Newsletter Vol 19 No.2 August 2015




This issue of the Newsletter includes a report by our Chairman on the RWVI Kongress held in Dessau in May. The toxic politics of the Verband, as of the Wagner family itself, can easily leave us so mesmerised as to overlook the burgeoning world of Wagneriana beyond Bayreuth. In Britain, in marked contrast, garden venues such as Longborough in the Cotswolds have been attracting considerable acclaim. The Observer  critic Fiona Maddocks has written that ‘on a modest budget ... and galloping over logistical hedges and ditches with ready glee, Longborough achieves terrific musical results’. Jessica Duchen writing in The Independent of the recent Tristan described conductor Anthony Negus as  ‘a Wagnerian maestro of a calibre that should rightfully be heard at Covent Garden and Bayreuth’, and for George Hall in Opera magazine this month, ‘this was world-class Wagner conducting’. Now we can savour the exciting prospect of meeting and hearing Anthony Negus in person in November, as part of our season for the coming year. The flyers enclosed with this Newsletter list the entire programme, offering a wide range of topics covering the artistic, historical, and philosophical background to the music of Wagner. The meetings lie at the heart of our activities: note them in your diaries, and spread the word.

We are sorry to report the deaths of two great Wagnerians:  in April the writer and critic Andrew Porter and in July the Canadian tenor Jon Vickers. We are pleased to print below a tribute to Andrew Porter by Derek Watson.     [RA]


Andrew Porter: a tribute by Derek Watson


With the passing of Andrew Porter the musical world loses an enlightened, erudite critic and translator. Wagnerians are indebted to his fine performing version in English of The Ring of the Nibelung (1977); John Calder's ENO Guides also published translations of The Flying Dutchman, Tristan and Isolde, and Parsifal. These texts were distinguished not only by their fidelity to Richard Wagner's originals, but by a musician's intelligent understanding of vocal needs and singability, as well as listeners' comprehension.

Pros and cons of singing opera in translation will always be argued. Indisputable was Porter's ability to reach contemporary audiences for whom Wagner's language might be an obstacle. His success can be measured by comparison with his predecessors such as the Corders, Frederick Jameson, even Ernest Newman. As a Verdi scholar Porter's research was particularly important for Don Carlos. He also wrote several original libretti. For much of the 1960s he edited The Musical Times.

As reviewer his columns were written from the standpoint of one who had researched works thoroughly. With less familiar pre-classical repertoire as with new music he took the greatest pains to learn everything about the piece and the aims of the production team. Attending rehearsals and often more than one performance before venturing his verdict in print attest to this. In writing for The Financial Times over twenty years, The Listener, then The New Yorker, the TLS, and Opera magazine, he had the luxury of expanding his thoughts beyond the inadequate column inches mostly allotted to newspaper critics. His most interesting appraisals read as richly informed and astute essays (there are several volumes of his New Yorker articles); they are enjoyable and enlightening years after the events, and this is rare in modern music criticism.

Andrew Porter was born in Cape Town, South Africa, 26 August 1928, and read English and Music at University College, Oxford. He died on 2 April 2015.                                                                                                   


Forthcoming Events


All events take place at Edinburgh Society of Musicians, 3 Belford Road, EH4 3BL (by Dean Bridge). Admission £7 members, £15 non-members. Please note the afternoon start time on 25 October.


Sunday 27 September 2015 at 7.30 pm

Wagner, Mathilde Wesendonck, and the origins of Tristan und Isolde — Simon Rees


While he was working on Tristan und Isolde Richard Wagner and his wife Minna were the guests of the rich Zurich silk merchant Otto Wesendonck and his wife, the poet Mathilde. Wagner became infatuated with Mathilde Wesendonck (to the rage of poor Minna) and set several of her poems, using melodic material later incorporated into Tristan und Isolde. Their conversations on love, philosophy, and art (with Schopenhauer as a principal topic) prefigured the discussions between Isolde and Tristan in the second act of the opera. When Minna intercepted a compromising letter from Wagner to Mathilde the Wagners had to leave, and so they continued on their travels while Wagner completed the composition of Tristan und Isolde. Simon Rees illustrates his lecture with pictures of the Wagners, the Wesendoncks, Zurich, and the early productions of Tristan, and with musical excerpts from the Wesendonck Lieder and Tristan und Isolde.

Simon Rees is a freelance dramaturg, poet, novelist, and librettist. He worked as dramaturg for Welsh National Opera from 1989 to 2012. He now reviews for Opera, Opera Now, Classical Music, Bachtrack, and other magazines and websites, and writes surtitle and singing translations of operas. His most recent collection of poems, The Wood below Coelbren, was published by Poetry Salzburg in 2014.


