On 22 May 2013, the great composer’s 200th birthday, the Semper opera house in Dresden, where he was music director for seven formative years (1842-49), will be performing…. Swan Lake, followed by Cenerentola. Neat touch – don’t you think? – to be doing ballet, which Wagner hated, followed by Italian opera.
Even neater, Dresden has chosen that selfsame week to put on an opera that Wagner deplored, both for its tremendous success and for its subject matter. On May 12 and again on May 20, the Semper Oper will perform La Juive by Jacques Fromental Halévy, the first grand opera with a Jewish heroine.
In fact, the anti-semitic Wagner drew a clear blue line between Halévy’s epic and other ‘present-day Jewish operas’ Cosima’s diaries, 24, May 1875). He was also quite fond of the composer. ‘I liked him very much,’ he told Cosima (17 January 1880). ‘He had a yearning, sensual character, but lazy’. There are suspicions that ine of the Meistersingers themes is lifted from La Juive.
Be that as it may, it is both quaint at witty for Dresden to revive La Juive in the Wagner’s bicenenntial month. Whose idea was it? The music director’s, I guess. That’s Christian Thielemann, whom many Germans regard as the greatest living Wagnerian. He must have a sense of humour. I’m really tempted now to see that production of La Juive.