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Opera’s funeral march

Geoffrey Wheatcroft experiences a highly charged farewell

No creative artist has cast a longer shadow over the past century than Richard Wagner. By the time of his death in 1883, he was the object of the sort of cultic adulation we nowadays associate with pop stars or footballers. “Wagnerism” thereafter remained a potent force and a protean one, his name invoked over and again.

In 1918, the German high command used the codename “Hagen” for their final great offensive on the western front (although the staff officer who chose it seems to have forgotten that Hagen perishes miserably in the Rhine at the very end of Der…

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