This summer the artistic director of the Komische Oper Berlin, Barrie Kosky, will present his first production at Bayreuth – as a self-declared “gay jewish kangaroo.” As always, he will approach the work Wagner from a queer perspective. But what exactly is this queer perspective? And how does a gay Aussie experience the orgiastic and overpowering music of Richard Wagner? Kosky himself describes his relationship to Wagner as “It’s complicated”. He shares this complicated relationship with many homosexuals of the past.
In 1873 Dr. Th. Puschmann published Richard Wagner - A Pychiatric Study, in which he argues the composer was “mentally not normal” due to his interest in the ”love between men.” In Bayreuth and Homosexuality (1895), Oskar Panizza describes Parsifal as “compensatory satisfaction for paederasts.” Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso calls Wagner “un psicopatico sessuale” (“a sexual psychopath”) in Genio e degenerazione (Genuis and Degeneration, 1897). Walter Pater, teacher of Oscar Wilde, writes about the Tannhäuser myth in 1877. Tannhäuser, as the story of a man torn between the sensual frenzy of the Venusberg and the chaste world of Christian knighthood, is often seen by homosexual men as a metaphor for their own lives, for example in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890/91). Siegfried Wagner called Tannhäuser his “favorite opera” and staged it at his last festival as a director in 1930 – a homoerotic triumph, despite protests from national-conservative Wagnerians.
How do critics and audience react today when you interpret Wagner in a queer way? Will they protest and try to intervene, like in 1930? How did Barrie Kosky experience homophobia in the opera world over the years, how does he still experience homophobia as director of Komische Oper? How does he cope with permanent hostility, especially from gay critics?
Barrie Kosky is our guest in the context of our Siegfried Wagner exhibition. He will discuss opera, Wagner, queer perspectives and homophobia with curator Dr. Kevin Clarke. The two already discussed Tchaikovsky and homosexuality publicly on RBB radio in 2016.
In a statement for our Wagner exhibition, Kosky said, regarding Richard Wagner: “His obsession with pink silk lingerie and corsets, which were revealed in the last decades, point to Wagner being a cross-dresser. Parsifal composed in Lingerie! What a thought!!!”
Find out what else Kosky has to say on 4 May, 6.30pm. (Admission: 4€)