>Wagner was in conscious reaction against the sentimentality and lassitude of official art. Like Baudelaire (whose admiring letter to the composer after the Parisian performance of Tannhauser displays a self-conscious affinity) he saw that the ideal had fled from the world into the citadel of the imagination. Unlike Baudelaire, however, he believed that the ideal could be tempted back, so as to dwell among us (though at considerable public expense). He therefore tried to create a new musical public, one that would not merely see the point of the heroic ideal, but also adopt it. This attempt was already doomed when Wagner first conceived it, and his sacerdotal presumptions have never ceased to alienate those who feel threatened by his message. Hence modern producers, embarrassed by dramas that make a mockery of their way of life, decide in their turn to make a mockery of the dramas. Of course, even today, musicians and singers, responding as they must to the urgency and sincerity of the music, do their best to produce the sounds that Wagner intended. But the action is invariably caricatured, wrapped in inverted commas, and reduced to the dimensions of a television sitcom. Sarcasm and satire run riot on the stage, not because they have anything to prove or say in the shadow of this unsurpassably noble music, but because nobility has become intolerable. The producer strives to distract the audience from Wagner’s message, and to mock every heroic gesture, lest the point of the drama should finally come home. As Michael Tanner has argued, in his succinct and penetrating defence of the composer, modern productions attempt to ‘domesticate’ Wagner, to bring his dramas down from the exalted sphere in which the music places them, to the world of human trivia, usually in order to make a ‘political statement’ which, being both blatant and banal, succeeds only in cancelling the rich ambiguities of the drama. In contemporary Wagner productions we see exactly what the transition from modernism to the ‘post-modern’ world involves, namely, the final rejection of high culture as a redemptive force and the ruination of the sacred in its last imagined form.