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'Wagner's Jews': can we separate art from the man?

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Published on Nov 26, 2013

While the celebrations marking Richard Wagner's bicentennial show he is still respected as a composer, the controversy over his notorious political leanings shows few signs of abating. Last year, Tel Aviv University was forced to cancel a performance by the Israel Wagner Society amid an outcry, continuing an Israeli tradition of unofficially boycotting his work. During his anniversary month in May, Dusseldorf's opera house pulled a Nazi-themed staging of Tannhauser after its premiere. Hilan Warshaw's new film Wagner's Jews seeks to explore the composer's complicated relationships with the Jewish musicians with whom he worked closely, often to his own surprise. Can it ever be possible to appreciate Wagner without reference to his anti-Semitism and nationalism? Can his work ever hope to find a genuine popular audience among a public for whom Wagner is a byword for operatic bombast and unpleasant political views? Should we be more willing to focus on the work itself or can we never really separate the art from the man?

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