musician on the Konzerthaus, Berlin.

The Wigmore Hall started concerts with audiences on 13 September 2020 and we put our names down for tickets for two concerts in the first week. We got tickets for the concert on 16 September, and were also phoned and asked if we’d like to come to a trial run concert on 12 September. Christian Gerhaher and accompanist Gerold Huber had agreed to give a cut-down programme and it seemed that Wigmore Hall were taking the opportunity to test their systems. So we went along – it might have only been a 40 minute concert, but it was wonderful to hear live music in a venue that’s familiar. And you know, 56 people can make quite a sound clapping. To be honest, I could listen to Gerhaher singing the telephone directory, so it was a perfect for me. The concert on 16 September was Dame Sarah Connolly accompanied by Malcolm Martineau – it went out on R3. I wasn’t familiar with anything in her programme except the Mahler, and it is good to listen to something new and beautiful.

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