It appears that Angela Merkel might become the next Chancellor of Germany. Which would mean, among other things, that Germany would once again be run by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable Wagner-lover. Before you see anything sinister or regressive in that potentiality, though, you should read some comments that Merkel made in July of this year, in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The article ran to nearly five thousand words, and it was devoted entirely to the subject of Wagner. An excerpt, roughly and hastily translated:
F.A.Z.: In the third act of Parsifal, God himself speaks. Or so said Romain Rolland. As a Protestant minister’s daughter, what did you make of the voodoo-magic which Christoph Schlingensief unleashed last year in Bayreuth?
Merkel: After Schlingensief’s Parsifal in Bayreuth, I attended Lehnhoff’s Parsifal in Baden-Baden. I confess I had a better time there. On the day of the Bayreuth opening, I resolved to be an open listener. I did not want to batten down the hatches; I wanted to give the new a chance. But this production made excessive demands on me. Herr Schlingensief had many very interesting ideas, but I found that the piece now radiated too many stimuli, a multilayeredness of perceptions, which had a distracting character. The music moved into the background, which led some singers to have the impression that they were no longer at the center of things. It is also interesting to learn from younger people that they had a better time dealing with this immense quantity of stimuli. I probably should admit to the fact that I belong to the over-fifty crowd, and that younger people obviously have an easier time navigating this flood of stimuli around us. I belong among those who are comfortable with silence. For example, I regard Lufthansa’s innovation of playing disembarkation music as no improvement on my quality of life.
F.A.Z.: Kundry experiences redemption through annihilation. It is well known that she is not the only figure in Wagner’s oeuvre in whom traces of anti-Semitism have been discovered. On the other side we know about Hitler’s Götterdämmerung fantasies in the Führer bunker. As a Wagner-lover today, can you simply set this aside this dimension of the work?
Merkel: To set aside is to suppress. One cannot dismiss the concatenation of Wagner with National Socialism, because it was, unfortunately, a historical reality. That is the way it is. Wagner’s work must be interpreted anew and seen anew for today's time — as has been tried in various ways since the end of National Socialism. For me, the Kundry figure is a rather interesting female character. Nevertheless, we should be at all times conscious of where anti-Semitic tendencies might lie. Once you put it out in the open, you banish the danger that such a connotation could remain implicit in interpretations which are no longer acceptable [or something like that]. The total reduction of Wagner’s music to the ideological dimension, which happened in the National Socialist period, later led many people to a total rejection of Wagner. That reduction was an abuse, which covered up the unbelievable many-sidedness of the music, its textual and motivic connections, its progressive tendencies, and it still blocks the entrance to Wagner today. As a result, the modernity of Wagner’s music is, alas, completely overlooked. Many twentieth-century composers partook of Wagner’s compositional technique. I urge that the abuse of Wagner be looked at an open and critical fashion, so that more people can gain access to this great musician. And it’s good to see that exactly this is already happening.