Truly an epic film biography, WAGNER took two years to complete and has a running time of nine hours. It opens in 1883 with the death of German composer Richard Wagner and, in flashback, chronicles every major aspect of the composer's life from his operas to his personal relationships. Whether this European mini-series feels satisfyingly exhaustive or exhausting probably depends on the individual viewer's interest in his life and musical accomplishments, but despite static direction and a surfeit of establishing shots, this warts-and-all biography is de rigeur for connoisseurs of classical music.
Resentful of the handouts that came with royal posts, Wagner (Richard Burton) never hesitated to bite the hands that fed him or to rail against his more popular contemporaries. As the revolutionary movement in Saxony (1848-1849) gathered steam, Wagner’s public contempt for monarchies propelled him into Swiss exile. Joined there by his long-suffering wife, Minna (Gemma Craven), whom he had wed in 1836, Wagner toiled on vocal scores celebrating German folklore. And while searching for benefactors in various European capitals, the musical theoretician rubbed everyone the wrong way, with the exception of a succession of married ladies. His only kind comments were reserved for Franz Liszt (Ekkehard Schall), who shared Wagner’s high opinion of himself. When Wagner finally landed a position as Kapellmeister of the Dresden Opera in 1843, he was able to complete the operas "Tannhauser" and Lohengrin. After decades of genteel poverty, the outspoken genius gained the patronage of King Ludwig ll of Bavaria (Laszlo Galffi) and composed "Tristan and Isolde" and "Die Meistersinger." In 1876, construction was completed on a theater designed according to Wagner’s specifications; the Bayreuth complex was the perfect venue for grandiose productions of his epic "The Ring Cycle" (1876) and "Parsifal." (1882). In his personal life, Wagner eventually found marital stability with Franz Liszt’s daughter, Cosima (Vanessa Redgrave), who later became the keeper of Wagner’s flame; in typically ruthless fashion, Wagner courted Cosima while she was still married. Although Burton’s embers are banked, his co-stars include what seems like every English acting legend of the 20th century. The film itself is handsome and has an air of rich authenticity complemented by some 2,000 costumes and 200 different locations. Wagner's music is conducted by Sir Georg Solti, the internationally renowned conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Shorter versions, including one that runs 208 minutes and another of 300 minutes, also exist but understandably don't have the same feeling as the full-length feature.
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- Released: 1983
- Rating: NR
- Review: Truly an epic film biography, WAGNER took two years to complete and has a running time of nine hours. It opens in 1883 with the death of German composer Richard Wagner and, in flashback, chronicles every major aspect of the composer's life from his operas… (more)