Wagner outside "The Ring"Opera image

The aim of this course is similar to previous years in extent and purpose though the topic this year is different. Previously the course explored “Damsels in Distress” (2014-15) and “Heroes Flawed and Floored” (2015-16) and “Rogues and Rulers” (2016-17). This year the topic will be Wagner, but will only explore the operas outside the Ring.

In the Autumn Term the course will explore all Wagner’s operas up to Lohengrin and pay attention to his three earliest operas: Die Feen, Das Liebesverbot and Rienzi. The course will aim to show Wagner’s intellectual and musical life, investigate how he emerged from German Romantic ideas and music to evolve his own musical language and ideas for opera. While all the operas will be touched upon, the main aim is to trace a wider theme, that is of Wagner’s development musical and otherwise. The operas to be examined in the first term will not only include the three operas mentioned above but also Der fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser and Lohengrin. The course will examine Wagner’s interest in myths, his intentions in writing his own libretti and his views of what sort of music he should write to articulate the stories of these operas.

In the Spring Term the course will explore three of Wagner’s last three, best known non-Ring operas: Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger and Parsifal. As in the first term the aim will not be to analyse these operas in isolation but to view them as part of Wagner’s intellectual and musical development.

Wagner’s operas are very important in understanding the 19th century in its multiple aspects. For some the approach and appeal of Wagner is the power of his music and the sensuousness of experiencing his operas in the theatre or on recordings. But one can gain even more understanding and enrichment by penetrating Wagner’s versatile mind,  musical and otherwisem and what he aimed to achieve through his operas. This course will attempt to open some doors and provide some clues for further, even lifetime, enjoyment. 

While all the lectures will be illustrated by musical examples, slides and libretti, as many as possible will also use extracts from performances on DVD to emphasize the fact that opera is not just a text but a performed art.

No previous knowledge of music is required, though some scores will be projected to illustrate points raised in the lectures. All that is required is enthusiasm and a desire to learn more about operas and their stories. Further voluntary reading and listening will be recommended during the course. 

A detailed, week-by-week course syllabus for this course is avialable here: 

Imperial College undergraduates and postgraduates may, if they wish, acquire 2 ECTS credits after successfully completing their Evening Class. To qualify, a student must attend the classes regularly and pass a test at the end of the second term. Students will be invited to apply in the second term to take the test.

Questions regarding the content and teaching of the above course should be addressed to the course tutor, Mr Roderick Swanston, rodswan@berestede.u-net.com.