Richard Wagner at Benaroya Hall

SummerFest 2008 kicks off with a blockbuster Seattle Symphony concert: get set for the epic sounds of Wagner and Mahler, June 26–29, featuring local superstar soprano Jane Eaglen singing the heartwrenching Prelude and Liebestod from Richard Wagner’s über-tragiromantic opera, Tristan und Isolde. (Read all about her experience playing Isolde in Seattle Opera’s 1998 production here.)

Born in 1813, German composer Wagner was, hands down, among the most influential music-makers of the 19th century. His boundary-breaking ideas about melody, harmony, drama and aesthetics turned the opera world on its head, and spurred one of most heated and long-lasting controversies in the history of music.

Like to learn more about this colossal composer? Look no further: Below, find some factoids about Herr Richard.

  • Wagner the Lover. In 1863, after one failed marriage and several affairs, Wagner fell in love with Cosima von Bülow, the 25-year-old daughter of composer and pianist Franz Liszt. Even though she was married at the time to the famous conductor Hans von Bülow, she and Wagner moved in together and began a torrid and much-publicized affair that resulted in three children (two of whom — Isolde and Siegfried — were named for characters in Wagner’s operas) and an eventual marriage in 1870.
  • Wagner the Inventor. Not content with the capabilities of the brass section when writing his epic four-opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen, Wagner devised his own tuba, the aptly named “Wagner tuba,” to provide a greater variety of brass sounds.
  • Wagner the Revolutionary. Wagner’s revolutionary tendencies were not limited to pushing the limits of musical convention. In May 1849, he participated in an uprising in Dresden, and was even suspected of creating explosive devices. Not long after, a warrant was issued for his arrest and he fled the city.
  • Wagner the Writer. Unlike most opera composers, who adapted pre-existing plays or used newly written libretti, Wagner wrote the texts for all his music dramas — himself!
  • Wagner the Megastar. Wagner fans, or “Wagnerites,” are still among the most fanatical classical music fans. The average wait-time for a ticket to attend the Wagner Festival in Bayreuth is seven years. But fear not: To tide you over while you wait, Symphonica, the Symphony Store, has stocked a supply of Wagner action figures (pictured above in the Samuel & Althea Stroum Grand Lobby at Benaroya Hall). No more Wagnerless nights for you!

And, if this isn’t enough for you, check out Seattle Opera’s online Wagner tribute.

NEXT WEEK … Catch Mahler Madness! Get acquainted with Gustav the Great, whose Symphony No. 6 follows the Prelude and Liebestod, June 26–29.