I always thought that the Nazis would cheerfully listen to Wagner day in, day out stopping only for lunch and to annex the Sudetenland. But according to a new book (the Wagner Clan) by Jonathan Carr, Wagner actually became much less popular during Hitler's rule. Apparently, Germans much preferred the likes of Carmen and Madame Butterfly. According to Carr, while Hitler himself was obsessed Wagner the party faithful were not had to be dragged kicking and screaming to performances. "We are all told that the Germans poured into opera houses to listen to Wagner as soon as Hitler came to power. The opposite is true."
Most Nazis were bored silly at the prospect of watching five-hour-long epics in which, frequently, little happens. At the 1933 gala performance of Die Meistersinger so few turned up that a furious Hitler sent patrols to drag party members out of beer gardens and brothels, according to Speer. Meanwhile, during one performance of Tristan and Isolde, Junge recalled a member of Hitler's group dropping off and having to be rescued before collapsing over the railings of the box they were in. His rescuer had himself been asleep for most of the performance!
The author has analysed the operas performed in Germany in the 1930s. In the 1932-33 season Carmen was the most performed opera in Germany, with Weber's Der Freischütz in second place. Four Wagner operas were placed next. By 1938-39 however, the highest ranked Wagner opera - Lohengrin - achieved only 12th place. It is true, though, that Wagner's music was used at key moments in the Nazi regime. The Ride of the Valkyries was broadcast to accompany reports on German air attacks, Siegfrieds Tod from Götterdammerung would be heard on German wirelesses to announce important deaths - including Hitler's own. And the overture from Rienzi was often heard on ceremonial occasions.
Hitler's personal obsession with the composer was, perhaps, partly to do with his identification with Wagner the man: he saw him as a lonely figure who had battled against the odds to achieve greatness. And as a man who clearly understood the power of spectacle he was, according to Carr, fascinated by the "nuts and bolts of the staging" of the operas.
My favourite songs normally start with “ONETOOTHREEFOR” and a buzz saw guitar riff. I am thus an utter philistine where opera is concerned and , I thus have no idea whether Carr’s views hold water or not... The idea of an opera that starts at breakfast and goes on until well after last orders fills me with dread... I would not be surprised if anyone else, including Nazis, felt the same......