Newsletter Vol 20 No.2 August 2016




This year is the twentieth anniversary of the Wagner Society of Scotland, and we will open our 2016-17 season with a grand celebration! On the enclosed flyer you can also see the entire programme for the year. As if this were not enough excitement, Opera North’s peripatetic Ring Cycle has been attracting widespread plaudits. Nadine Harrison has given us her assessment of the Salford performances on page 3; listening to the commentaries and interviews accompanying the radio broadcast, I was forcibly persuaded that the freedom from formal staging was indeed achieving substantial benefits thanks to an imaginative deployment of forces, and in its concentration on the music was appealing to newcomers not just to the Ring but to opera altogether.

Also included with this Newsletter is a report from our Chairman on the RWVI Kongress held in Strasbourg in May, a more peaceable affair than in the past. Our country faces uncertain times, but in the Wagner Society of Scotland we keep our European credentials burnished.                                                                                                                                                                          [RA]





Sunday 2nd October 2016 7.30–9.30pm

Edinburgh Society of Musicians

Guest speaker: Derek Watson B.Mus. LRAM

Free entry for members

Cake and Bubbly

Come and help us celebrate!



Forthcoming events


—  All events take place at Edinburgh Society of Musicians, 3 Belford Road, EH4 3BL (by Dean Bridge). Admission £7 members (except 2 October and 4 December), £15 non-members.


Sunday 2 October 2016 at 7.30 pm



Derek Watson will share the great moments over the span of 32 years since he and a group of friends founded the Wagner Society of Scotland, and will reminisce about how and why we became an independent Society 20  years ago, joining a family of Wagner Societies worldwide. Highlights of our Society’s history will be recalled on screen in photographs and on film. He will also play rare recordings of some of our distinguished guests, reflect on Richard Wagner’s own knowledge of our country and introduce extracts by Scottish artists who distinguish themselves in Wagner performance.

Derek Watson was founder member and Chair of the Wagner Society in Scotland since its beginning in 1984, through its inauguration as an independent society in 1996 until he retired in 2013. He is well known as a freelance tutor and lecturer on music, the author of The Master Musicians volumes on Bruckner and Liszt, a biographer of Richard Wagner, and the writer of many articles in scholarly publications relating to 19th-century music, contributing recently to the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Wagner.

After Derek’s talk there will be refreshments, cake, and time to reminisce.


Sunday 30 October 2016 at 7.30 pm 



Patrick Carnegy will show how Shakespeare crucially shaped Wagner’s ideas for theatrical reform, his conception for music-drama, and his ideas about how it should be performed. Dr Carnegy will describe how German productions of Die Meistersinger in the 1960s reasserted Wagner’s Shakespearean ancestry and thereby helped exorcise the ghosts of Nazi appropriation.

Patrick Carnegy is a graduate of Trinity Hall, Cambridge and his books include Faust as Musician (1973) and Wagner and The Art of Theatre (2006), which won a Royal Philharmonic Society Award. In 1988 Dr Carnegy was appointed the first ever Dramaturg at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and from 1998 until 2013 was the Stratford-upon-Avon theatre critic for The Spectator.


Sunday 4 December 2016 **6.30 to 9.00pm**


Notice is hereby given of the Twentieth Annual General Meeting of the Wagner Society of Scotland at 6.30pm on Sunday 4th December 2016 at the Edinburgh Society of Musicians, 3 Belford Road, Edinburgh, EH4 3BL.

After the AGM, there will be a light buffet and drinks and time to socialise, and we hope that our scholar Rebecca Godley will tell us about her experiences in Bayreuth.

Admission is free to members.



Nadine Harrison


It was with some trepidation that I booked tickets to this essentially concert performance of the Ring Cycle as I feel quite strongly that opera is best experienced as a live staged production, the Gesamtkunstwerk. However, the chance to hear a quality opera company performing without the need to travel abroad was too good to pass up. I’m now well into double figures for Ring Cycles so at least this would be a study week for me.

The orchestra was in full view on the stage with the singers placed in front on a fairly narrow strip, with ordinary chairs being the only ‘prop’. The only exceptions were the Woodbird who hovered in among the harps at the back and the Chorus in Götterdämmerung who were cleverly fitted behind the orchestra. Projected behind the orchestra were variously images of water, fire, landscape, and occasionally a sword. The surtitles were also projected onto this triptych of screens as was a periodic synopsis (which latter I personally found rather irritating).

