• Lohengrin at the Semper Opera House in Dresden
    Lohengrin at the Semper Opera House in Dresden ©null
  • Open space on a mountain height. Stage set design by Josef Hoffmann. Oil on canvas. 1895
    Open space on a mountain height. Stage set design by Josef Hoffmann. Oil on canvas. 1895 ©null
  • Die Feen (The Fairies)
    Die Feen (The Fairies) ©null
  • The Mastersingers of Nuremberg premiere at Leipzig Opera House
    The Mastersingers of Nuremberg premiere at Leipzig Opera House ©null
  • Rienzi – Richard Wagner, Leipzig Opera House
    Rienzi – Richard Wagner, Leipzig Opera House ©null
  • Parsifal
    Parsifal ©null
  • The Flying Dutchman
    The Flying Dutchman ©null
  • Parsifal
    Parsifal ©null
  • Parsifal premiere at Leipzig Opera House
    Parsifal premiere at Leipzig Opera House ©null
  • Rienzi premiere at Leipzig Opera House
    Rienzi premiere at Leipzig Opera House ©null
  • The Ban on Love, Meiningen Theatre
    The Ban on Love, Meiningen Theatre ©null

Masterpieces of Romanticism

Richard Wagner left behind a legacy of more than 100 musical compositions including choral works, lieder and piano music. He is, of course, best known for his operas, which are today considered masterpieces of Romantic music.

Wagner saw an opera as a musical drama, a ‘total work of art’ bringing together literature, music and theatre. While operas were traditionally divided into self-contained movements, Wagner removed these divisions and created through-composed works Instead of individual arias, his focus was on sung narratives, interwoven with each other by orchestral music – every opera its own ‘never-ending melody’.



Works
The Ban on Love, Meiningen Theatre

The Ban on Love

Unlike 'Die Feen', the comic opera 'The Ban on Love' (also known as 'Die Novize von Palermo' – 'The Novice of Palermo') is an anti-romantic work and a people's opera in the French tradition. The story is based on William Shakespeare's comedy 'Measure for Measure'. In the opera, Wagner glorifies the unbridled sensual pleasure and emancipation of women – highly shocking subject matters for the time. After only ten days' rehearsal the opera was first performed in 1836, when it fell flat with audiences. In later years, Wagner distanced himself from this so-called youthful indiscretion.


The Mastersingers – Richard Wagner, Leipzig Opera House

The Flying Dutchman

'The Flying Dutchman' is a romantic opera in three acts. The plot is based on the eponymous legend that was hugely popular in the 19th century: the cursed Captain Bernard Fokke was damned to spend all eternity at sea, at the helm of his ghost ship. Richard Wagner was supposedly inspired to pen this work following a stormy sea voyage. The opera, which is often seen as the advent of the composer's distinctive style, was first performed in Dresden in 1843.


Twilight of the Gods

The Ring of the Nibelung

'The Ring of the Nibelung' is a cycle of four operas combining a heroic tale and divine mythology. The tetralogy comprises the works: The Rhinegold (the evening before), The Valkyrie (the first day), Siegfried (the second day) and Twilight of the Gods (the third day). While working on the cycle, Wagner developed his famous concepts of theatre festivals and synthesis of the arts. His dream became reality with the construction of the festival hall in Bayreuth. The complete cycle or 'ring' was first performed in 1876 in Bayreuth and marked the opening of the first Wagner theatre festival.


Die Feen (The Fairies)

Die Feen

'Die Feen' (The Fairies) was Richard Wagner's first completed opera. The work, portraying the love between Arindal and the fairy Ada, was strongly influenced by Carl Maria von Weber and Heinrich Marschner. When the piece failed to attract the attention of the artistic directors at Leipzig opera house, Wagner himself lost interest in this early work. In 1865 he gave the original score to King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a Christmas gift. In 1888, five years after Wagner's death, the play was premiered in Munich, where it met with a rapturous response.


The Mastersingers of Nuremberg

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg

'The Mastersingers of Nuremberg' is an opera in three acts, set in 16th century Nuremberg. Unlike the majority of Wagner's other works, there are no elements of mythology. The opera's protagonist, master cobbler Hans Sachs, lived in Nuremberg in the 15th century and was also a highly revered poet. Though the opera draws on figures from history, the plot is Wagner's own creation. The first performance took place in 1868 in Munich.



Lohengrin at the Semper Opera House in Dresden

Lohengrin

Lohengrin, a romantic opera in three acts, is set in 10th century Brabant. In this work, Richard Wagner fuses historical themes with the character of Loherangrin from the Middle High German epic 'Parzival' (Perceval). Loherangrin is sent to the Duchess of Brabant on a swan to act as her aide and protector. Wagner invented a new form with 'Lohengrin' – namely, the through-composed opera, in which the composition is not split into individual songs, but rather performed act-by-act without interruption. 'Lohengrin' premiered in Weimar in 1850.



Parsifal

Parsifal

'Parsifal' is the last operatic drama Richard Wagner wrote. The composer himself described the work, which draws heavily on Christian symbolism, as a 'sacred theatre festival'. The storyline is based on the medieval epic by Wolfram von Eschenbach. Wagner believed Parsifal and the afflicted Amfortas were symbolic of the redemption and rebirth of humanity through compassion. The opera was first performed in 1882 in Bayreuth's festival hall – indeed, it was Wagner himself who stated that 'Parsifal' could not make its premiere anywhere else but there.


Rienzi – Richard Wagner, Leipzig Opera House

Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes

'Rienzi, the Last of the Tribunes' is a tragic opera in five acts. Its plot centres around the life of the late-medieval Roman statesman and tribune of the people, Cola di Rienzo (1313-1354), and depicts the tensions between Rome's nobility and the plebeians. In contrast to Wagner's later works, Rienzi falls within the French tradition of the Grand Opéra, both musically and thematically. The first performance of the opera was staged in Dresden in 1842.


Performance of Tannhäuser at Wartburg Castle in Eisenach

Tannhäuser and the Singers' Contest at Wartburg Castle

'Tannhäuser and the Singers' Contest at Wartburg Castle' is a romantic opera in three acts. In this work, Richard Wagner brings together the traditional folk ballad 'Tannhäuser' and the legend of the Singers' Contest of Wartburg Castle. The opera explores the conflict between sacred love and profane love – a subject that was to become a central theme in many of Wagner's future works. The opera was first staged in 1845 in Dresden in what is now the Semper Opera House.



The first singer to play Tristan: Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld

Tristan and Isolde

Richard Wagner described his opera 'Tristan and Isolde', completed in 1859, as 'a storyline in three acts'. The plot draws on the Celtic sagas of King Arthur and his Round Table. While composing the work, Wagner had anticipated a critical reception from audiences, but the 1865 premiere in Munich was a major triumph. Ever since that first performance, the work has been widely regarded as one of Wagner's most popular operas, famed to this day for its highly moving and emotive music.


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