“The Most German of All German Operas”: An Analysis of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger and its Influence on Hitler’s Nazi Ideology

By Patrick Lo.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (The Mastersingers of Nuremberg) was the only opera that was presented at the Bayreuth festivals during World War II. It is a comedy that most inspired Hitler and the Nazi to make it the centerpiece of their social and cultural thinking, was premiered in Munich in 1868, just two years after the formation of the Northern German State under Prussian aegis, and only three years before the German Empire was created in the wake of the Franco-Prussian war. The Opera was produced for public consumption, less than a year after it was completed (while Tristan waited six years to get produced). At the premiere King Ludwig II invited Wagner to join him in the royal box, against all protocol – “a realm of splendor such as no poet before me had ever known” is how Wagner put it – though nothing astonished the audience more than Wagner’s taking a bow from the front of the box after the second and third acts. Die Meistersinger was later produced in Dresden, Dessau, Karsruhe, Mannheim, Weimar, Hanover, Vienna, and Berlin, and each time it was a triumph with the audience and critics. It was soon recognized as a pillar of German art. Die Meistersinger stands apart from the rest of Wagner’s creative output not only because it is a comedy, but also because it is set in a particular historical time and place and it is about ordinary people, not gods or giants or dwarfs. As Virgil Thomson wrote, “it is all direct and human and warm and sentimental and down-to-earth. It is unique among Wagner’s theatrical works in that none of the characters takes drugs or gets mixed up with magic”.
Indeed, none of Wagner’s operas is as compromised by politics as Die Meistersinger. Wagner described in Mein Leben how the first idea for Die Meistersinger came to him. According to Harry Kupfer, Die Meistersinger is the most utopian and optimistic of Wagner’s works, where, in contrast to the pessimistic endings of all his other works, a possibility is shown of how people could actually live democratically with one another if they take responsibility by renouncing the idea that self-realization must be achieved at all costs. One of the devices making Die Meistersinger “the most German of all German operas” is that it is rooted in, perpetuates, and intensifies a historical myth already three centuries old by the time Wagner conceived the work. Conductor Daniel Barenboim, who also stressed in a recent conversation with scholar Edward Said that Die Meistersinger is the first and foremost about “the relation between mediocrity and genius, between artist and dilettante, between the new and the old in the person of Stolzing.”
This paper attempts to demonstrate the evidence in the records of the opera’s reception by Nazi. It also examines how Nazi ideologues appropriated and enlarged upon the utopian potential embedded in Wagner’s comic opera Die Meistersinger by exploiting its material to turn public occasions such as political party rallies into cultural performances.

Keywords: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Operas-Germany, Post-Romantic Operas, Hitler, Adolf, 1889-1945, Wagner, Richard, 1813-1883, Germany-Politics and Government-1933-1945, Bayreuther Festspiele, National Socialism and Philosophy, Antisemitism-Germany, Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)-Causes

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 7, Issue 9, pp.71-102. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.974MB).

Dr. Patrick Lo

Post-Graduate Student (EdD), Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

From 2007-2009, Dr. Patrick Lo served as the Music Cataloguing Librarian at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, University Library System, cataloguing and organizing a highly significant and valuable donation of Chinese music research materials from a retired Harvard professor, Rulan Chao Pian. From 1996-2007, he served as the Cataloguing Librarian at the Lingnan University Library, Hong Kong. Patrick Lo earned his Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) from University of Bristol University (U.K.) in May, 2009. He has a Master of Arts in Design Management (M.A.) from Hong Kong Polytechnic University (2004), a Master of Library and Information Science (M.L.I.S.) from McGill University (Canada; 1994), and a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.) from Mount Allison University, (Canada; 1992). Dr. Lo is efficient in: Cantonese Chinese, Mandarin Chinese (Putunghua), English and German. Dr. Lo’s professional affiliations include: secretary of JULAC-HKCAN (Hong Kong Chinese Name Authority) Workgroup, representative of Lingnan University Library (Hong Kong) for the Hong Kong JULAC-BSC (Bibliographic Services Committee), member of CALIS (China Academic Library and Information System) Unicat Expert Group. Dr. Lo has presented close to 50 research papers and project reports focusing on humanities, education and librarian science workgroup meetings, seminars, conferences in both Hong Kong and overseas, including: Mainland China, Hong Kong, Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Japan, United States, Korea, and Sweden; including presenting at the following institutions: 1. The Library of Congress (U.S.) 2. Austrian National Library (Vienna) 3. University of Vienna 4. National Library of France (Paris) 5. National Institute of Informatics (Japan) Dr. Lo’s recent professional activity includes presenting “Effects of Online Audio-Book Resources on Library Usage and Reading Preferences and Practices of Young Learners in an Elementary School Library Setting in Hong Kong.” at the 75th IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) Conference in Milan, Italy in August, 2009. Full paper available at:http://www.ifla.org/files/hq/papers/ifla75/94-lo-en.pdf Other recent publications include: “A Butterfly with Clipped Wings: an Analytical Study of the Fantasy and Reality Behind the Italian Opera Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini.” Available at:http://h07.cgpublisher.com/proposals/859/index_html “Klaus Heymann auf Naxos: Cheap Price but Quality Music! – a Case Study of a Successful Western Classical Music Company Founded in Hong Kong.” Available at: http://A07.cgpublisher.com/proposals/1 Dr. Lo’s research interests include: latest developments of Metadata, Chinese authority works, and cataloguing among Chinese libraries in Asia and North America; exploring potentials for resources sharing among Chinese libraries in Asia; future development and enhancement of bibliographic records; users’ interaction with the online catalogue; Western classical music, especially Italian operas, vocal music of German Post-Romantic period, German Lieder (German art songs), etc. Other Recent Professional Activities: 2007 Reporter of Recent Music Serials Publications in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau of Fontes Artis Musicae Journal. 2008 Reporter of Recent Monograph Publications in Mainland China of Fontes Artis Musicae Journal.

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