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Readers ring in on Ring

July 18, 2009

Re " 'Ring' Debate Revived for 2010," by David Ng, July 16: L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich's suggestion that L.A. Opera cancel its forthcoming production of Wagner's "Ring" because the composer was an anti-Semite is inane. The idea that great composers, or artists of any stripe, should be shunned because of their personal or political beliefs smacks of censorship.

Historically, there have been many great musicians, writers, painters and other artists who have been anti-Semitic. Should we ban all of their works because we disparage their personal views?

Henry Ford was an outspoken anti-Semite. If we all held Antonovich's viewpoint, we shouldn't buy any Ford cars.

Marta Hiatt

Long Beach

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Mike Antonovich's analogy between "Mein Kampf" and the "Ring" is false. "Mein Kampf" is widely regarded as a terrible book. It survives only due to the infamy of its author. The "Ring," on the other hand, is widely regarded as one of the best operas ever written. It thrives in spite of the bigotry of its author.

Matthew Kates

La Canada Flintridge

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I'm with Antonovich on this one.

Our city shouldn't be paying tribute to a known and virulent anti-Semite, as well as Hitler's musical mascot. I don't care how "brilliant" a musician he was. Do moral values mean nothing?

Laura Levine

Los Angeles

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I can certainly understand the reaction to the composer's anti-Jewish-music rants. And let's face it, the adoration of Hitler is about as useful as a warranty from General Motors.

But come on. Let's at least be historically thorough. Wagner hated everyone who wasn't Wagner. He was beyond a doubt one of the most egomaniacal, self-centered, immoral composers who ever lived, sleeping with the wife of every friend he ever had and shamelessly borrowing money he never intended to repay. But if we apply that level of scrutiny to the lives of most entertainers today, Hollywood would soon resemble Calico. Never mind the questionable historical practice of taking modern sensibilities and judgmentally projecting them backward.

The fact is that long after Wagner railed against the evils of "Jewish music," he was still hiring and collaborating with his Jewish colleagues, and did so right up until the time of his death. He was an immensely talented genius, with all the idiosyncratic impulsiveness that so often accompanies it, who left us with music unexcelled in tonal, thematic and philosophical complexity.

The fact that anyone would question the 2010 "Ring" production, which would actually bring an economic boon to the city -- unlike, let's say, a memorial service for an excellent dancer with a Peter Pan complex -- is just one more example of why politicians should stay out of healthcare, car manufacturing, banking and the arts!

Bruce Langford

Glendora

The writer is a music professor at Citrus College.

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I am an ethnic Jew with every awareness and appreciation of my ancestry and what it means. While I've never thought Wagner's personal beliefs inform his music, the possibility does not require censorship -- it presents an opportunity to enlighten others about the results of racism and extremist ideas.

If we allow public censorship to suppress ideas, individual creativity or personal beliefs, that is the beginning of the end for all of us -- and Hitler wins.

L. Page Shaffer

Moorpark

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Defending L.A. Opera's focus on Wagner despite his renowned anti-Semitism, Mark Swed points out ["Politician's Logic Runs in Circles," July 16] that we do not attack Shakespeare for his disparaging references to Jews in "The Merchant of Venice," or J.S. Bach for his even more hostile remarks about Jews in his "St. John Passion."

The difference between our attitude to Wagner, on the one hand, and Shakespeare and J.S. Bach on the other, is similar to our contrasting attitudes to Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez.

Like Barry Bonds, Wagner arouses continued indignation because both men show evidence of being permeated with hostility -- Bonds to other players as well as fans, Wagner to Jews. In neither case is it possible to dissociate their obnoxious personalities from their performances.

Like Manny Ramirez, Shakespeare and J.S. Bach appear to have erred, but we forgive them because their violations do not appear to reflect fatal flaws in their personality, unlike those which Wagner underscores not only in some of his operas but in his anti-Semitic diatribes that played a seminal role in propagating the poison of anti-Semitism in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Gershon Hepner

Los Angeles

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I would recommend to Mike Antonovich that he look at how people around the world recently mourned the death of a highly controversial figure in music. One who for the last 15 years contributed little in the way of music or culture, but rather left behind a rather sordid past filled with controversies, scandals and even, perhaps, a controversial death.

Nonetheless, in spite of all his flaws, it is his music that moved millions of people around the world to celebrate the work of Michael Jackson.

Clearly, the man can be separated from the music -- as Antonovich should do with Richard Wagner.

Craig Byrd

Los Angeles

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If Mike Antonovich is right that we should ban the music of Richard Wagner, then we should censor the "Wedding March" from "Lohengrin," and people who marched down the aisle to it should be ashamed of themselves.

Robert E. Morsberger

Claremont

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