I did go to the lecture of Bayreuth, but it turned out not to be first on my list. After a short stint at the gym, and a short read through the Sunday Washington Post, I saw that today was the final day of the four day book sale sponsored by the AAFSW (Association of American Foreign Service Women, or something to that effect) at the State Department and that it was, therefore, half price day.
I usually enjoy this sale, because you can never tell what will turn up, since the books are primarily donated by State Department or foreign service families. It’s only problem (and it is a problem for AAFSW I am sure) is that the Foggy Bottom State Department is so ringed by security that access is difficult (i.e., several steps) and parking nearly impossible. But I assume they will remain there because the four day sale really last a week and four days, with the eligible purchasers during the first week State Department employees only.
You would think that they would take the cream of the crop, and perhaps they do, but I did find some bargains. Three picture books. The first is a book on the painting that is done for the labels of Mouton Rothschild wines (the book itself sells for about $40) signed by Baroness Rothschild and inscribed (warmly) to Colin Powell. The second is a coffee table book about the Churchills written and signed by Mary Soames, who is the daughter of Winston and Clementine. The third is a beautiful book, where photographer Michael Collopy follows Mother Theresa around. Collopy signed the book. There are no signed copies of the Collopy book or the Rothschild book listed. I also bought a nice signed copy of Tom Clancy’s Shadow Warriors and Augusten Burroughs’ memoir, Dry, also signed. Seventeen books in all.
When I went to the library for the lecture, I did not know what to expect. I was going to be surprised if there was a crowd.
I asked at the front desk where I should go, and I was told to take the elevator to the first basement level, and make two left turns until I found Room A10. I had never been on that level before. Talk about halls and rooms without personality. Room A10 would hold maybe 50 people at most. It has white cinder block walls and no windows. It had folding chairs set up, a movie screen in front and a small table serving as a lectern. There were fewer than 20 in attendance.
The presentation was sponsored by the Washington Wagner Society, known as WagnerOpedia. The group was a mixed group, but all white, and none under, say, 50. I was a little ill-at-ease in this group, because of the anti-Semitism of Wagner, I was concerned that these Wagnerites might also reflect similar feelings at their meetings. If they do, they didn’t today.
In fact (in the “news of the weird” category), the chair of WagnerOpedia is (a) a woman, (b) Jewish and (c) hard of hearing. Go figure. In fact, she is someone I have seen from time to time at my synagogue.
Dr. Sven Friedrich, who directs a number of institutions at Bayreuth devoted to Richard Wagner and to Franz Liszt, was a rather formal presenter. His English was quite good, but he did not believe it was. And so, he told us that he was going to read a paper, rather than speaking from notes. He also told us that, although the advertised topic was “Bayreuth: Past, Present and Future”, he was going to give a lecture on Cosimo Wagner, Richard’s wife. He apologized, but said that this was a lecture that he had written out and had had translated into English. He then said that his reading would take approximately one hour and fifteen minutes. Whew!
It was actually quite interesting. He touched on how Cosimo, married to another, decided that Richard, also married to another, was the guy for her, and how she pursued the relationship until it blossomed into separations from their spouses, having children together, moving in with each other and finally marrying. After Wagner died, Cosimo took it on herself to continue and expand the fledging festival that her husband had started, and how successful she was. How she made sure that her son Siegfried would take over the festival after she retired (which she did shortly after the turn of the century, although she lived another twenty years or so, until she was well into her nineties), how she helped arrange his marriage to Winifred, and how her daughter sued her for failing to treat her children equivalently with regard to the festival, how the suit became very public, and how mother and daughter never spoke again. The question of anti-Semitism came up, but in a rather matter of fact manner. Wagner was anti-Semitic, as was Cosimo. But their overall approach to life was apparently quite different. Cosimo was an aristocrat in her manner and leanings, and Wagner was much more a man of the people, so that the festival became much more of a upscale society event that Richard ever dreamed it would be, or should be.
I did not stay for the questions and answers, nor far the pay your own supper which was to follow at a nearby restaurant.
Whether Friedrich expected more people, I don’t know. He gave no sign. He is on a U.S. tour, giving this lecture in about a half dozen cities. He was in New York yesterday; Washington was his second stop. On his way to Chicago tomorrow.