Composer Richard Wagner (18131883) likely suffered from a manic-depressive disorder but in his time very little was known about mental illness, and suicide was not a topic for general discussion. Wagner was often plagued by extreme mood swings; he used his operas, especially the librettos, to express himself and his personal difficulties.
This investigation of the suicidal themes in Wagners life and operasDie Fliegender Holländer, Tannhäuser, Lohengrin, Tristan und Isolde, Die Meistersinger, the Ring cycle, and Parsifalshows how manic-depressive illness, particularly the depressive part of it, affected Wagners life and art. It also analyzes the influence of Giambattista Vicos theories of cycles (and how these theories appeared in Wagners work), suicide as a theatrical and operatic phenomenon, and the way in which the theme of suicide has appeared in other works of the literary and performing arts.
John Louis DiGaetani
is an English professor at Hofstra University. He also wrote McFarlands Carlo Gozzi: A Life in the 18th Century Venetian Theater, an Afterlife in Opera
(2000). He lives in New York.