Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mike Antonovich and the Ring Festival LA

Here is a resolution to be voted on by the five Los Angeles County Supervisors next Tuesday. It is item 6 on the agenda. Read it here. Or read this:
6. Recommendation as submitted by Supervisor Antonovich: Direct the Chief Executive Officer to send a five-signature letter to Marc I. Stern, Chief Executive Officer of the LA Opera, and members of the Board of Directors requesting that the “Ring Festival LA” shift the focus from honoring composer Richard Wagner, to featuring other composers as headliners, to provide balance, historical perspective and a true sampling of operatic and musical talent. (09-1698)
The full actual proposed resolution looks like this:

Click the picture for an enlargement or download the pdf here. Or read this:

JULY 21, 2009

Los Angeles Opera’s upcoming Ring Festival LA, which celebrates the work of composer Richard Wagner, a racist whose anti-Semitic writings were the inspiration for Hitler and the holocaust, is an affront to those who have suffered or have been impacted by the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s National Socialistic Worker Party.

To provide balance, historical perspective and a true sampling of operatic and musical talent, the LA Opera should reevaluate and rearrange the festival’s programming to delete the focus on Wagner and incorporate other composers as headliners including Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Schubert, Schumann, Meyerbeer, Mendelssohn and others.

I, THEREFORE, MOVE, that the Board of Supervisors direct the County’s Chief Executive Officer to send a five-signature letter to the Marc I. Stern, Chief Executive Officer of the LA Opera and members of the Board of Directors requesting that the Festival shift the focus from honoring Wagner to featuring other composers as headliners.
I've blogged at length about the proposed opera festival in this article: Ring Festival L.A. - Wrong Festival L.A. in which I make a number of suggestions on how the Los Angeles Opera might better represent the various opinions about Wagner held in our community.

I do not think Supevisor Antonovich's suggestion to replace Wagner with other composers is such a good idea. I do think that formally asking the opera company to consider these issues is an excellent idea.

My best idea in that blog post was that the Opera should promote their Recovered Voices program during the festival when visiting Ringnuts might hear operas suppressed by the Nazis.

My wildest idea was to create a fringe festival - celebrating not some dislikable dead German guy, but the creative arts right here in Los Angeles. I wanted to call the fringe festival Wrong Festival L.A. If such a thing actually happened I'd be the first to suggest that they find a better, more positive name.

Carie Delmar, a writer and opera critic, has posted an article (here at Opera Online) about why a Wagner festival is not a good idea for Los Angeles. (I cannot get her article to format properly in any browser, so I just select all the text and copy it to another program for reading.) That article seems to suggest where Mike Antonovich might have gotten his list of alternate composers.

And you might want to contact the Supevisors and tell them that it would be okay for them to write to the Los Angeles Opera with the suggestion that other viewpoints need to be heard during any Los Angeles Wagner festival.

DON KNABE (his chief-of-staff)

POSTSCRIPT: Wanna find out what I wrote after this resolution failed at the July 21 Supervisors meeting? Read Wagner With An Asterisk.

Ring Tags: . . . . . . . . .


od said...

Wow, great post and follow up to your first post about Wagner-philia. But that proposal almost left me speechless. The irony of suggesting the government "delete" a particular artist whose views they don't agree with is...shocking. I did follow your suggestion and sent an email suggesting that the board suggests that the LA Opera ought to support a more balanced and historically contextualized framing of Wagner's work. A lot of suggesting going on here... too bad I don't have a couple of spare piles of cash laying around to throw the Wrong Festival.

kraig grady said...

I remember being in the house of an old Jewish couple who had pictures of Degas all over the place. I asked them if they knew he was an anti-semite. The man said 'So what, everyone was in those days.
So it is with Wagner.
Opera as a whole is irrelevant to Los Angeles as is european music in general. It represents culture more than being it. It has little connection to the people there. The US has way too much talent without wasting it resources with such stiff or overheated relics.

David Ocker said...

Kraig - this argument (that X or Y was antisemitic back then but so was everybody else and we should still listen to his music or read his books or drive his cars or believe in his religion or whatever, because whatever is SO wonderful) has been used often lately.

And I'll allow that argument might be valid EXCEPT IN THE CASE OF RICHARD WAGNER.

If this was only about whether Wagner was antisemitic or not there would be no problem. But Wagner is a special case because of the way he was used by Hitler and the Nazis.

Hitler's musical hubris did more to change the history of 20th century music than any other single person. He used Wagner and Wagner's music for terrible evil - tens of millions of people died. The mere fact of Wagner's music being wonderful (if it really is) is not enough of an excuse to overlook the Nazi stains on him and his music.

Now, today, for Los Angeles to have a city-wide arts festival celebrating Wagner's "genius" and his "revolutionary spirit" is, in effect, like giving Adolf Hitler a small bit of forgiveness. That bothers me a lot.

To be clear, I think there's nothing wrong with the Opera company doing the Ring. Their argument that producing a Ring cycle puts them on the map as a real opera company is probably true. But so few people really care.

If they want to have a festival to promote their operas, let it at least be a private production. They should not be claiming that the entire Los Angeles arts and cultural community somehow supports this particular travesty. We have our own travesties to keep us occupied.

Felix Mendelssohn said...

Excellent comment by decker.