Israeli Choreographer to Stage Wagner-inspired Work in Munich

'It's a way of bringing the argument to the stage,' says grandchild of Holocaust survivors.

Choreographer Saar Magal, who will be staging a work in Germany this summer inspired by Richard Wagner, is prepared to deal with any fallout that might result from using the music of Hitler's favorite composer.

Wagner's anti-Semitic views and the association of his works with Nazism have made his music anathema to many Israelis.

Saar Magal - Dieter Hartwig - 31012012
Dieter Hartwig

"Because I come from a culture that doesn't listen to Wagner and forbids listening to Wagner, I wanted to ask, who is Wagner? What is Wagner? What does his music tell us?" said Magal, the grandchild of Holocaust survivors.

"Essentially, I decided to put on stage the argument about hearing Wagner - and the whole issue of artistic-political censorship - as well as the issue of tendentious art, since the Nazis misused his music."

The work, provisionally named "The Misinterpretation of the Ring, or Hacking Wagner," is being produced by the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, and will premiere in July at that city's Haus der Kunst, a monumental building erected by the Nazis in the 1930s to showcase "acceptable" art. Today the building houses rotating exhibitions and various cultural events.

Every effort to perform Wagner's works in Israel has sparked protests. A storm was raised last year when the Israel Chamber Orchestra participated in the annual Wagner Festival in Bayreuth, performing his "Siegfried Idyll."

When asked whether she might be taking a professional risk by using Wagner's music, Magal said she believes Israeli society is ready to deal with the issue.

While Magal is critical of the attitude in Israel toward Wagner, she prefers to focus on the questions her work raises, such as whether one can separate music from the worldview of its composer; why Wagner is boycotted while the works of Carl Orff, who worked with the Nazis, are performed; and whether Israel, a democracy, has the right to censor art for political reasons.

Magal, 35, has been dancing since childhood. After graduating from the Thelma Yellin High School for the Arts, she studied at the Laban Dance Center in London. She has created works for the Batsheva Dance Company and for several opera houses in Europe, and has staged numerous dance performances in Israel and abroad.