Richard Wagner was notoriously anti-Semitic, and his writings on the Jews were later embraced by Hitler and the Nazis. But many of Wagner's closest associates were Jews-- young musicians who became personally devoted to him, and provided crucial help to his career. Even as Wagner called for the elimination of the Jews from German life, many of his most active supporters were Jewish, as he himself noted with surprise.
They included piano prodigy Carl Tausig; Hermann Levi, a rabbi's son who conducted the premiere of Wagner's 'Parsifal'; Angelo Neumann, who produced Wagner's works throughout Europe; and Joseph Rubinstein, a pianist who lived with the Wagner family for years and committed suicide when Wagner died.
Filmed on location in Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, Wagner's Jews interweaves archival sources, visual re-enactments, interviews, and performances by Wagner's Jewish colleagues -- the first such performances on film.
Parallel to the historical narrative, the film explores the ongoing controversy over performing Wagner's music in Israel. In a different form, the questions dividing Wagner's Jewish acquaintances still resonate today: is it possible to separate artworks from the hatreds of their creator? Can art transcend prejudice and bigotry, and the weight of history?
Featuring Zubin Mehta, Music Director, Israel Philharmonic Orchestra; Yossi Beilin, Israeli politician and negotiator of the Oslo peace accords; Leon Botstein, President of Bard College, Conductor Laureate of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra; Uri Hanoch, Deputy Chairman, Central Organization of Holocaust Survivors in Israel; Jonathan Livny, President, Israel Wagner Society; Dina Porat, Chief Historian, Yad Vashem; Professor, Tel Aviv University; and many others.
"This film brings to light new insights into this topic, and manages to be -- for all its laconic brevity -- incredibly complex. Hilan Warshaw is a musician, a violinist. [The film works] virtually polyphonically, pursuing many different voices and balancing contradictions ... " - Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung