The Wagner Journal

Michael Fuller, Redemption in Wagner: The Case of Senta

Michael Fuller, Redemption in Wagner: The Case of Senta

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March 2020, Volume 14, Number 1, 4–15.

It is a striking fact that in the mature works of Richard Wagner all but one of the main heroines dies shortly before, at, or soon after, the final curtain. Senta, Elisabeth, Elsa, Isolde, Sieglinde, Brünnhilde and Kundry all breathe their last in this way, the only heroine who (we may assume) survives for long past the end of a Wagnerian drama being Eva. Why is this? What do the deaths of these women achieve? A key word often heard in this context is ‘redemption’: these women’s deaths are in some way redemptive. Eva Rieger notes in her study Richard Wagner’s Women that Wagner treats the theme of redemption ‘in an almost obsessive manner. We find it in all its possible forms, yet with one constant: it is always the woman who gives herself up for the man.’ As W.H. Auden memorably expressed it, in Wagner’s work ‘Woman, passive as in dreams/Redeems, redeems, redeems, redeems’.

However, it transpires that, pace Rieger and Auden, the word ‘redemption’ is not always the most appropriate term to use in this context.

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