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Supervisors vote against changing Ring Festival

July 21, 2009 |  1:43 pm

Supervisors1 It's not often that city politicians take the time to publicly debate the merits of a classical music composer, but that's exactly what happened today when the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted on a motion concerning the fate of the 2010 Ring Festival L.A., a citywide arts celebration focused on Richard Wagner's epic cycle "The Ring of the Nibelung."

And when the votes were cast this morning, the victory went to the festival and its chief backer, the Los Angeles Opera. The board voted down a motion written by Supervisor Mike Antonovich asking the opera company to shift the focus of the festival away from Wagner, the renowned 19th century composer who is widely admired for his operas and detested for his virulently anti-Semitic personal views.

Instead, the board voted to approve a substitute motion from Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in support of L.A. Opera and the Ring Festival. In his motion, Yaroslavsky wrote that "it’s clear that the festival is not envisioned as simply a celebration of Wagner’s life; but rather, as an examination of his influence on Western culture and society -- for better and for worse."

The two politicians engaged in spirited debate during today's board meeting. "We should keep our sticky fingers out of this," Yaroslavsky said. "There is no reason for politicians to meddle in artistic undertakings."

He went on to describe Antonovich's motion as "an insult to L.A. Opera" and added that the motion had failed to gain the support of a single civil rights organization.

Antonovich argued that the festival's inclusion of a handful of symposiums dedicated to discussing Wagner's anti-Semitism "is not balanced" and that the festival should include other composers, including Beethoven, Puccini, Verdi and others.

Last week, Antonovich had proposed a motion urging L.A. Opera to broaden the scope of the festival as a way of achieving "balance, historical perspective and a true sampling of operatic and musical talent." In the motion, he criticized festival organizers for celebrating the work of "a racist whose anti-Semitic writings were the inspiration for Hitler and the Holocaust."

Today's board meeting brought out a number of individuals who objected to what they see as a festival that will glorify Wagner and his anti-Semitic politics. "People make festivals for people they admire," said Peter Gimpel, a lawyer and classical scholar. "I'm horrified by the Orwellian tactics of L.A. Opera. What they are doing borders on historic revisionism, which is worse than anti-Semitism."

Carie Delmar, who runs a website that has protested the festival, said that the "festival is an affront to everything this city stands for."

Those who came to speak in favor of the festival emphasized the symposiums that will be held to discuss Wagner's racism. "It's because of his anti-Semitism that a festival like this should delve into the very issues that are important," said Seth Brisk, a director of the American Jewish Committee.

In the end, supervisors Yaroslavsky, Gloria Molina and Don Knabe voted in favor of the substitute motion, while Antonovich was the lone vote against Yaroslavsky's measure. (Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was not present during the meeting.)

Following the vote, Stephen Rountree, the chief operating officer of L.A. Opera, said that he "couldn't be more pleased" with Yaroslavsky's motion. "We will continue to pursue partners for the festival and continue our efforts to achieve a level of introspection about Wagner's life," he said.

A spokesman for Antonovich said that "we were hoping L.A. Opera would be open to create a more balanced event. But we're pleased we were able to raise the issues in the minds of the people."

-- David Ng

Related stories:

Critic's Notebook: Mike Antonovich vs. Wagner

County supervisor revives debate over Wagner's 'Ring'

Photo:Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky, left, and Mike Antonovich on Monday. Credit: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (15)

Why do we need politicians to medal in art events? Let the market take care of the problem. If people don't like the tone of the event don't go. An economic message will let the organizers know how people feel. Los Angeles county board waists so much time and money when they could be addressing real issues.

Talk about irony. The fascist tactics of the PC movement protesting an event because of its association with Nazis. As noted, spend taxpayer time and money on concerns of actual importance.

Hello? It's the "Ring Festival LA" not the "Wagner Festival LA" although even the latter title obviously would refer to his music, not his life story or beliefs. Can you imagine a 'Spielberg Festival' that didn't show his films and instead focused on his high school years?

Even the 'protest website' cited in an earlier article said 'celebrate the music, not the man.' Well, LA Opera is.

The term "anti-semitic" hadn't even been invented during Wagner's life, nor had the Nazi party been formed. Most of 'sophisticated Europe' and even 'sophisticated America' held similar views.

I personally don't even see the greatness in Wagner's music -- some great moments and endless waiting around for them.

The city of Los Angeles should take pride in having a supervisor as fair and judicious as Mr. Yaroslavsky. It is grossly offensive that Mr. Antonovich would choose to insult LA Opera when they are only acting to improve the cultural standing of the city and bring tourist dollars into it; in doing so, Mr. Antonovich betrayed only his own closed-mindedness and unsettling readiness to allow politics to supercede art, a quality Hitler would surely have admired. Kudos to Supervisor Yaroslavsky and his colleagues for voting down such ignorance.

