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Actor and writer Stephen Fry explores his passion for the world’s most controversial composer, Richard Wagner. Can he salvage the music he loves from its dark associations with anti-semitism and Hitler?
Stephen Fry is one of Britain’s best loved performers – a multi-talented actor, presenter and writer. He played the title role in the Hollywood movie Wilde, presents the cult quiz-show QI, and makes regular appearances in the hit US drama Bones. He is a lifelong fan of the music of Richard Wagner the world’s most controversial composer.
But Stephen is also Jewish and, as he is acutely aware, the intensity of his enthusiasm for the composer was matched – or even surpassed – by that of Hitler.
His journey plays out against the backdrop of preparations for the Bayreuth Festival – the annual Wagner extravaganza held in a theatre purpose-built by the composer. Immersing himself in preparations for the 2009 Festival, Stephen eavesdrops on rehearsals and discovers more about the music he loves. He explores the backstage workings of the Opera House and discovers what makes the theatre, designed by Wagner himself, such a unique musical institution. He plays music on Wagner’s own piano and meets the composer’s great grand-daughter, Eva Wagner-Pasquier who recently took control at Bayreuth alongside her sister, after a long family struggle.
His exploration also takes him to the other key locations in Wagner’s turbulent life. He visits Switzerland where Wagner first dreamed up his masterpiece, The Ring Cycle. He marvels at the fairytale Neuschwanstein castle built by Wagner’s patron King Ludwig of Bavaria. In St Petersburg he meets legendary conductor Valery Gergiev and visits the Mariinsky Theatre to discover what Russian audiences thought of Wagner’s revolutionary music.