Cambridge Opera Journal

Research Article

Nuremberg Trial: Is there anti-semitism in Die Meistersinger?

Barry Millington

From time to time the question has been raised: ‘Is the character of Beckmesser an embodiment of Wagner's notorious anti-semitism?’ Theodor Adorno, who stated with reference to Beckmesser, Alberich and Mime that ‘all the rejects of Wagner's works are caricatures of Jews’, is frequently invoked, but the question is generally brushed aside, or answered summarily in the negative. Yet neither Adorno nor, to my knowledge, anyone else has examined the question in the depth it deserves. A fuller investigation of the evidence leads, I submit, to the conclusions that anti-semitism is woven into the ideological fabric of Die Meister-singer, and that the representation of Beckmesser incorporates unmistakable antisemitic characteristics. If this is indeed the case, then the implications for our understanding of the opera are profound.