Newsletter Vol. 21 No. 3 November 2017

There is always a pleasant atmosphere of anticipation before any of our Sunday evening talks.   The speakers are usually experts in their fields and enthusiastic about their presentations and the new light they may shed on aspects of Wagner’s life and work... 


#Report on Bayreuther Festspiele 2017

#Committee Vacancies 

#Forthcoming Events 

#Wagner's Genesis as a Composer 

#News in Brief



There is always a pleasant atmosphere of anticipation before any of our Sunday evening talks.   The speakers are usually experts in their fields and enthusiastic about their presentations and the new light they may shed on aspects of Wagner’s life and work.   Some of the talks can be quite technical for the non musician, but most are pitched at a level where the arguments can be easily followed and understood.

Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have a really exceptional speaker and this happened at our November meeting.   The speaker was not a fully paid up member of the Master’s fan club, but rather someone whose passion was the life and music of Johannes Brahms.   We have our Chairman to thank for asking Dr. Katy Hamilton to speak to us, but the choice was an appropriate and memorable one.

From the start, Katy demonstrated an easy familiarity with the work of both composers and her musical illustrations were a treat.   She moved effortlessly through the rivalry and dislike that Wagner and Brahms were supposed to have for one another, indicating that there was actually much evidence of mutual respect.   It is perhaps not surprising that two highly cultured and gifted composers should recognise the other’s talents; hence trite and meaningless criticisms might serve little purpose.   It was particularly interesting to learn that after an early humiliation in the press, Brahms never again put his opinions in writing.   He may have felt that he might fare badly and his legacy be affected by a needless opposition to Wagner.   (Perhaps RW might have improved his legacy by a similarly circumspect approach!)

Our meetings are really worth attending if you want to hear specialist speakers talk about Wagner.   The coming meetings are in this Newsletter and we would all urge you to come if you can.   The Society will continue to thrive if the membership actively supports its work.

Some of you may have been lucky enough to catch Anush Hovhannisyan, our Bayreuth Stipendiatin in 2013, singing Violetta in Scottish Opera’s Traviata at the Festival Theatre.  This year we broke the mould and went for a Set and Costume designer.  You can read her enthusiastic account of her experiences at Bayreuth below.



By Gillian Slater, Bayreuth Scholar

This was truly a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience and I am very grateful to the Wagner Society of Scotland for making it possible.

A ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ is a work of art that makes use of all or many art forms, or strives to do so.  Although Wagner rarely used this word, it is often associated with his aesthetic ideals.  As a Set and Costume designer, I appreciate how important the marriage of visual spectacle and performance can be; I am also aware that the Bayreuth Festival truly encompasses this dynamic.

One of the many highlights of my trip was a tour of the famous Bayreuth Festspielhaus.  There is something magical about an empty theatre space and the Festspielhaus is a treat for anyone who has a love for theatre buildings.  The Festspielhaus is famous for the unusual orchestra pit which sits underneath the stage and allows the sound to flow out of the space towards the audience in such a way that it creates the ideal acoustic condition for the singers’ voices and the orchestra to blend together. I have never heard a sound like this.  Many times during performances I found myself closing my eyes as the music was all consuming. This definitely gave me goosebumps!

I find it interesting that the orchestra is hidden.  This positioning very firmly guides the attention of the audience towards the stage.  Although ‘grand’ in terms of size, the seating and theatre itself, is fairly modest in decoration. For me it seems that Wagner designed the auditorium to draw attention towards where the plot is unfolding and the action taking place!  The large scale of the stage blew me away.  There is so much space to play with and to create within.  Significantly, the stage of The Theatre Royal in Glasgow has a depth of only 13 metres compared to an amazing 22 metres in the Festspielhaus. This difference becomes even more apparent when viewing the very beautiful collection of theatre model boxes which are on display at the Richard Wagner Museum. I spent an interesting time studying the beautifully preserved model boxes of various productions from as far back as the 1880s. Usually it is the case that theatre model boxes are destroyed through production work and rework but many are simply lost or discarded.  Yet the collection at the Wagner Museum has been kept in pristine condition. This was amazing for me to see and certainly something which really inspired me as a designer.

