Alessandra Althoff-Pugliese, President of the Associazione Richard Wagner di Venezia (Venice Wagner Society) and Vice-President of the Richard-Wagner-Verband-International, is the Artistic Consultant for Singapore’s “The Flying Dutchman” project.
Alessandra’s involvement with the project started in April 2015 when she was vacationing in Singapore. We met her at first to understand RWVI’s operations and her perspective on how to progress the idea of staging a full Wagner opera. Over several rounds of drinks and meals, we gained clarity on how to garner support from RWVI and how to leverage on the triennial Singing Competition for Wagner Voices held in Karlsruhe, Germany, which Alessandra helps to organise.
Alessandra’s artistic inputs in the project and her assistance in casting and coaching of our international leads are practical demonstrations of RWVI’s support for Singapore’s “Flying Dutchman” project. In Singapore from 2 to 24 October, Alessandra will be hard at work, coaching the international cast at Aliwal Art Centre.
In a conversation with RWA(S) President Juliana Lim, Alessandra shares the work of the Venice Wagner Society and her journey with the Singapore opera project.
JL: When did you have your first Wagner Moment and what was it like?
AAP: My Wagner debut was together with that of Christian Thielemann during the 1983 commemoration of 100 years after Richard Wagner’s death, which took place on February 13th 1883 in Palazzo Vendramin Calergi on the Grand Canal in Venice. It was the first Wagnerian experience as interpreters for both of us, and we both performed for the first time Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder with the orchestra of the Teatro La Fenice on a tour in Venice and the surrounding cities.
The experience was extraordinary, not only for the significance of the poems written by Mathilde Wesendonck – Wagners’ muse and inspiration for Isolde – but also for the beauty of the music of the lieder themselves, that were studies for the second act of “Tristan und Isolde” that Wagner wrote entirely in Venice in 1857-58. This made it a very exciting and memorable experience.
JL: Of the Wagner roles that you have performed, which is your favourite?
AAP: Kundry, the female protagonist of Parsifal, Richard Wagner’s last opera.
JL: Can you share what the Venice Wagner Society does?
AAP: The Associazione Richard Wagner di Venezia (ARWV) was founded in cooperation with the major cultural institutions and the city of Venice in 1992 by my late husband, music critic and musicologist, Giuseppe Pugliese and myself with the specific intent to open to the public the mezzanine apartment where Richard Wagner lived the last six months of his life and where he died in February 1883. In 1995, we opened that room together with the Richard Wagner Study and Research Center. Since then, we have opened the other five rooms that formed his personal quarters within the family apartment which comprised the entire mezzanine floor. We organize guided tours of the apartment.
We also organize the yearly concert, Omaggio a Richard Wagner, to commemorate the day he died in Venice and the Giornate Wagneriane (concerts, symposiums, exhibitions) in collaboration with the Teatro La Fenice where we present our young artists that are selected yearly to participate in the Bayreuther Festspiele in collaboration with the Richard Wagner Stipendiumstiftung, founded by Richard Wagner in 1882 during on the second occasion of his festival.
JL: Why did you decide to embark on the Singapore TFD opera project? What were your most challenging or memorable moments connected with it over the last year?
AAP: I found the idea of the first performance of an opera by Richard Wagner in Singapore very exciting from the start, with a conductor and stage directors from Singapore making their debuts in this production.
The choice of “The Flying Dutchman” seemed to fit the occasion perfectly. I immediately agreed that it would be a wonderful opportunity for the past winners of our International Competition for Wagner Voices that I have helped to organize in the past 15 years. After full consideration of the winners from the past three competitions, I was able to find a very talented international cast of voices, but not all of them had studied their respective roles, and not all were free from other engagements.
After many consultations we were able to organize the necessary rehearsals and I agreed as a professional singer and vocal coach, as well as Vice-President of the Richard Wagner Verband International, to give the vocal and musical coaching to the cast so that would make it possible for the young singers to make their debut in Singapore in this very original international production promoted by the Richard Wagner Association (Singapore) that will bring Europe, Australia and tSoutheast Asia together in the Wagnerian “Gesamtkunstwerk” or “total work of art” with what I feel will be an exceptional synthesis of energy.
JL: You restored Wagner’s quarters in Venice as a Museum. What would you like to say about this and what would you say to Wagner about this effort?
AAP: The ARWV has restored the rooms of Wagner’s last abode in Palazzo Vendramin Calergi on the Grand Canal and since 1995 has opened the rooms to the public with private guided tours. Those are by reservation only (firstname.lastname@example.org), no later than one day before the requested visit, and they may be conducted in four languages.
We are very proud to have received from Josef Lienhart and Walter just two of the most important private collections of Wagner documents, artifacts, memorabilia, books, scores, autograph letters, lithographs, xilographs, etc. that are on display in the Richard Wagner Rooms.
When Wagner moved into Palazzo Vendramin Calergi his first comment was “Finally a house worthy of me!” Therefore, I would like to tell him that the ARWV has now made a twenty-year effort, through a three phase project, to establish this permanent Richard Wagner Museum. We consider this to be one of our most important past and future endeavors: to create a Museum that will always be worthy of him.
JL: If you could have a meal with Richard Wagner, where would you take him and what would you eat? )
AAP: I would take him to the Ristorante San Marco (that unfortunately no longer exists) where he used to like to go to on all his visits to Venice (1857-58, 1861, 1876, 1880, 1882) and where he could look out onto the Piazza during his meal. There I would order roasted meat and potatoes washed down by beer or better, Moet & Chandon, as suggested by his doctor in 1870, in order to help his digestion. All followed up by the special Venetian ice cream that he loved!