Sunday 25 October 2015 at *2.30 pm* 

Karen Cargill in conversation


Scottish mezzo soprano Karen Cargill will talk to Dale Bilsland about her operatic and musical career. She sang Waltraute in Die Walküre and Second Norn in Götterdämmerung in the Ring Cycle at the Royal Opera House in London and made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera, New York singing the role of Magdalene in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg in 2014. She is to sing Waltraute in Götterdämmerung with the Canadian Opera Company in 2016 as well as having future Wagnerian engagements with both the New York Met and Covent Garden.


Sunday 15 November 2015 at 7.30 pm

Treading the Wagnerian road at Longborough through the Ring to Tristan und Isolde, 2000–2015  — Anthony Negus


Anthony Negus writes: ‘My talk will lead us through preparing and performing a reduced version of the Ring with an ensemble of 18 then 24 players, to embarking in 2007 on the full Rheingold with an enlarged pit and an orchestra of 62. Between then and 2013 we gradually built the whole Ring cycle which we performed three times in the bicentenary year of Wagner's birth. A concert in 2014 which included the Wesendonck Lieder sung by Rachel Nicholls paved the way for our Tristan und Isolde this year.


‘With regard to myself: I decided that I wanted to be a conductor, inspired by Toscanini recordings, when aged 14, and went down the Opera Repetiteur route whilst also concentrating on my clarinet playing. Meeting Else Mayer-Lismann and taking part in her Workshop as pianist and conductor in London from 1963 onwards helped to open the way that I pursued. After a few years in Germany, I spent 35 years on WNO Music Staff where I conducted a wide range of operas by Beethoven, Berg, Gluck, Janacek, Martinu, MacMillan, Mozart, R. Strauss, Verdi, Wagner, and Weber. Now as a freelance coach and conductor I am free to take up whatever may come my way, and am happy to spread my wings a little!’


Sunday 6 December 2015 6.30-9 pm

AGM and Members' Christmas Social


Notice is hereby given of the Nineteenth Annual General Meeting of the Wagner Society of Scotland on 6 December at 6.30 pm at the Edinburgh Society of Musicians, 3 Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3BL. As announced in April, Nadine Harrison will stand down as Secretary at the 2015 AGM, and Scott Wilkinson will stand down as Treasurer at the 2016 AGM. We are actively seeking successors in time for the 2015 AGM and welcome nominations or volunteers for these essential posts or for ordinary members of the Committee: please contact Dale Bilsland ( / 0141 942 0935).


After the AGM, there will be a light buffet and drinks and time to socialise, and we hope that our Bayreuth scholar Kamilla Dunstan will tell us about her experiences.     Admission is free to members.



Richard-Wagner-Verband International Annual Kongress, Dessau-Roßlau 13–17 May 2015

Dale Bilsland


The International Association of Wagner Societies (RWVI) unites some 130 Associations around the world. It was founded in 1909 as a German-based organisation but ‘internationalised’ in 1991 to render all Wagner Societies around the world eligible for membership. The Wagner Society of Scotland is proud to be a member, and benefits from being part of a worldwide family of Wagner lovers.


The purpose of the RWVI mirrors our own, to promote and deepen the understanding of Richard Wagner's works and to provide support for the next generation of artists through the Richard-Wagner-Stipendienstiftung (Richard Wagner Scholarship Foundation), founded at the Composer’s behest, to which this Society sends a Scholar every year. The RWVI also works to ensure the continued success of the Bayreuth Festival, and promotes a Triennial Singing Competition for Wagner Voices, to be held next in Karlsruhe in October of this year, and the annual Giornate Wagneriane in Venice. Future events it will be supporting include a production of Der Fliegende Holländer in Singapore and ‘Tanzhäuser’ (sic) in Cuba.


The annual Kongress of the Verband was held this year in the city of Dessau-Roßlau:  representatives of 70 Societies attended and I represented the Wagner Society of Scotland.  A new Präsidium (Committee) had been elected at Graz in 2014 to serve for a five-year term amid great optimism for the future development of the Verband. Regrettably this optimism was not fulfilled and considerable tensions emerged within the Präsidium culminating in 10 of the 14 members expressing no confidence in the President. After losing a vote of confidence at the Delegates’ Meeting Thomas Krakow resigned as President and Horst Eggers was elected in his place. Finn Elkjaer was replaced as Secretary by Gunther Cicek from Würzburg.


Herr Eggers is a leading member of the Bayreuth Society and enjoys a close association with the Festival and the Wagner sisters. At the conclusion of the meeting he expressed optimism that ticket allocations to Societies would be restored. In the event, at the eleventh hour tickets were offered to societies but in such a way that it was not possible to offer these to our members without buying them first. The deadline was a matter of days. The Committee decided therefore to decline the offer this year as, incidentally, did the London Wagner Society. It is hoped that future offers will be more useful to societies.


The difficulties surrounding the meeting do no credit to the RWVI itself, and from conversations afterwards with representatives of other Societies it is clear that the Präsidium must work hard to secure the long-term future of the Verband. The representatives from Amsterdam and Bonn who had previously proposed to host Kongress in 2017 and 2020 (to coincide with the 250th Beethoven Anniversary) announced that they were placing these proposals on hold. On a positive note the Meeting agreed to institute proxy voting, which had been a matter of concern particularly to those Societies that are geographically distant.


