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Wagner's Visions

Wagner's Visions: Poetry, Politics, and the Psyche in the Operas through "Die Walküre"

Katherine R. Syer
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Wagner's Visions
    Book Description:

    The psychological dimension of Richard Wagner's operas has long been associated with the ideas of Arthur Schopenhauer, yet Wagner had begun absorbing elements of contemporary psychological thought into his stage works as early as the 1830s, twenty years before he engaged with the philosopher's writings. As Katherine Syer demonstrates, the composer incorporated imagery and metaphors with the potential to infuse his psychologically charged dramas with latent political meaning. His operatic visions convey a sense of urgency intimately bound up with the era's crises and instabilities. In Wagner's Visions, Syer offers a detailed examination of Die Feen, Wagner's least known complete opera, as well as new analytical insights into Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser/, Lohengrin, and the four Ring dramas. Her study of the ways Wagner probed the inner experiences of his protagonists explores the impact of neglected yet crucial artistic influences. These include the fables of the eighteenth-century Venetian playwright Carlo Gozzi, the Iphigenia operas of Christoph Willibald Gluck, and the legacy of the martyr Theodor Körner. During the Napoleonic Wars, which raged as Wagner was born, Körner's poetry became the lingua franca of the revolutionary movement to liberate and unify Germany. A Humboldt Fellowship recipient, Syer is Assistant Professor of Musicology and Theatre Department Faculty Affiliate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-869-5
    Subjects: Music, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Chapter One To Be Born in Leipzig in 1813
    (pp. 1-29)

    It was an awful year. Prussia reentered the war against Napoleon in March. Swiftly rebuilding his forces, which had been decimated during the 1812 Russian campaign, the self-proclaimed French Emperor led major offensives at Lützen (southwest of Leipzig) and then in the Eastern region of Saxony at Bautzen, before a cease-fire was established in early June. Saxony was no stranger to strife. In October 1806, Napoleon had decisively crushed the Prussian and Saxon army at Jena-Auerstädt, before marching on to Berlin. Saxony then joined the Rhineland Confederation (Rheinbund) forged by Napoleon following the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. Together...

  5. Chapter Two Fairytale Madness: Wagner and Gozzi
    (pp. 30-79)

    The American staged premiere of Wagner’s first opera was a farce. The debut ofDie Feenat the historic Pasadena Playhouse on June 6, 2010, was delayed by more than half an hour due to “technical reasons”—enough time to notice that the audience waiting outside was not going to fill many rows.¹ For good reasons, it turned out. When the performance finally began, one was struck by the unprofessionalism of the orchestra, the insecurity of the singers, and the tawdry set. Surtitles failed to materialize. During the first scene change two stagehands negotiated leisurely with each other in full...

  6. Chapter Three Senta the Somnambulist
    (pp. 80-117)

    Senta has few faithful admirers, save Erik. The mysterious Dutchman would dearly like to believe that she can redeem him from his curse, as promised, but a misunderstanding prompts him to abandon her. Overhearing Erik’s side of a conversation with Senta, the Dutchman thinks she will not uphold her promise of utmost fidelity to him. (Erik can only wish this were the case.) Senta, as we all know, fulfills her destiny and proves herself true to the letter. Who is this young woman who repeatedly falls into a cataleptic state, blurts out bizarre pronouncements, and yields so fully to the...

  7. Chapter Four Opposing Worlds: Tannhäuser and Lohengrin
    (pp. 118-155)

    With Tannhäuser and Elsa, Wagner continued to craft dramatic characters that are sometimes psychologically remote—somewhere other thanherein the drama. As entryways into their respective operas they both recount dreams presaging solutions to their respective challenges. The power of unconscious mentation as a shaper of these dramas is not to be underestimated. Tannhäuser manages to resist Venus’s efforts to keep him in her rose-hued grotto where time, to his frustration, stands still. A lightning-fast scene change then takes us to the sun-drenched verdant Wartburg Valley under a bright blue sky. The sound of distant bells completes the picture...

  8. Plates
    (pp. None)
  9. Chapter Five Hunding’s Horns, Wotan’s Storms, Sieglinde’s Nightmare
    (pp. 156-214)

    Brünnhilde, Erda, and Fafner sleep for years in Wagner’s tetralogy—transforming, divining wisdom, or being lazy, quietly and mostly out of sight. Sieglinde’s sleep inDie Walküreis brief by comparison, and we see her while she slumbers. Her sleep is also markedly dramatic, disturbed as it is by the refreshed memory of a traumatic event that she describes aloud just before waking (act 2, scene 5). Even before that we glimpse her potential to experience a place and time other than the dramatic present. When she envisions Siegmund being ravaged to death by Hunding’s dogs, in the middle of...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 215-242)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-252)
  12. Index
    (pp. 253-256)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)