A bit of Wagner's life in Flying Dutchman

Senta (Kathleen Parker, foreground) readies herself to join the Dutchman.
Senta (Kathleen Parker, foreground) readies herself to join the Dutchman.PHOTO: TAN NGIAP HENG
Mrs Eva Wagner-Pasquier is in town to attend the Singapore staging of The Flying Dutchman.
Mrs Eva Wagner-Pasquier is in town to attend the Singapore staging of The Flying Dutchman.PHOTO: TAN NGIAP HENG

Richard Wagner's great-granddaughter says Singapore's first full-scale Wagnerian opera relates to a rough sea voyage in the German composer's life

"Normal" is a word that Mrs Eva Wagner-Pasquier uses a lot.

But what is "normal" to the great-granddaughter of renowned 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner might be considered remarkable to others.

For most of her life, she lived next door to the site of the Bayreuth Festival, the annual festival dedicated to the operatic works of Wagner, which attracts thousands to Bayreuth, Germany, every year.

It is considered a pilgrimage for fans. Tickets are notoriously hard to get, with most people having to wait between five and 10 years for one.

"You don't think too much about it. You're born in the family and music is a part of your daily life. It's normal, it's nothing special," says Mrs Wagner-Pasquier of her famous lineage.

You don't think too much about it. You're born in the family and music is a part of your daily life. It's normal.

MRS EVA WAGNER-PASQUIER, German composer Richard Wagner 's great-granddaughter, on her family's famous lineage

"I was a child when the Bayreuth Festival re-opened after the war in 1951. Every year from then on, I have been there for the festival and attended the operas," she says of the festival, which originated in 1876.

The 71-year-old, who is based in Munich, is in town this week to attend the Singapore production of The Flying Dutchman, an opera about redemption through love, composed by Wagner in 1843.

She comes in her capacity as an ambassador of the Bayreuth Festival, which works with Wagner societies internationally.

Up till last year, she ran the festival with her half-sister, taking over from their father in 2008.

The 140-minute show runs tonight, Thursday, Friday and Sunday at the Victoria Theatre.

Thursday's show features a Singapore cast, including opera stalwart Nancy Yuen as Senta and baritone Martin Ng as the Dutchman.

The other shows have emerging Wagnerian singers, such as Australian soprano Kathleen Parker and Ukrainian baritone Oleksandr Pushniak, playing the main characters.

The Singapore staging of The Flying Dutchman is presented by the Richard Wagner Association in Singapore and co-produced by OperaViva in association with The Finger Players, whose company director, Chong Tze Chien, co-helms the show with theatre director Glen Goei. The Flying Dutchman is Singapore's first full-scale Wagnerian opera.

It tells the tale of a mythic Dutchman who is cursed to sail the seas unless he finds his true love, and Senta, a woman who longs for a different life.

"I think it's a very good choice. It's about love - it's an easy story to understand even if you're going to the opera for the first time, compared to Wagner's later operas such as Parsifal or Der Ring Des Nibelungen (Ring Cycle)," says Mrs Wagner-Pasquier.

This particular opera is also tied to her family history.

Wagner himself had experienced a rough sea voyage from Riga in Latvia to London with his first wife, Minna Planer, in 1839.

His second wife, Cosima Liszt, the daughter of the famous Hungarian composer Franz Liszt, is Mrs Eva-Pasquier's great-grandmother.

Mrs Eva-Pasquier was reminded of this episode of history about three years ago on a particularly memorable trip to Riga, which saw her visiting the port from which Wagner's boat had set sail.

"I was touched - it was the same feeling I had when I was in Venice in the house where he had died in 1883. But, anyway, I am someone who is rather sentimental and I like to visit the cemeteries where famous people are buried, such as Tchaikovsky, for example," she says.

Indeed, her love of classical music is not limited to works by her famous ancestor. For instance, she loves Mozart so much that her son shares the composer's middle name, Amadeus. Better known as Antoine Wagner, the 34-year-old is a film-maker, taking after his French film producer father, Yves Pasquier.

Wagner is highly respected not just for his work as a composer, but also for his ideas about the "total work of art", which saw the marrying of music, drama, poetry and visuals. A lover of poetry, he wrote the music and libretto of his works, unlike his contemporaries.

His works were also known for their rich use of leitmotifs, or recognisable musical segments assigned to certain characters, emotions or ideas.

Mrs Wagner-Pasquier says: "He will always be the one people talk about, discuss, fight and shout about, like hardly anybody in this world of art. He is unique and you can say that whether you like his music or not."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 25, 2016, with the headline 'A bit of Wagner's life in Flying Dutchman'. Print Edition | Subscribe