'Richard Wagner had a sense of humour': Simon Callow gets Inside Wagner's Head
The BAFTA-winning actor speaks to BBC Radio 3 about Wagner's complex character.
Actor Simon Callow spoke to BBC Radio 3′s In Tune programme this week about the process of analysing composer Richard Wagner. Next month Simon will be performing a new one-man show – Inside Wagner’s Head - as part of the Deloitte Ignite festival.
‘The most surprising thing I discovered was his autobiography. You assume an 800-page biography by Wagner is going to be heavy, but it’s one of the most entertaining biographies by an artist I’ve ever read’, said Simon. ‘It shows he does have a sense of humour. It doesn’t conceal anything, it’s absolutely lousy with anti-Semitism but equally it’s full of vision and brilliance and jokes. He was a funny man!’
In creating Inside Wagner’s Head, Simon revealed he has discovered a hugely complex character – one who was fervently nationalist but who hated militarism and imperialism. The BAFTA-winning actor also spoke of reconciling Wagner’s anti-Semitism with his ability to create awe-inspiring works:
‘It’s really difficult – I think that it’s a pathology in his case. When he was being painted by Renoir he chit-chatted most agreeably with Renoir and then suddenly a five-minute tirade against the Jews, completely unprovoked, and then after the tirade back to chit-chat. It was like a Tourette’s syndrome.
‘Wagner was a delinquent by temperament… he glamorized his participation in the revolution of 1849 – he went round joining in with the general mood of danger and excitement. He was very excited by being in the presence of [Mikhail] Bakunin, the great anarchist; the most famous terrorist in the world at the time. Wagner, like Dickens, is one of those people who attracted extraordinariness to him. Wherever he went, everything became more extreme. He self-dramatized to an astonishing degree, but that’s who he was.’
Simon also spoke about Wagner’s relationship with his patron King Ludwig II of Bavaria, his revolutionary activities and Wagner’s turbulent love affairs as well as giving a sense of how he himself developed Wagner’s voice for the one-man show.