A Knight at the Opera: Heine, Wagner, Herzl, Peretz, and the Legacy of Der Tannhäuser
A Knight at the Opera examines the remarkable and unknown role that the medieval legend (and Wagner opera) Tannhäuser played in Jewish cultural life in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The book analyzes how three of the greatest Jewish thinkers of that era, Heinrich Heine, Theodor Herzl, and I. L. Peretz, used this central myth of Germany to strengthen Jewish culture and to attack anti-Semitism. In the original medieval myth, a Christian knight lives in sin with the seductive pagan goddess Venus in the Venusberg. He escapes her clutches and makes his way to Rome to seek absolution from the Pope. The Pope does not pardon Tannhäuser and he returns to the Venusberg. During the course of A Knight at the Opera, readers will see how Tannhäuser evolves from a medieval knight, to Heine's German scoundrel in early modern Europe, to Wagner's idealized German male, and finally to Peretz's pious Jewish scholar in the Land of Israel. Venus herself also undergoes major changes from a pagan goddess, to a lusty housewife, to an overbearing Jewish mother. The book also discusses how the founder of Zionism, Theodor Herzl, was so inspired by Wagner's opera that he wrote The Jewish State while attending performances of it, and he even had the Second Zionist Congress open to the music of Tannhäuser's overture. A Knight at the Opera uses Tannhäuser as a way to examine the changing relationship between Jews and the broader world during the advent of the modern era, and to question if any art, even that of a prominent anti-Semite, should be considered taboo.
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Amos Elon anti-Semitism artistic asserted Assimilation to Zionism audience ballad Barry Millington Cambridge University Press Chananiah Christian Cosima Der Judenstaat Diaries Dieter Borchmeyer discussion Dreyfus Düsseldorf Elisabeth English National Opera English translation essay Europe European feuilleton folktale found in Richard French German culture German original Hasidic Heine’s Heine’s poem Heinrich Heine I. L. Peretz Ibid influence inspired Jacques Kornberg Jewish culture Jewish Thinkers Jews Judaism Judaized Judenstaat knight legend Leipzig literary literature medieval meme Mesires-nefesh Miriam modern Jewish Moreover mother myth nationalism nationalist Neue Freie Presse novella ofHeinrich pagan Paris Parisian poet political Pope Reb Hiya redemption relationship reworked Richard Wagner role Ruth seeking Sholem Aleichem singing society soul staff Steven Beller Stewart Spencer story tale Tannhäuser’s Theodor Herzl traditional trans transformed Venus Venusberg version of Tannhäuser Vienna Wagner’s opera Wagner’s Tannhäuser Warsaw Wartburg Wisse Wolfram writing wrote Yeshiva Yiddish young Zamość Zionism