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Why I Left Paris


Richard Wagner and his wife Minna had fled Riga, Latvia, and come to Paris to escape their debts, but the French capital also held promise for an opera composer, and Wagner managed to complete two of his operas, Rienzi and The Flying Dutchman while he was there. And yet, after spending 1840-1 there, Wagner was eager to leave the city known for its free lifestyle, as he reports in his autobiography:

My own painful experiences and my disgust for all the mockery of that kind of life, once so attractive to me and yet so foreign to my upbringing, had quickly driven me away from having anything to do with it.

It’s true that the production of The Huguenots that I heard for the very first time dazzled me considerably. Its beautiful orchestration and the meticulous and effective staging gave me a grand idea of the possibilities of such perfect and precise artistic resources. But, strange to say, I never felt like hearing the same opera again. I soon tired of the extravagant execution of the singers, and I amused my friends no end by mimicking the latest Parisian style and the vulgar exaggerations packed into every performance.

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In addition, the composers who aimed at success by adopting the style that was then fashionable couldn’t help provoking my sarcastic criticism.

The last scintilla of esteem that I tried to retain for the “first lyrical theater in the world” was, in the end, rudely obliterated when I saw how such an empty, totally un-French work as Donizetti’s Favorita could achieve such a long and important run at that theater.

During the entire time I was in Paris, I don’t think I went to the opera more than four times. The cold productions of the Opéra Comique and the degenerate quality of the music produced there had repelled me from the beginning, and the same lack of enthusiasm shown by the singers also drove me from the Italian opera.

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