Wagner: A Genius in Exile
Wagner’s descendants often demonstrate, to put it politely, that genius isn’t inherited, so finding one hosting Andy Sommer’s film made me wary. But his great-great-grandson Antoine seems reasonable, a young New York photographer with no obvious axes to grind.
The film offers a straightforward, visually attractive survey of Wagner’s Swiss links and locations during his two periods of exile, with the multilingual Antoine asking local experts the salient questions, punctuated with his own quite interesting photography. Some good sense and new perspectives emerge. One is Wagner as outdoorsman, delighted by the Alps and achieving some quite daunting climbs with an energy and courage that left his friends lagging. It makes it very clear – as do the extended Alpine views and extra interviews in the bonus material – that his musical nature painting is a direct response; we can well believe that the uplifting Valhalla motif was inspired by the peaks of Julier Pass. And it’s a welcome corrective to the picture of the decadent dreamer some biographers peddle. Likewise, his ‘affair’ with Mathilde Wesendonck is treated as the unconsummated idyll it probably was. And, elsewhere, his less angelic qualities are neither denied nor exaggerated.
Unfortunately the musical excerpts are limited and often only marginally apposite. An enjoyable account, nevertheless, and a good guide.
Michael Scott Rohan