Chicago, Athens, and Jerusalem

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Remark of the Week: Opera Edition

Posted by Eliot Weinstein on July 4, 2010

This week’s Remark of the Week comes from John von Rhein, the classical music critic for the Chicago Tribune, reviewing a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert of Wagner highlights at the Ravinia summer music festival:

One’s pleasure in hearing one of the world’s great Wagnerian “pit” bands playing this glorious music from center stage, along with the full-throated singing of the soloists, was mingled with dismay at the smallish audience. Wagner remains a tough sell on the North Shore [of Chicago]. The “Ringheads” in attendance cheered lustily, as if to compensate for the acres of empty seats.

I can offer only speculation as to why “Wager remains a tough sell” for the people of the northern suburbs of Chicago. That speculation is twofold: 1) The North Shore of Chicago is known for its substantially above-average prevalence of Jews, as well as high levels of social and political support for tolerance and diversity among the general population (although there are some areas, such as ultra-wealthy Kenilworth, that reliably vote Republican). 2) The music of Richard Wagner is still tainted by its associated with Nazi Germany–where it was highly popular with Hitler and other Nazi leaders–as well as the perceived anti-Semitism of Wagner himself (note the controversy caused by Daniel Barenboim’s performance of Wagner in Israel). Putting together 1) and 2) leads me to conjecture that the North Shore has a higher-than-average number of people who consider Wagner distasteful for political reasons, leading to a below-average popularity of Wagner’s music among the population in that area.

Also, I didn’t know that fans of Wagner’s Ring Cycle had a special name (“Ringheads”), although a quick Google search demonstrates at least two different instances of using “Ringheads” to denote Wagner fanatics.

As always, thank you for reading my random musings on subjects like the relative popularity of Wagnerian opera. For my friends, family, and other American readers, Happy July 4th! Here’s to an excellent rest of 2010!

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