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The playing of Richard Wagner's music still evokes controversy because of the antisemitic German composer's appeal for Hitler. Garrett (Jewish civilization/historical studies, Monash U., Australia) presents a synopsis of his Tannhäuser opera, tracing of its sources to folklore, and analysis of how its nationalistic theme was ironically appropriated by three leading Jewish figures. In "Der Tannhauser" by Heinrich Heine, the German-Jewish poet satirized Christian ideas of sin and redemption. Zionist Theodor Herzl found inspiration in the opera for his manifesto for a Jewish state.
Polish-Yiddish storyteller Isaac L. Peretz reworked the opera to extol Jewish values in Mesires-nefesh (Self-Sacrifice). Discussion questions conclude the text. (Annotation ©2011 Book News Inc. Portland, OR)
“Leah Garrett’s A Knight at the Opera reveals the important role played bythe Tannhäuser legend in the work of Heine, Hertzl, and Peretz, demonstratingthat three of the greatest Jewish writers and thinkers of the pre-WorldWar I era were obsessed with a literary motif that was central to Germannationalism. At the core of this eye-opening work is Wagner’s great opera,with which each of the three writers had an unexpectedly intimate connection.”—Raymond Scheindlin, Professor of Medieval Hebrew Literature atThe Jewish Theological Seminary