2013 is Wagner’s bicentenary year and Wagner operas are everywhere you look, but Welsh National Opera have chosen to mark the occasion in a rather different way with the first fully-staged UK performance of Jonathan Harvey’s Wagner Dream. In Harvey’s opera the dying Wagner reflects on his own unfinished Buddhist opera, which plays out before his eyes as the Buddhist legend of Prakriti and Ananda comes to life.
Although originally set to an English text, David Poutney, director of WNO, suggested that the cultural dialogue of the opera would be enhanced and clarified by translation into German and Pali (the ancient language spoken by Buddha) for the German and Buddhist parts respectively. Harvey agreed wholeheartedly and it is this new version which will be performed by WNO. As Poutney explains:
‘Wagner Dream brings together a giant of the Western musical tradition, Richard Wagner, with ideas and narrative elements from the Buddhist tradition. We felt that the impact of this cultural dialogue would be enriched by letting each of these two worlds speak in its own language.’
This philosophical dichotomy is also at the heart of music, as Harvey once explained:
‘Late, highly charged romanticism with its paradigm of finding knowledge through emotional intensity fused with deep psychology and mythic regression, on the one hand. And on the other hand the new and old world of Buddhism and oriental thought with its detachment, its clear analysis of happiness and suffering in terms of mind.’
(Wagner Dream was commissioned by Netherlands Opera and Holland Festival, Amsterdam, Grand Théâtre de la Ville de Luxembourg and IRCAM Paris. The 105-minute opera was first performed in April 2007 at the Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg with the soloists of Netherlands Opera joined by the Ictus Ensemble, IRCAM and conductor Martyn Brabbins. A recording of this performance has been released on the Cyprus Records label.)