THE RING IN CHEMNITZ
ROBERT ANDERSON pays a visit
Performances of Wagner's Ring in Chemnitz are indeed his
due, and it is appropriate that Chemnitz should be the only East German
city (apart from East Berlin) to stage the work since the War. It was to
Chemnitz that Wagner delivered Minna over the embers of the Dresden uprising
in 1849, and it was there, more by good luck than good management, that
he avoided capture and threw himself on the temporary mercy of Liszt in
Weimar. Liszt took him to an orchestral rehearsal of Tannhäuser
and he had an ardent discussion with Princess Wittgenstein about the Jesus
of Nazareth play he had sketched earlier in the year. Then came the
Swiss exile that saw much of the Ring's shaping. Wagner claimed
that his revolutionary activities were a fundamental ingredient of the Ring
A main companion at the time had been the great Russian bear Bakunin, uncompromising
in his detestation of all government. And he, friend of Karl Marx, was less
fortunate in Chemnitz, where he was arrested in his sleep. Marx was well
aware of Wagner when Bayreuth first heard the completed Ring in 1876.
He complained afterwards he was endlessly bombarded with the question, 'What
do you think of Wagner?'
For a while it seemed as if Chemnitz had surrendered entirely to Marx.
In 1953 the city was renamed Karl-Marx-Stadt, and a gigantic head of the
revolutionary economist, with tousled hair flying to the wind, still dominates
a main street. The head on his Highgate grave in London, though monumental
enough by Soviet standards, is as seen through the wrong end of a telescope
when compared with the all-effacing Chemnitz head. It was a comfort, though,
to see local striplings busy with blaring pop music at the base of the monument,
and plotting maybe the next bout of graffito work round about. On the wall
behind the head are blazoned in vast letters and four languages words that
now seem further than ever from reality, 'Workers of the world, unite'.
Chemnitz has resumed its ancient name and once again Marx must pay attention
to the tiresome little Kapellmeister who has taken over the opera house.
Copyright © 5 May 2001
Robert Anderson, London, UK
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