The singers, dressed in the main in black concert dresses or suits, used gestures and positioning to express emotions, generally facing forwards. Some scenes were more closely choreographed: for instance the Norns had carefully synchronised movements; when Wotan put Brünnhilde to sleep at the end of Walküre, she crumpled elegantly from a kneeling position to a prone sleeping position; and this was repeated silently in Siegfried Act III to address the difficulty of getting Brünnhilde back on stage. Another touch was for those who had died or been killed to fold their arms across their chest and turn their back to the audience, enabling them to leave the stage unobtrusively at a more appropriate moment.

Some critics regretted the lack of props, but for me the absence of set, props, and costumes brought about an enhancement of the meaning and emotional content whilst the orchestral music became more prominent, adding to these effects. As the Cycle went on, I found myself making new connections between scenes and music which I suspect had previously eluded me because of the distraction of staged productions.

However, if there had been no acting at all, I think it would have been more difficult to concentrate throughout the Cycle. In fact, the first two scenes of Rheingold were pretty static, not helped by some very wooden performances in these scenes, such that I had started to feel concerned that this would be a more conventional concert performance; but then Loge came on waving his hands, Gergiev-like, in time to the fire music and by the time we entered Nibelheim the dramatic experience began and never looked back.

Reflecting after the event, I agree with Conductor Richard Farnes that this could be a more economical way of presenting opera. But I think that additionally, it can, if done well, enhance aspects of an opera, especially for Wagner where the music is so rich and tells you everything you need to know. Farnes modestly denies setting out to introduce a new paradigm for operatic performance but it may be that he and his team have done just that. I personally still prefer fully staged productions but this mode is so much better than a straight concert performance that other companies might think about taking it up.


At the end of Götterdämmerung at the Lowry, the standing ovation lasting nearly 10 minutes spoke for the appreciation of the audience.



THE EFFECT OF DIET ON THE COMPOSITION OF TRISTAN UND ISOLDE — Ian Robertson continues his series of reflections


A good deal has been said and written concerning the emotional liaison between Wagner and Mathilde Wesendonck during the composition of Tristan und Isolde. Rather less well-known is the important nutritional supplementation Mathilde provided. In May 1859 Wagner was finding much difficulty with the composition of Act III. But then Mathilde sent him some rusks — evidently not any kind of rusk but a superior variety. These produced a most gratifying response. ‘When the Zwieback arrived I realized straight away what I had been missing: my rusks were nowhere near sweet enough, and of course they could produce no proper inspiration; but with those sweet, familiar rusks, dunked in milk, I was at once back on the right track. Zwieback! Zwieback!’ Such enthusiasm unsurprisingly caused Mathilde to send on more of her sweeter rusks than could be consumed, dunked or otherwise. But for Wagner that was a lesser problem.

[Letters of 9 May and 21 June 1859 in W. Golther, Richard Wagner an Mathilde Wesendonck, Berlin, 1904.]



Isabel Olson

We regret to inform readers of the death after a long illness of our long-standing member Isabel Olson from Epsom, Surrey. Isabel was a regular participant in the Society’s study weekends. We send condolences to her son Andrew and family.





●  The new season of live transmissions from the Met will include Tristan and Isolde on Saturday 8 October at 5pm.  Unless you prefer ...


●  ... Soprano Charlotte Whittle from Fife and Swiss soprano Vera Wenkert, with whom Charlotte is studying, will be giving a recital of operatic arias by Mozart, Verdi, and Wagner as well as the Wesendonck Lieder on Saturday 8 October at 7.30pm, at Holy Trinity Church, South Street St Andrews KY16 9UH. Tickets £15 at the door or phone 07854 147946. Tickets sales will support Charlotte’s travel costs to Zürich.


●  Saffron Opera Group will be putting on a performance of Die Walküre at Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden on Sunday 9 October at 2.30 pm. Further information at

●  The Mastersingers and Rehearsal Orchestra will be conducting a masterclass of Act 2 of Götterdämmerung on 30 October at 2pm in Henry Wood Hall, Trinity Church Square, London SE1 4HU. Tickets are £20 from Mike Morgan, 9 West Court, Downley, High Wycombe HP13 5TG: see



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