Stephen Fry: Wagner and Me

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Wagner
LABELS: Digital Classics
PERFORMER: Stephen Fry (narrator)
CATALOGUE NO: Digital Classics 1102DC

Advertisement

First shown as an hour-long programme on BBC Two last September, this idiosyncratic documentary now appears on DVD at full 90-minutes length plus an additional 36 minutes of material excluded from the final cut. The film opens with an all-agog Stephen Fry paying his first visit to the Bayreuth Festspielhause. With many an ‘Eek!’ and much mugging to the camera, he peeps in on rehearsals and workshops, musing ‘Ooh, I wish I were a Valkyrie, sometimes’.

This promises to become tiresome. Yet, ultimately, his pilgrimage proves rather touching. His adoration of Wagner as composer and dramatist is patently profound – he almost expires on being played the ultimate resolution of the Tristan chord. Yet, being Jewish, he is equally racked by Wagner’s anti-Semitism and its exploitation by the Nazis – agonising about it all on the site of Hitler’s Nuremburg rallies and ultimately seeking exoneration for his love of Wagner from that revered Auschwitz survivor, Anita Wallfisch.

Advertisement

The film roughly follows the chronology of Wagner’s later years. We view Lake Lucerne where he was exiled and visit the Villa Wesendonk where he conceived Tristan, the Mariinsky in St Petersburg where he conducted and the Wagner-fantasy castle of mad King Ludwig who rescued him from ruin. Granted, the snippets of current Wagner stagings we see look uniformly dire, and we are rarely allowed to listen to the music at any length without voice-over. Yet the ambiguity of Wagner’s massive achievement is authentically conveyed. Bayan Northcott