Wagner, Robber,and the Flying Dutchman
Wagner, Robber, and the Flying Dutchman
By Leticia Marie Sanchez
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He not have been an actual thief, but Richard Wagner’s Newfoundland dog Robber successfully stole the composer’s heart. In Wagner Without Fear, author William Berger regales us with colorful tales from Wagner’s life, including his tumultuous journey from Riga to Paris. When the debt-ridden Wagner and his wife Minna decided to escape from present-day Latvia, the composer insisted that Robber join them, despite the great risk. Cossack patrols guarded the Prussian border, with orders to shoot and kill the unlucky fugitives who caught their attention. Miraculously, the pooch did not make a peep as they dashed across the border. One little bark would have meant Sayonara Wagner. Welcome to Valhalla.Wagner then decided that the trio would henceforth travel by sea, avoiding land voyages that would tucker out the legs of his beloved canine. Unfortunately, turbulence reigned during their voyage on the merchant ship Thetis. This tempest-filled odyssey endured for more than a month, with the sounds of sailors’ shrieks terrifying Wagner.Thankfully, the Wagners arrived safely in London and eventually, Paris. The traumatized composer refused to step foot on a ship for the rest of his days.
His angst-filled voyage, however, inspired the music for the Flying Dutchman. Thus, Robber’s influence on Wagner’s sailing itinerary had its rewards. A dog really can be a Man’s Best Friend and, in some cases, his Best Muse.