Thursday, August 24, 2006

Schwarzkopf's Past

In the Guardian, Michael Kater analyzes, once again, the late Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's NSDAP past. In the most resonant passage, he notes

The postwar rise to fame of Schwarzkopf is legendary. There is no question, however opportunistically Schwarzkopf may have acted on her way to fame in the Third Reich, that the quality of her art made political protection unnecessary. But Schwarzkopf may have seen this differently.

After May 1945, she still had difficulties to overcome and continued to need protection, now of another kind. For almost two decades she remained shut out from the New York Metropolitan Opera, making her debut there in October 1964. For this, general manager Rudolf Bing, who had earned his credentials in Glyndebourne and Edinburgh, was responsible. He had been born a Jew in Vienna. At one time he poignantly remarked that he could forgive Schwarzkopf for having worn a Nazi uniform and taken an American boyfriend right after the war, but what he could not forgive was that she later married British impresario Walter Legge, through whom she obtained British citizenship (and the title of Dame Commander). For Legge was a Jew.

While I just railed against the pornography of fascism, I find her case somewhat unique. It could be argued, just as for Herbert von Karajan and (less famously) Karl Böhm, that her association with the NSDAP was a "career thing." However, unlike Von Karajan - who made that claim when finally confronted with cold, hard facts - she was silent and brusque about the whole business. Karl Böhm, it seems, was taciturn about the mess. I suppose his more flamboyant DGG peer, Von Karajan, bested him at that, too. However, he did give the fascist salute on a couple of occasions. I digress.

Schwarzkopf-the-soprano needed and needs no real apology. I found her a little brittle and metallic, but that doesn't mean she wasn't great. Schwarzkopf-the-NSDAP-youth-leader needs to be reckoned with eventually, no mean feat, as tight-lipped as she was about it. Young people make mistakes all the time, and some of them make utterly egregious errors in judgment. However, part of growing up is admitting those errors. She has been forgiven for crimes for which she never sought pardon. That is what galls me about this nasty stuff: she was given a free pass, thanks - I assume - to the then-pantokrator of music, Walter Legge.

A generation has stood, rightly, unforgiven at the cenotaph of their making - while a few have been given a general absolution. You don't get in bed with racist, genocidal maniacs and deserve that.


At 11:18 PM, Blogger Ivan said...

nice one, this 'pornography of'. i don't suppose you find inspiration in adorno's/horkheimer's treatment of culture?
however, i should think replacing the word 'fascism' with 'nazism' would prove more correct, both historically and theoretically. hence the warmest recommendation for 'the origins of totalitarianism' by hannah arendt.

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