Bern Conference 2012

WagnerWorldWide: Europe

Wagner und das Musiktheater zwischen Nationalismus und Globalisierung

Wagner and Opera between Nationalism und Globalisation 

An international symposium hosted by the University of Bern
Organized by Arne Stollberg (University of Bern) and Ivana Rentsch (Zürich University)

6 to 10 November 2012

University Library Bern, Main Library, Münstergasse 63, CH – 3000 Bern 8

“WagnerWorldWide:Europe” will concentrate geographically on European questions and will be hosted by the Institute for Musicology of the University of Bern with its internationally established centre for opera studies and its particular emphasis on Wagner research. Dr. Arne Stollberg, Dr. Ivana Rentsch and Prof. Anselm Gerhard are directing the conception and organisation of the conference.

Among the five themes addressed overall by “WagnerWorldWide 2013”, the following two are of central concern for the Bern symposium:

  • History and Nationalism
  • Globalisation und Markets

At first glance, nationalism and globalisation seem to be opposites, yet upon closer examination the two phenomena reveal themselves as two sides of the same coin. What Wagner originally conceived as a “Monument to the German art spirit” was readily adapted – often practically unchanged – for the cause of other national movements. At the same time, much of what was celebrated as typically “German” in Wagner’s work is entirely “un-German” in origin, so that “national characterisation” continually reveals the traces (or scars) of ideological constructions which, though different in each country, appear to operate on the basis of similar mechanisms.

In order to illuminate the tension and frictions between nationalism and globalisation, it is essential to broaden both our temporal and methodical perspectives. Wagner’s position can only be evaluated properly against the backdrop of 19th-century nationalist discourses. Instead of a nonsensical stylisation of the German composer as an unquestioned “Messiah”, his work and reception must be reassessed within their particular cultural and historical context. In any case, the virulence of national and revolutionary movements of his own time imposes the question of sameness and otherness as one of the most urgent concerns of 19th- century Europe – with traces leading to the present.

After the experiences of two World Wars, the Cold War, the Reunification of 1989 and the ensuing momentous shifts, and specifically Germany’s historically justified mistrust of any form of national orientation, it is necessary to distinguish clearly between a historical and a contemporary perspective regarding questions of nationalism and globalisation. In this respect it will be relevant to consider whether opera – Wagner’s works in particular, but not exclusively – can be regarded as a globalised phenomenon that no longer carries any noteworthy national implications, or whether nationalistic forces have yet again recently taken possession of the theatre as a politically effective institution (as is now the case, for example, in Hungary).

Besides these political considerations, concrete problems of performance practice will also be addressed. Can one speak of a globalised “Wagner-Style” today, or of a series of different performance traditions resulting from specific national interpretation traditions? Is it possible, in view of the internationalized singing market, to put into practice a “Wagnerian singing technique” anchored in speaking, as the composer had originally conceived? What developments can be observed in this regard? Does a “globalised” Wagner sound different from a “national” Wagner in theatres today?

The phenomenon of opera in its position between nationalism and globalisation will be addressed in the form of presentations, interviews and podium discussions. Musicologists, theatre historians, but also important scholars in neighbouring disciplines and leading figures in music and theatre performance, have been invited to join in the debate.

The presentations are divided into five “historic” and three “contemporary” sections, for which presently the following have agreed to speak:

Wagner – historic

  • Nationalism and National Music in the 19th Century (Anselm Gerhard, Jürgen Osterhammel, Michael Walter)
  • National Music before Wagner (Emanuele Bonomi, Rüdiger Ritter, Anna Tedesco, Benjamin Walton, Luca Zoppelli)
  • Categories of Nationalism in Wagner (Karol Berger, Udo Bermbach, Hans-Joachim Hinrichsen, Friedemann Kreuder, Laura Möckli, Arne Stollberg)
  • Wagner Reception (Richard Erkens, Christoph Flamm, Albert Gier, Daniel Jütte, Stefan Keym, Kordula Knaus, Ivana Rentsch, Tibor Tallián)
  • National Opera in Europe (Barbara Eichner, Vincenzina Ottomano, Heinrich W. Schwab, Cristina Urchueguía)


Wagner – contemporary

  • Performance Practice Globally/Nationally: Music (Florian Bassani, Jens Malte Fischer, Kai Köpp, Nina Noeske, Matthias Schmidt)
  • Performance Practice Globally/Nationally: Staging (panel discussion with Xavier Zuber et al.)
  • Wagner in Popular Culture (Peter W. Marx, Britta Sweers)

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