The Wagner Files
Few composers inspire such extremes of love and revulsion as Richard Wagner, and few classical music documentaries go the extremes of this astounding German-made feature, which includes stylized, modern-dress reenactments of key moments in Wagner’s tumultuous life and digital animated graphics alongside more traditional expert testimony from the likes of Simone Young (conductor and music director of the Hamburg State Opera), Philippe Jordan (conductor and music director of the Paris Opera), Katharina Wagner (great-grandchild of Richard Wagner and director of the Bayreuth Festival) and Laurence Dreyfus (Professor of music at Magdalen College, Oxford).
With an audacity Wagner himself would surely have appreciated, the filmmakers don’t exactly shy away from their subject’s more dubious traits: his fraudulent financial transactions with "mad king" Ludwig of Bavaria (among many others); his scandalous love life - which included a passionate love affair with his best friend’s wife; his fetish for pink, feminine gowns… and of course his abhorrent anti-Semitic views, which would make him a cultural talisman for the Nazis.
At the same time, the movie revels in Wagner’s triumphant artistry. No composer before or since had such a grandiose vision for what opera could be.
Born in Brandenburg, Germany in 1967, Ralf Pleger studied music, art history and Italian in Berlin and Milan before freelancing as a dramaturge in opera and as a writer and director for radio and TV. His documentaries, dealing largely with musical subjects, include: A MUSICAL TOUR OF KRAKOW (1999), MUSIC IN ISTANBUL (2001), ANNE-SOPHIE MUTTER (2007), HANDEL: LIFE OF A POP ICON (2008), MADRID - ZEST FOR LIFE (2011), JOYCE DIDONATO, DRAMA QUEENS (2012), THE BEETHOVEN FILE (2013), VOCAL BATTLE ON THE HIGH SEAS (2013).
Richard Wagner's final masterpiece, PARSIFAL, screens January 26 and 29 direct from London's Royal Opera House.