“Verachtet mir die Meister nicht” from Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg

This was the climactic monologue from Wagner’s very long comic opera, and like most of the material in that opera it has, by common agreement, absolutely wonderful music. The reason it’s being covered in this section is that it has a reputation for being a xenophobic and paranoid rant about the decline and fall of Germany due to foreign influences. In short, it’s what gets this opera in particular mentally associated with Naziism for a lot of people, and I imagine part of the reason Opera For Dummies had to have the track list of its bonus CD changed in later editions was the unwise inclusion of this particular song. And frankly, I think all this is rather unfair. Now, Wagner was indeed known all too well for that kind of rant, but most of them actually occurred in those self-published propaganda pamphlets he used to circulate, not in his operas. I’m not arguing that Wagner had any shortage of thoroughly reprehensible opinions, but they’re not really on display here (or anywhere else in his actual operas, at least in any easily discernible form). The lyric to this monologue is pretty much boilerplate patriotism (respect your traditions and maintain your nation’s independence), but the only reason people are offended by it is because it’s German. And while there’s certainly a good reason that German nationalism has an especially bad reputation, the fact remains that no-one would be particularly bothered by this sentiment if it was coming from any other country…every country is proud of its cultural traditions, and no country wants to be ruled by a foreign power, including our own. Admittedly, this opera did get co-opted by the Nazis to an even greater degree than Wagner’s other work, but they were completely misinterpreting its message in the process, and there’s still nothing particularly offensive about the actual libretto in and of itself.

Verdict: Wagner said an unbelievable number of offensive things during his life, but this monologue really isn’t one of them.

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