Newly Discovered Letter Suggests (to Some) That Richard Wagner Was Cross-Dresser

Classic Arts News   Newly Discovered Letter Suggests (to Some) That Richard Wagner Was Cross-Dresser
The debut issue of the London-based The Wagner Journal includes a previously unpublished letter by Richard Wagner to a couturier in Milan, which suggests he might have had a fetish for ladies' clothes.

Today's issue of The Guardian printed an excerpt from Wagner's letter, in which the composer requests "something graceful for evenings at home ... The bodice will have a high collar, with a lace jabot and ribbons; close-fitting sleeves; the dress trimmed with puffed flounces — of the same satin material — no basque at the front (the dress must be very wide and have a train) but a rich bustle with a bow at the back, like the one at the front) ..."

The paper quotes Barry Millington, co-editor of The Wagner Journal (and a critic for London's Evening Standard newspaper), as saying that the letter, written in January 1874 (and now in a private collection in the U.S.), "adds weight to the theory that the composer exhibited the tendencies of a cross-dresser."

Millington observed that Wagner "obviously had a very pronounced feminine side. There was this whole business with silks and satin underwear: he had to wear silk next to his skin, ostensibly because he suffered from erypsipelas," an infection whose symptoms include painful skin rashes.

Rumors about Wagner's inclinations also flourished while he was alive; one anecdote suggested that Wagner escaped from his Viennese creditors in 864 dressed in women's clothes. In 1877, five years before his death, a journalist published details of items ordered by Wagner from another seamstress, which Millington described to the Guardian as "a riot of velvet drapes and portires, silk and satin shirts and underwear."

The clothing was ostensibly intended for his wife, Cosima, but even though she kept a regular and detailed diary, she never mentioned the dresses, leading to speculation that Wagner might "in fact have ordered the dresses for himself," according to Stewart Spencer, writing in The Wagner Journal.

The Guardian adds that while writing operas such as Parsifal, Wagner would fill his bath with unguents and adorn his study with rose-scented cushions. "He clearly needed this very refined and sensual, almost fetishistic atmosphere," Millington told the paper.

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