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When a Wagner Meets a Wagner

Near the end of Gottfried Wagner's lecture at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, we're pretty sure he referred to Richard Wagner -- his great-grandfather -- as "a malicious dwarf." (No, I don't think he was referring to Alberich.) If, as Nietzsche famously said, "one pays heavily for being one of Wagner's disciples," how much does one pay for being one of Wagner's descendants?

Gottfried Wagner knows.

Gottfried has been railing and writing for years about what he sees as the evils of Wagnerism, becoming more or less an outcast from Bayreuth, autocratically controlled (since the 1966 death of Wieland Wagner) by Wolfgang Wagner -- Gottfried's father. Because of Gottfried's public stance on Wagner, Wolfgang no longer speaks to his disowned son. In Wolfgang's autobiography, Gottfried gets exactly two brief mentions.

We were therefore a little apprehensive about the tender reunion we had planned for Gottfried and our own Old Boy, Wagner.

Though neither Germans nor Wagnerians are famed for their sense of humor, we did learn one possibly propitious fact, which was that, in his struggle to escape his family's legacy, Gottfried Wagner once worked with ultra-outre German filmmaker Hans-Jurgen Syberberg (whose charmingly bizarre interpretation of Parsifal has Parsifal morphing into a female) on his 5-hour film Winifred Wagner und die Geschichte des Hauses Wahnfried von 1914-1975 (English title, Confessions of Winifred Wagner). Gottfried's participation in that project seemed to indicate, if not a sense of humor, at least a willingness to work with -- let us say unusual -- artistic endeavors involving Wilhelm Richard Wagner.

After the near-SRO lecture, Babs and Wagner approached the Wagnerians encircling Gottfried. There were stares and questions about Wag's origins and battered condition (none of which were answered in any detail). Regarding his "look. a lamb." sticker, Babs would say only, "A little blind girl sold it to me." The professor who had brought Gottfried to Tucson, hearing what we wanted to do, said he wanted to be around to watch us, but not be a part of it. Not the best of signs, but finally, Babs slipped through the small crowd and asked Gottfried to hold the old boy. Gottfried Wagner refused, saying (in his wonderful German accent), "He has been on my shoulder too long already!"

Gottfried then spoke about the dangers of big, lofty ideas when they are translated into reality, and how we should not worship Wagner -- "not have him `up here,' but rather `down there.'" This gave Babs an idea. Would Gottfried be willing to pose with Wagner down there -- on the floor? I added, as one Gottfried to another, "When I heard you had worked with Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, I figured you had to have a sense of humor." As you can see: he does. (As I took the photo from atop the stage, Gottfried was actually lecturing the statue.)

That nose! That chin! Clearly, this was a Wagner. Having looked at a Wagner statue all these years, it was uncanny to see a Wagnerian profile in the flesh.

In the car later, I remarked that, having managed to convince Gottfried Wagner to pose with his hated great-grandfather, maybe we should become a confidence team. "Aren't we already?" was Babs's response. "What did I sign up for??"

(Thanks to Carrie for the lecture tip.)

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