Wahnfried House, Wagner’s former residence, was especially interesting after attending Die Miestersinger Von Nürnberg where the first scene is set in the library at Wahnfried.  The attention to detail was amazing on stage. Even the awe inspiring chandelier had been painstakingly recreated in full.  The set had been built on a moving truck so the stage transition was very striking as the whole library rolled upstage to reveal the next scene. The opera was filled with many amazing moments like this, including a beautiful meadow which flew into the air and quickly transitioned into a cold, accurate recreation of the Nürnberg trials.  The designer, Rebecca Ringst had created very bold visuals by taking risks.  At the end of the performance the set flew out and an orchestra in blacks moved downstage making that large space appear very empty but very full at the same time.  It was very beautifully carried out.

The second opera which we attended was Tristian und Isolde.  The design for this performance was stark but interesting.  The first set was made of multiple grey stairs and levels which allowed the performers to move around in numerous ways.  I would say the first set was not used as well as it might have been, and the direction made it lose a little bit of its magic.  What really struck me was the turnaround from the set of Die Miestersinger, which we had seen the night before. To dismantle and reassemble large sets is a complex and difficult task; with such a fast turnaround I cannot imagine how many people must be on those teams!  Tristian und Isolde had no live transitions but instead each setting changed during the intervals. The third set remained in the grey industrial world and cleverly played with light to alter the settings.

On our last night we attended Die Walküre. I had been greatly looking forward to this performance as the production was designed by one of my very favourite designers, Aleksandar Denić.  For the previous two performances I was fortunate to be seated in the stalls, and very much enjoyed that view of the stage. For Die Walküre I was seated high up in the gallery and I could see everything. The set did not disappoint; the designer had created a giant barn structure on a revolve which was used beautifully by the performers.  Parts of the set moved to create huge screens which had projected on them live film footage from the stage.  Following the performers around hidden parts, the cameras were able to provide the audience with an immersive view of what was taking place in these small intimate spaces.  It was an incredibly intelligent use of such a large stage area.  I have never seen a live performance on that scale before and was stunned. The costumes, by Adriana Braga Peretzki, were beautiful, the Valkyries especially standing out as their design drew the audience into their fantastical godly world.

My wonderful trip to the Bayreuth Festival in 2017 has inspired me greatly; it has given me experiences and ideas which I will always treasure, hopefully drawing on them in my career as a set and costume designer.  It was simply awe-inspiring to be in the Bayreuth Festspielhaus with a thousand or more people, applauding and celebrating the talent evident in these productions. To have spent time meeting and networking with the many amazing young scholars from around the world who share my passion for the Arts was such a wonderful experience. I anticipate that many of the scholars will return to Bayreuth in the future as working professionals.  To build those connections is one of the greatest gifts of receiving the Bayreuth Scholarship and I would like to say thank you again to the Scottish Society for this opportunity.


We have found volunteers for some of the posts previously advertised in the newsletter, however we still require an Independent Examiner to scrutinise the Society accounts prior to submission to the Annual General Meeting in 2018 and as part of our OSCR Annual Return. The person need not be a member of the Society, but cannot be a member of the Committee, and should have some experience with financial accounts.

Anyone prepared to support the Society and give something back to it in exchange for all the pleasure it gives you should contact John Anderton.


All Wagner Society of Scotland events (except 3rd December) start at 7.30pm at Edinburgh Society of Musicians, 3 Belford Road, EH4 3BL (by Dean Bridge).   Admission is £7 members, £15 non-members.  

Sunday 3rd December 2017 **6.30 to 9.00pm**

Following the AGM, members are invited free of charge to enjoy a Christmas social evening including a buffet and drinks.

Sunday 21st January 2018 at 7.30 pm
Wagner’s Operas as a Window on Nineteenth-Century Society – Elaine Kelly

This talk will explore what we can learn about nineteenth-century society and Wagner’s position within it from a study of his operas. 

Elaine Kelly is head of the Reid School of Music at the University of Edinburgh.  Her research explores the intersections between music, culture, and politics in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Germany, with a focus on the German Democratic Republic. She has a particular interest in post-war reception of Wagner’s operas and has published extensively on the topic.

