Angel Neumann’s “Recollections”


I knew the name Angelo Neumann only as an impresario who had arranged the European train tour of the Ring Cycle in 1881-83.  I was delighted to read his Personal Recollections of Wagner (Schirmer 1915, Livermore trans.) and discover what an interesting life he led.

Angelo Neumann - Wikipedia

Neumann started off as a performer of some accomplishment.  Indeed his first encounter with Richard Wagner occurred in 1862 in Vienna, in a production of Lohengrin in which the 24-year old Neumann was playing the role of the Herald.

He came into his own when he was appointed intendant to the Leipzig Opera, and it is from then on that Neumann’s anecdotes and observations, hitherto amusing enough, become suffused with a sharp perspective and informed by a sense of mission and vision.  Within a few years under Neumann’s leadership the company was proud to present the first production of the Ring outside Bayreuth (in 1878) and soon thereafter a season of all of Wagner’s works.  He planned productions for tour to Paris, London and Berlin – often frustrated but sometimes triumphant.  And he convinced Wagner that a travelling production of the Ring could make sense artistically and financially, while also embellishing Wagner’s reputation and prompting companies around Europe to produce these daunting works.

Simon Beattie | The Ring comes to London

His influence on European taste was therefore enormous.  His anecdotes about negotiating with Wagner are highly entertaining, as are the stories about managing reluctant tenors, dying sopranos, and unanticipated crises (such as the afternoon spent bashing though the wall of a neighboring building to provide room for the steam hose to be laid in time for the evening performance of Rheingold).

Punch cartoon: A Warning - Wagner's Ring Cycle (engraving) by English  School, (19th century)

One aspect of late 19th century Wagner production of which I had been unaware — it was entirely okay for the actors to provide encores of particular sections in response to audience demand.  Even under Seidl’s baton, it was customary for Mime to be asked to repeat his ballad to the beauty of women, or for Erda to perform her entire scene warning Wotan.

By far the most impressive thing about this narrative, however, is the narrator.  Neumann genuinely believed in art in general and passionately believed in Wagner in particular.  He felt it was an opportunity – a privilege, even – to devote his career to providing audiences for the meister.  Neumann knew how to run a theatrical production company, but more than that he knew how to assess a risk, how to keep several balls in the air at once, when to fold his cards, and how to be loyal to his partners and his artists – singly, to Richard Wagner.

The book reminded me of my own fortune in getting to know Peter Smith, who in the 1960s and 70’s ran the Hopkins Center at Dartmouth College.  Peter, too, knew what he was doing but he didn’t do it by offering midnight viewings of “Rocky Horror Picture Show.”  He brought in E. Power Biggs.  He hosted Olivier Messiaen with Yvonne Lorriod doing “Sept Visions de l’Amen.”  He brought in Georg Solti, for goodness’ sake, and the entire Chicago Symphony for two performances in the 900-seat concert hall, including the Mahler Fifth.  He organized a harpsicord mini-series schlepping people like Ralph Kirkpatrick up to Hanover, New Hampshire.

Running an arts organization well is one thing.  Running it well with a sense of mission, a clear artistic vision, and a desire to offer only the very best is something else.

Add Comment

By PeterP

The Wagner Blog

The Wagner Blog is a forum for discussion of contemporary themes arising from the works of Richard Wagner. Discussions relating to Wagner’s musical, literary, theatrical, philosophical, political and theoretic work are all appropriate for this forum.

Recent Posts


Recent Comments