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Title:Der Ring des Nibelungen in the New World: the American performance and reception of Wagner's Cycle, 1850-1903
Author(s):Chan, Hannah
Director of Research:Kinderman, William A.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Kinderman, William A.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Syer, Katherine R.; Bashford, Christina; Liebersohn, Harry
Department / Program:Music
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Ring Cycle
Richard Wagner
United States
1850 to 1903
Abstract:Given the central position of Wagner’s operas in art music culture over the past century and a half, the performance and reception of his works in various national contexts has received—and continues to receive—considerable scholarly attention. Of significant interest is the period of the late nineteenth century, when the composer’s aesthetic theories and music were being introduced and disseminated on both sides of the Atlantic. This dissertation examines the early performance and reception history of Wagner’s monumental operatic cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen, in the social and cultural context of opera production and performance in the United States from 1850 to 1903. It considers the social and cultural processes that led to the incorporation of the work’s operas into an ongoing repertory, about a decade before World War I interrupted the process of the assimilation of Wagner’s legacy in American performances. This study is situated within the context of the vital transatlantic relationship between Germany and the U.S. that brought about the rise and dissemination of German musical culture—and in particular, Wagner’s music—in the New World during this period. The chapters of the dissertation focus on two chief facilitators of this development: 1) German and German-American musicians who promoted the composer’s music through performance; and 2) American critics who advocated on behalf of these works. The production and reception of Wagner’s Ring in nineteenth-century America was more than a simple cultural exchange; the process was one in which the U.S. (with certain cities at the forefront) came to define itself as a culturally progressive nation, open to the assimilation of German musical culture. Moreover, in bringing their music to American audiences, German musicians moved into the American musical world and in doing so, many became themselves American. Concerning the Ring dramas, this dissertation investigates the ways in which these musicians first introduced and disseminated the cycle’s music to Americans, and the key role of German artists who were imported to the U.S. for the first American stagings of the work’s operas. This discussion is positioned within a broader consideration of the social and economic conditions that influenced the American production of Wagner opera, as it moved from the theatres of New York’s Kleindeutschland (Little Germany) to elite institutions such as the Metropolitan Opera House, and eventually, from the Metropolitan Opera to other major American cities. In tandem with the early performance history of the Ring in the U.S., the American reception of Wagner’s Ring cycle is analyzed utilizing two methods. One is a demographic study of the audiences who were present at the operas’ performances in Bayreuth and the U.S. To ascertain what kinds of Americans went to performances of the Ring and the extent to which they were interested in its music (compared to other Wagner operas and foreign-language opera in general), extant records such as visitor lists, box office receipts, and recorded observations in the media are examined. These sources reveal that the nineteenth-century mania for Wagner in the United States was primarily led by the middle and upper-middle classes, comprising of Anglo- and German-Americans who were guided by the notion that cultivating an appreciation of his music enabled their social mobility. The other approach is an assessment of the opinions of American music critics, as published in reviews and articles for major newspapers and periodicals. At this time, the influx of Wagner’s music into the United States was accompanied by the parallel rise of music criticism as a profession. Certain journalists stood to shape the tastes of Americans for his operas and in this study, their responses to the music and staging of the Ring dramas at different historical points are evaluated in detail. In sum, the writings of these critics document their shifting attitudes to, and changing experiences with, the Ring operas, as they were coming to terms with the composer’s aesthetic theories and works, while seeking to groom American audiences for them.
Issue Date:2014-09-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2014 Hannah Chan
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-09-16
Date Deposited:2014-08

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