© 2021 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Classical 101

Richard Burton as Richard Wagner

This is Wagner's bicentennial year.  He was born on May 22, 1813. By the time of his death 70 years later he had given the world his music dramasTristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger, Der Ring des Nibelung, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Tannhauser, The flying Dutchman. Even for one of these works he would have become nearly immortal. One of Richard Burton's last projects before his death hin 1984 was an eight-hour TV miniseries, Wagner. Vanessa Redgrave played Cosima von Bulow Wagner, with appearances by Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PLifFmbglXQ The composer Wagner was a self-absorbed anti-Semitic egoist. He must have been a very difficult man to love.  Burton gives us a nasty megalomaniac, full stop. A digression: I was working in the New York State Theater at Lincoln Center when Richard Burton was appearing there in Camelot-1980-81. I used to see him wandering around backstage. He was shocking to behold:  Small, thin, sun-lamped, and very, very tired looking.  He would always say hello. That great voice was intact. Wagner is the only composer I know besides Bach whose music is physically addictive. His harmonic sophistication was designed to upset the emotional equilibrium, and it does. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFFn-NV6rtc It used to be said that Wagner is the subject of the greatest number of books except Jesus Christ. I don't know if that's true. I do know that I find his music hard to love, and easy to admire. Tony Palmer's film Wagner with Richard Burton and Vanessa Redgrave may be seen in the You Tube video above.