Wagner, Nike 1945-

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WAGNER, Nike 1945-

PERSONAL: Born September 6, 1945, in Weberlingen, Germany; daughter of Wieland (a stage producer) and Gertrud (a choreographer) Wagner; married Jean Launay (divorced) married Jürg Stenzel (a musicologist), October 1991; children: Louise. Education: Northwestern University, Ph.D., 1980.

ADDRESSES: Home—Walfishgasse 12, 1010 Vienna, Austria. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Musicologist and cultural critic.

MEMBER: Deutsche Academies für Sprache und Dichtung, Pen Club (Austria).


The Wagners: The Dramas of a Musical Dynasty, translated by Ewald Osers and Michael Downes, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2001.

Wagner Theater, Insel Verlag (Frankfurt, Germany), 1998.

Traumtheater: Szenarien der Moderne, Insel Verlag (Frankfurt, Germany) 2001.

Also author of Geist und Geschlecht, a literary criticism of Karl Kraus, and Terre étrangère: Création au Théâtre des amandiers, [Nanterre, France], 1984.

SIDELIGHTS: Nike Wagner is a musicologist and cultural critic based in Vienna. She is also the great-granddaughter of Richard Wagner and is passionately involved in her family saga. The Wagners: The Dramas of a Musical Dynasty is the intertwined story of the Wagner family, the operas of Richard Wagner, and the Bayreuth Festival, which the extended family of Richard Wagner has presided over since it opened in 1876.

Nike Wagner begins her family history with her great-grandfather, Richard, who started the dynasty. She sees him as a man of musical talent but believes he has reprehensible political views. His 1850 essay, "Jewishness in Music," she explains, is a study in anti-Semitism. His wife Cosima, the daughter of Franz Liszt, was strong, single-minded, nationalistic, anti-Semitic, and devoted to her husband. She was largely responsible for creating the Wagner legend after his death in 1883. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Cosima went so far as to declare her daughter Isolde illegitimate to insure her son Seigfried's ascendancy to the family throne.

When the Third Reich took power in the 1930s Sigfreid was in control of Bayreuth and his English wife Winifred ran the family estate Wahnfreid and became a close friend of Adolf Hitler. After the war there was a growing rivalry between Wieland, Nike's father, and her uncle Wolfgang, who jointly controlled the festival. Wieland began producing acclaimed avant-garde interpretations of the Wagner canon and, if he had not died young, Nike Wagner believes her father would have become one of the great operatic directors of the twentieth century. Nike Wagner is hoping to control the Bayreuth festival one day.

Nike Wagner says that Richard Wagner always divided the outside world into friends and enemies, and that this has become the family norm. In The Wagners: The Dramas of a Musical Dynasty she concludes that "The traces of this Wagnerian manner can be seen clearly in the behavior of the individual family members: self glorifying egos permit themselves astonishing liberties in word and deed, solidarities become antagonisms, and conflicts broaden into vendetta. The rejection and expulsion of weaker members of the family, particularly women, become preferable to the attempt at integration, and the selfish gestures, the divisive action and the polarization of enemies are accepted strategies of survival."

The Wagners is partly a manifesto for change at Bayreuth—Wagner believes that her uncle's oldfashioned productions are not in tune with the times. As she told Margarette Driscoll in the London Sunday Times, "In other opera houses in Germany you can see much better performances.... Saying 'Yes, yes, Herr Wagner', is no way to run a theater." However, she admits, "I'm schizophrenic on this. Such is the subterranean power of family. On the one hand I believe art is above such things, it doesn't recognise family bonds. But knowing our history, knowing how much blood, sweat and tears went into building Wahnfried and the opera house I can't help but feel a family member should be responsible."



Wagner, Nike, The Wagners: The Dramas of a Musical Dynasty, translated by Ewald Osers and Michael Downes, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2001.


Booklist, March 15, 2001, Alan Hirsch, review of TheWagners, p. 1343.

Daily Telegraph (London, England), January 13, 2001, Michael White, review of The Wagners, p. 6.

Economist, May 9, 1998, review of Wagner Theater, p. 84.

Financial Times (London, England), January 13, 2001, Andrew Clark, review of The Wagners, p. 5.

Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), February 17, 2001, Conrad Wilson, review of The Wagners, p. 19.

Library Journal, March 1, 2001, review of The Wagners, p. 96.

New York Times Book Review, May 20, 2001, John Rockwell, "Lords of the 'Ring': Wagner's Great-granddaughter Sees Her Family Mirrored in the Operas," p. 36.

New York Times, August 27, 2000, Bernard Holland, "More Cracks in the Walls of Valhalla," p. AR23; May 20, 2001, John Rockwell, "Lords of the Ring," p. 36.

New York Review of Books, August 9, 2001, Joseph Kerman, review of The Wagners, p. 37.

Opera News, April, 2001, Rudolph S. Rauch, review of The Wagners, p. 104.

Publishers Weekly, March 26, 2001, review of TheWagners, p. 78.

Sunday Telegraph (London, England), January 21, 2001, Michael Kennedy, review of The Wagners, p. 16.

Sunday Times (London, England), January 14, 2001, Margarette Driscoll, profile of the Wagner family and the Bayreuth Festival, p. 6.

Times (London, England), January 17, 2001, Roger Boyes, review of The Wagners, p. 14.

Times Literary Supplement, May 4, 2001, Patrick Carnergy, review of The Wagners, p. 11.

Wall Street Journal, August 9, 2001, Paul Levy, "A Ring around the Ring."*

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