The Delegates’ Meeting occupies only one day and the five-day Kongress is well supported by various other events. Dessau has been called the Bayreuth of the North and boasts a 150-year pedigree of Wagner performances. The city was also the home of the Bauhaus Foundation and there was much of the art and architecture of this Movement to visit and absorb. At the heart of this year’s activities was a stunning Ring Cycle in the Anhaltisches Theater. Like most modern Rings this cycle raised many questions about the work and this production. It was firmly rooted in Dessau’s Bauhaus past and technological present with the thrust being how we engage with art and technology in the modern age. Much use was made of CGI projection including a CAD forging of Nothung (technically accurate, I am told!) all of which integrated seamlessly into the action and music. It was stimulating to talk with others at the intervals to exchange views of the significance of the images and share interpretations. It has been some time since I have attended a Ring which provoked such positively vigorous engagement and lively discussion, so filling the intervals that one scarcely had time to drink!


The four operas were performed over five nights, with the ‘break’ night filled by a wonderful concert by Dessau-Roßlau’s Stipendiaten in the beautiful Schloss Mosigkau Festsaal. During the daytime, excursions were on offer, the highlight of which was undoubtedly the tour of the Dessau-Wörlitz Garden Kingdom, a UNESCO World Heritage site.


The 2016 Kongress (5 to 8 May) will be hosted by Strasbourg and will include a performance of Das Liebesverbot by the Opera National du Rhin.



‘The Young Wagner’ Residential Study Course at Gartmore House

14–17 September 2015

A few rooms remain available for this course to be given by Derek Watson. For details please contact Nadine Harrison, Secretary.



Wagner and dogs: their stamina and navigational skills

Ian Robertson continues his occasional series


Wagner’s attachment to dogs is well-known. Probably the most famous of his own dogs is the huge Newfoundland Robber, who accompanied him and Minna on their 1839 fight from Riga; their voyage from Pillau via Copenhagen and Sandvika to London; and then on to Paris where, to Richard’s dismay, he deserted them. Robber was apparently so large that in a London cab he had to lie athwart their laps, his head protruding from one side-window and his tail from the other.


However, much more remarkable is a story recounted by Wagner to his second wife Cosima concerning an innominate dog sold by his Bavarian owner to an Englishman. According to Wagner the bold creature escaped at Dover, swam the Channel, then trotted overland back to his original master in Aschaffenburg. Thus far unfortunately I have not traced documentary evidence of this prodigious feat.



News in brief


●  Berwick Festival Opera have confirmed concert performance in Berwick and Perth of Wagner’s Die Walküre, with Peter Selwyn conducting Jonathan Dove’s 18 piece re-orchestration, originally commissioned by City of Birmingham Touring Opera.  Dates and venues are Friday 4 September at 7.30 pm (Berwick Maltings Theatre: and Sunday 6 September at 3.00 pm (Perth Concert Hall: Internationally acclaimed soprano Janice Watson heads the all-star line up as Sieglinde, and Irish soprano Miriam Murphy, who has appeared in the Opera North Ring Cycle and has sung for the Royal Opera, Welsh National Opera, and Glyndebourne, takes on the role of Brünnhilde. The performances are given in association with the Maltings Theatre Productions, the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland Camerata, and the Hebrides Ensemble.

●  The Scottish Chamber Orchestra is holding a Wagner Explore Day on 31 October. It is entitled ‘Wagner beyond the Opera House’ and will be devoted to the Wesendonck Lieder and Siegfried Idyll and run by Dr Elaine Kelly of the University of Edinburgh (our speaker in June). The venue is the Reid Concert Hall, Bristo Square, Edinburgh EH8 9AG. Further information at, and tickets available from the Queen’s Hall Box Office ( / 0131 668 2019).

●  The Sofia production of The Ring, in association with Ballet Füssen, is travelling to the Festival Hall in Füssen in the Bavarian Allgäu for performances on 12, 13, 15, and 17 September. Further information at or from Eurotours (

●  Oper Leipzig is reviving Wagner's first three operas for the 2016 WagnerFest on 20, 21, and 22 May.


Dale Bilsland
22 West Chapelton Drive, Bearsden, Glasgow, G61 2DA
Telephone:  0141 942 0935  Mobile:  0776 691 2724


John Anderton
2 Glenlockart Road, Edinburgh, EH10 5RG
Telephone:  0131 447 1645

Treasurer & Membership Secretary

Peter Stuart
1C Pendreich Road, Bridge of Allan, Stirling, FK9 4PZ
Telephone:  0178 683 3804                

Newsletter Editor

Maureen McLennan
6 Merchiston Place, Edinburgh, EH10 4NR
Telephone:  0131 623 2920  Mobile:  0790 256 3232