Opera is often perceived as elitist and of little interest to young people. That’s not a view that’s shared by Eva Wagner-Pasquier, the great-granddaughter of the famous German composer, Richard Wagner, who was in Singapore in late October to watch the opening night of “The Flying Dutchman”. She seems very confident about the future of opera, and she is in a position to speak with authority on the topic. She spent her working life in management roles at a series of opera companies and is now the Ambassador of the prestigious Bayreuth Festival to a worldwide network of 140 Wagner societies.
Despite problems with arts funding and a decline in sponsorship for opera in some countries, Wagner-Pasquier sees a growing following for Wagner’s works worldwide.
Of Asia, she says:
“I read all the reports I get from the area. It’s a huge interest. In Japan, they’re crazy about Wagner’s works. Korea too. There are singers from Japan, Korea, also Taiwan… My father (Wolfgang) did Lohengrin with Japanese singers. It must be around 30 years ago that he directed it. It’s enormous.”
As far as she knows, there has been no local production in China, but productions by foreign companies have been staged there.
The long term future of opera in general, including Wagner’s works, depends on young people being attracted to it. Wagner-Pasquier dismisses claims that they are not interested.
In Germany, she says,
“People always say the youngsters don’t come to concerts, but that’s not true. There’s a huge wave of interest coming from the next generation.”
The norm used to be that young people became interested as a result of being taken to operas by their parents. “That was the norm in our generation. Nowadays, it’s a little different. Young people are finding this music interesting for themselves. Of course, it’s better if the parents also took an interest themselves and encouraged their kids, but that’s a bit old generation.”
She definitely thinks that it would be wrong for opera companies to give up on young people, commenting on the chorus and orchestra of the Singapore “Flying Dutchman”, “They all look young, as far as I can see.”
As to young people coming forward and being interested in Wagner’s works and opera more generally: “One does not need to worry about that.”
Asked about what she does as Ambassador to the Wagner societies, Wagner-Pasquier says, with a straight face, “I don’t do anything!” Then she laughs and says, “No, that’s not right.” She describes how she goes to a lot of Wagner society events and attends the annual meetings of the International Association of Wagner Societies, which took place this year in Strasborg.
“Some of the societies like it that one is there to show that there’s somebody around supporting and encouraging them. For example, in May for a whole week, I was in Washington. The general manager of the Washington National Opera, Francesca Zambello, invited me, but of course, I saw the Wagner society as well, but I don’t call and say “Here I am.” I’m not that kind of person.
You meet and you talk, exchange ideas, and you meet people who are enthusiastic, like here in Singapore. There’s one case in Germany, in Minden, where the society headed by Jutta Winkler is putting on the whole Ring. They’ve put on a “Tristan” and a “Lohengrin” and a “Tannhauser,” and Jutta’s gone out and got sponsors and they have these amazing productions on stage. Her mother was the president of the Wagner society and she took over and even in Germany it is quite a sensation. Now they’re doing one opera of the Ring Cycle each year and they’ve already done “Rheingold” and “Die Walkure”. The “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” wrote a big article them. It’s fantastic.”
Wagner-Pasquier does not say as much, but she reportedly gave great encouragement to the Minden initiative. What made that so noteworthy is that the cost and effort involved in mounting a full production of a Wagner opera is such that it is generally left to professional opera companies, and Wagner societies would normally attend and support their performances. The Minden society was the first Wagner society to stage a Wagner opera, which makes the initiative of the Richard Wagner Association (Singapore) the second such effort.
When the Richard Wagner Association (Singapore) (RWA(S)) started to consider staging “The Flying Dutchman” two years ago, one of its first moves was to approach Wagner-Pasquier in Dessau, at the Wagner societies’ 2015 annual meeting, for her views and support. She laughs when asked about her reaction to this approach by RWA(S) president, Juliana Lim:
“She raised it as we were entering a lift. We were staying at the same hotel. I said “Yes, probably, when is it?” We saw each other again, because you know there’s always a Wagner singing competition each year in Karlsruhe. Some of the singers were there. So, we met again. I think one has a feeling ….One can always say that I have no time. This production was so fantastic that I had to follow it up.”
After the opening night performance of “The Flying Dutchman”, Wagner-Pasquier said that she liked the production and the interpretation a lot.
John Gee interviewed Mrs Eva Wagner-Pasquier when she visited Singapore on 22-24 October to grace “The Flying Dutchman” Singapore Premiere (International Cast) as Guest-of-Honour.