Sunday 18th February at 7.30 pm
Performance – Linda Esther Gray

How does one arrive at a performance which hopefully will remain in the mind of the listener as one of quality and passion?  This is the fascinating question addressed in this session.

Linda Esther Gray was an International soprano best known for her performances of Mozart, Puccini, Verdi, Beethoven and Wagner, in particular, Isolde.  She now teaches a select number of young singers and has written and published three books.  She has just finished writing her first novel, a mystery set in the world of opera, which will be published later this year.

Sunday 11th March at 7.30 pm

According to various German and British media, Wagner ‘influenced Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich’; Hitler’s ‘theories of racial purity were partly drawn from Wagner’. The composer was apparently ‘acclaimed by Adolf Hitler as the earliest inspiration for his idea of a pure German master race’. Wagner, of course, entertained no such idea, but such views are standard in journalism, and even find their way into scholarship.

This talk will assess Wagner’s place in the diverse spectrum of German mid-nineteenth‑century anti‑Jewish writing, and describe the changes which took place in the decade of his death, including assessments of him by Nazi intellectuals.

Derek Hughes is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of Aberdeen.  His research embraces a number of ancient and modern literatures from Homer to the present day, and naturally examines Wagner’s self‑immolating women.

Sunday 15th April at 7.30 pm.

A player’s perspective to the performing of Wagner, delivered by conductor John Logan who has enjoyed almost thirty years of playing in many of the UK’s top orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with Simon Rattle, and a seventeen year tenure as Associate Principal Horn with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.  As well as having the position of Head of Brass at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, John is busy as a conductor, arranger, and composer and has a special interest in bringing the world of folk and traditional music together with the symphony orchestra.

Our Gartmore Weekend will take place from 14-17 September 2018 – Richard Wagner 1861-1871; The Wanderer: Ludwig II to the Rescue.  Details and booking forms will be issued early in the new year, along with information about our Bayreuth ticket allocation.


I remarked previously on the high mortality rate of the characters in the 15-year-old Wagner’s play “Leubald und Adelaide”.  This play was the reason underlying Wagner’s becoming a composer.  When he proudly presented it to his family and associates “everybody deafened me with their reproaches about my wasted time and perverted talent”.   However, “there remained to me a marvellous inner consolation...I knew...that my work could only be judged rightly when provided with the music I had now decided to write for it and which I intended to start composing immediately”.  Thereupon Wagner commenced an initially fitful, but eventually persistent, study of musical composition.

Even so, there is no evidence that he ever wrote any music for this play.  The manuscript, in which “the calligraphy was stylized to the highest degree”, was once thought to be lost but was rediscovered and is now in the Wagner Archives.

Richard Wagner, My Life. Translated by Andrew Gray; edited by Mary Whittall. Da Capo Press, New York, 1992, pp.25-27, 31.


J Ian Robertson


Longborough Festival Opera’s 2018 Season includes Der fliegende Holländer.

Badisches Staatstheater, Karlsruhe are performing two Ring Cycles at Easter and in May 2018 –

It is possible to combine the first cycle with a visit to nearby Baden-Baden to see Parsifal on Good Friday –

Budapest’s Wagner Festival in June 2018 features, der fliegende Holländer, Tristan und Isolde and Tannhäuser.

The Royal Opera House is reviving the Keith Warner Ring with four Cycles in September-November 2018.

Sofia State Opera are understood to be reviving their Ring Cycle in 2018.

‘Opera: Passion, Power and Politics’ is an immersive exhibition that takes visitors through 400 years of opera history.  On at the V&A Museum in London until 25th February 2018


The Wagner Society of Scotland is registered as a Scottish Charity No. SC028209

Chairman: Dale Bilsland (; 0141 942 0935)
Secretary: John Anderton (; 0131 447 1645)

Treasurer and Membership Secretary:   Peter Stuart         
Newsletter Editor: Maureen McLennan (



Further information and contact details at


Derek Williams
21/6 Guthrie Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1JG
Telephone:  0131 2411 804  Mobile:  0785 760 2004


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


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

Membership Secretary

Ian McLennan
6 Merchiston Place Edinburgh EH10 4NR
Telephone:  0131 623 2920          

Newsletter Editor

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