Utterly absurd. Where to begin? A minor politician not only demonstrates a complete ignorance of our artistic and musical heritage, but attempts to impose his ignorance and thus deprive us of the opportunity to experience one of the most ambitious and influential works of art in world culture. Furthermore, he does not know, or does not care, about the monumental artistic energy and administrative effort involved in successfully producing the complete Ring cycle. If my grandstanding can't stop the thing, he says, I'm going to force you to throw in some Beethoven and Mozart and other more "balanced" programming. Phooey if it destroys your programming, damages your finances, or devastates your workforce.

The only logic I can find in all this is that this man is trying to shamelessly exploit artistic controversy for political gain - a tried and true US political trick. Indeed, making political hay out of trashing the arts used to be like shooting fish in a barrel. It certainly worked a treat for Jesse Helms.

But we're in different times. In the late 90s, it didn't quite pan out the way Rudy Guiliani had hoped (and look where he is now). And, happily, it didn't work for Tom Coburn (R - Okla), who earlier this year proposed an amendment that characterized federal stimulus funds for the arts as "wasteful" - even though the progress of his daughter's opera career is dependent in large measure on exactly such federal funding.

I hope we're seeing the last of this kind of ugly and cynical gambit.

PS Feinstein voted for Coburn's amendment.... will it ever end...

Next Antonovich motion: no Mercedes allowed in the parking lot at Junior's.

Ever since Apocalypse Now I've been a fan of Wagner...but I've never been a fan of Antonovich. Mike, stop being a tool and find something useful to do with your time. Now, I'm going to put on O Fortuna and get back to work.

I left Los Angeles in 1980, and those two guys were city and county politicians then. That Los Angeles keeps politicians around for over 30 years is what's really frightening.

If we're avoiding all things with anti-semitic roots then shut down the Nixon Library and ban Ford automobiles too.


A Mr. Antonovich of the Board of Supervisors of Los Angeles County is objecting to a performance of the “Ring” cycle by Richard Wagner. Wagner was an anti-Semite and thus a founding father of “The Holocaust”, according to Mr. Antonovich. Perhaps the Los Angeles Opera should commission a cycle commemorating the suffering of the Palestinians. Were it entitled “The Balfour Ring” that would surely satisfy the sensitivities of Mr. Antonovich.

Perhaps a better way to prevent anti-semitism would be a discussion about why people must cramp cattle like into overcrowded buses to Santa Monica because the residents of Hancock Park and Beverly Hills don't want a subway going underneath nor stopping in their oh so precious neighborhood.

Seattle has had an annual Wagner Ring cycle since the late 70s. I saw it around 1983 and I don't think it tainted me or that great city. I now live in Los Angeles and the reason I will NOT see the LA Ring Cycle? - It's a long and boring opera, with just a few bits that are really worthwhile. It has always seemed to be a test of endurance, more than an artistic pleasure.

For heaven's sake - I think the politicians of Los Angeles have a few more pressing issues than this. (Poor Zev...)

Do we have to be so PC that we drain every ounce of life, death, controversy, and umph out of our art? Shame on us for that. I'd rather fall asleep during the Ring cycle than be fed the strained pablum that some would have us be exposed to.

How on earth could Mr. Antonovich believe that his board of supervisors would choose to initiate legislation that would force the dark side of racial or religious views to the forefront in the arts community? Imagine the feud that would be realized if, during Ring Festival L.A., works by Wagner were replaced by compositions written by Beethoven, Puccini, or Verde, or even - think about it - Mahler, Mendelsohn, or Bloch .. all simply because Wagner, 150 years ago, openly expressed blatantly anti-Semitic views.

Your understanding that we are protesting the performance of the operas is mistaken--the result of false and apparently malicious reports. We know very well the musical value of Wagner's operas, and we have not said one word to discourage LA Opera from performing Wagner, or any one from attending the performances.

What we are protesting is government involvement in a festival that makes a hero of the man who gave dignity and respectability to the idea of ethnic cleansing and taught Germany that it was acceptable to persecute Jews--notions that Germany had long abandoned. We are protesting government involvement in the celebration of a man who is still today an icon of the neo nazis and white supremacists.

We are protesting our local government's use (in collaboration with LA Opera and the press and media) of grossly skewed and misleading statements about Wagner's character and historical significance to promote their festival in a manner that borders on historical revisionism.

We are protesting a festival that, because of its aggressive and dishonest manner of promoting a personality who has become a symbol of values totally opposed to the American way of life, represents a danger not just to our Jewish citizens, but to all groups who have suffered persecution, discrimination, genocide, or forced mass relocation: Armenians, African Americans, American Indians, Gypsies, homosexuals, women, and others.

All Supervisor Antonovich was asking for was to broaden the festival, so that it wouldn't look like Los Angeles was glorifying Wagner the man. For his courage, sensitivity and good sense, he has been rewarded with defamation and vituperation.

Think about it.
Peter Gimpel

Yes, let's take Supe Antonovich, shove him into the 'Back Seat Dodge,' throw the key away and haul that artpiece all up and down Wilshire - so that everyone can laugh at the idiot.


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