Richard Wagner, despite the controversies surrounding his life and political views, bestrides German opera like a colossus. The canon of his ten mature operas, from The Flying Dutchman to Parsifal, revolutionised opera. His declared purpose of creating a Gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art, claimed for opera a preeminent position in musical and theatrical life. It adopted a moral purpose. It was no longer entertainment, but a lever to change society. That legacy endures today, 130 years after Wagner’s death.
Wagner cast a long shadow over the work of his successors, not only German composers such as Richard Strauss, nor confined to music, but across the wider world of the arts and politics.