The Wagner Society of Washington, DC is one of the city’s most vibrant cultural institutions. We are proud to serve the Washington community in many ways – through monthly lectures, semi-annual concerts, and special events through a network of collaborating institutions such as the Smithsonian Institution, the German Embassy, and the Kennedy Center.
Now twelve years old, the Wagner Society is dedicated to two principal goals:
(1) To enrich the cultural life of the Washington Metropolitan area, by regularly providing the general public with lectures, concerts, opera performances, trips, and special events;
(2) To assist the development of American singers who have demonstrated the potential for successful careers singing opera.
In 1997, a handful of local citizens came together informally to share their interests and by 1998 had formed the Wagner Society of Washington, DC as a 501(c)(3) organization in order to foster the study and enjoyment of Wagner’s art, to present music in the nation’s capital, and to develop vocal talent.
Fortuitously, Richard Wagner’s grandson, Wolfgang Wagner, then director of the world-renowned Bayreuth Festival, visited Washington in 1999 and arranged for a generous allotment of tickets to the Festival. The Society has received this allotment each year since.
An equally fortunate event was the retirement to the Washington, DC area of opera greats Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart. In 1999, the Wagner Society board formed a partnership with them to coach and mentor American singers with potential for operatic careers singing Wagner.
The Wagner Society has steadily grown to over 500 annual dues-paying members, making it one of the most robust cultural institutions in the Washington area. We offer concerts, lectures, and seminars featuring leading Wagner scholars and performers from North America and Europe. Most of our programs are free, and all are open to the public. Now in its tenth year, the Evelyn Lear and Thomas Stewart Emerging Singers Program (ESP) has helped more than 75 talented Americans by giving them coaching, exposure through twenty-two concerts, financial assistance, and contacts to help them win auditions and professional engagements. Thomas Stewart died in 2006, but the program continues to thrive under Evelyn Lear’s artistic direction. While many opera company programs are aimed at young artists, few accept singers over 30, the age at which Wagner singers come into their own. Because most of our singers are over 30, ESP makes a unique contribution that advances American opera singing and complements other local and national programs.
In the 2009-2010 program year, the Society sponsored seven free public lectures, held at George Washington University. Among the well-attended and well-received programs, Washington musicologist Saul Lilienstein took on the controversial topic of “Wagner’s Music and the Jews.” Another stimulating evening was Middlebury College Professor James West’s discussion of Wagner’s relationship with Nietzsche. Internationally recognized pianist and Wagner scholar Jeffrey Swann gave a concert and talk on the role of Wagner in the works of French novelist Marcel Proust.
In April 2010, the Wagner Society offered a “marathon” presentation, open to the public at no charge, of Valencia Opera’s new film of Wagner’s Ring in a single day at George Washington University. The presentation starred Wagner Society Emerging Singers Program graduate Jennifer Wilson, from Northern Virginia, and was underwritten by two board members. We attracted an audience of approximately 300 individuals, about a third of whom were new to the Society. In May 2010, the Wagner Society published John Pohanka’s book, Wagner the Mystic. Additionally, we organized two major seminars: How Wagner Found His Voice, a weekend retreat for members (June 2010) and Goethe, Wagner and the Evolution of Kultur, a seminar open to the public at the German Embassy (September 2010).
During the 2009-2010 season, the Emerging Singers Program provided intensive coaching by Ms. Lear to eight young singers and presented three concerts, two in the District of Columbia and one in Roanoke, VA.