Jan Fabre’s new work depicts both the friendship and feud between Wagner and Nietzsche.

Tragedy of a Friendship

Jan Fabre, Moritz Eggert, Vlaamse Opera

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Tragic is the right word to describe the friendship between Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche. At first the composer of the Gesamtkunstwerk and the philosopher with the hammer were full of admiration for one another, but later the young Nietzsche became increasingly disappointed by the older Wagner. In two vitriolic essays he rased him to the ground. As well as this fascinating story of the relationship between the thinker and the artist, the Flemish director Jan Fabre was also inspired by the thirteen groundbreaking opera masterpieces which Wagner wrote. In collaboration with writer Stefan Hertmans and German composer Moritz Eggert, he has constructed a dramatic work in homage to one of his favourite composers.

Programme book


concept and direction
Jan Fabre
Moritz Eggert
Stefan Hertmans
musical direction
Moritz Eggert
Miet Martens, Luc Joosten
Jan Fabre
assistant scenography
Bert Heytens
Jan Fabre
Andrea Kränzlin
Hans Peter Janssens
Lies Vandeweghe
Gustav Koenings
Nikolaus Barton
Annabelle Chambon
Cédric Charron
Ivana Jozic
Kurt Vandendriessche
lighting design
Jan Dekeyser
Jan Fabre
technische leiding
Arne Lievens
Tom Buys
stage kostuums
Despina Zacharopoulou
Vlaamse Opera
Troubleyn/Jan Fabre
Concertgebouw Brugge
Théâtre de la Ville Paris
Opéra de Lille + Wagner Genèva Festival
Holland Festival

background information

In 2013 it will have been two hundred years since Richard Wagner was born, a perfect time to put the spotlight on this legendary pioneer of the 'total art work'. At the invitation of the Vlaamse Opera (Flemish Opera) theatre maker Jan Fabre conceived a new work about Wagner, one of his favourite artists. Fabre was inspired by Wagner's thirteen operas, but also by the fascinating friendship between the middle-aged composer and the young and ambitious philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche – a friendship that ended in a feud. From that rich body of work and that tragic friendship Fabre has, in collaboration with the writer Stefan Hertmans and the German composer Moritz Eggert, forged an exciting work of music theatre, devised as a homage to the often reviled Wagner.

Jan Fabre (1958) has since his directorial debut in 1980 created many, often controversial productions which sit at the intersection of the various performing arts disciplines. In 2004 he directed Wagner's Tannhäuser at De Munt / La Monnaie in Brussels. Pianist and composer Moritz Eggert (1965) wrote various operas and works for ballet and music theatre; his work has received a number of awards. He also wrote the music for the opening ceremony of the football World Cup in Germany in 2006. Mortiz' music has a strong narrative quality and is characterised by a fine, precise sense of drama, as well as being very much open to popular culture and not lacking in humour. His score for this production constitutes a new orientation on Wagner's monumental legacy in music theatre.

The poet and writer Stefan Hertmans (1951) has a number of plays to his name, and has also written about the theatre in various essays, including his book Het zwijgen van de tragedie (The silence of the tragedy, 2007). He has also studied the works of Nietzsche extensively. In his text for this production, Hertmans develops the idea that Nietzsche (1844-1900) and Wagner (1818-1883) were in some sense each other's alter ego. They admired one another, at least in the beginning, and at the same time saw in the other something that was difficult to fit in with this admiration. Nietzsche was a thinker and a writer who regarded music as the highest of the arts and also composed himself; Wagner was the celebrated composer who liked to write his own libretti and published many essays, sometimes based on questionable politics. Was it really such a surprise, Hertmans asks, that their mutual desire to identify with each other would ultimately end in hatred?

What started as an idyll, ended in disaster. Initially, Nietzsche saw Wagner as the one man who could bring about a renaissance of German art, in which the Greek (in fact the Nietzschean) ideal prevails over the Christian. Wagner returned this admiration seeing the young philosopher as the perfect justifier of his intellectual pretences. When Nietzsche experienced the fantatical cult around Wagner during a visit to Bayreuth, cracks started to appear in his esteem of him. Wagner's last opera Parsifal (1882) is the last straw for Nietzsche. It was only after Wagner's death that Nietzsche launched his vitriolic indictment of the composer: Der Fall Wagner (1888) and Nietzsche contra Wagner (published in 1895) are scathing attacks. They were to be his last writings: soon after, in 1889, he had his mental breakdown.

It wasn't the first time, nor the last, that an artist and a philosopher were at loggerheads – with each other ánd with the other in themselves. The problem is at least as old as Plato, a gifted writer who ardently made his case against poetry and warned against the incendiary power of music. Caught between thinking and dreaming: the tragedy of the friendship between Wagner and Nietzsche, as this performance suggests, is perhaps the tragedy of all art.


Jan Fabre (Antwerp, 1958) is renowned at home and abroad as one of the most innovative and versatile artists of his generation. Over the past 30 years he has established himself as a performance artist, theatre maker, choreographer, creator of operas, playwright and visual artist. In every discipline he engages in, he stretches the boundaries – in all those years his artistic vision has been constant. Fabre studied at the Koninklijke Academie voor Schone Kunsten (Royal Academy of Fine Arts) and the Stedelijk Instituut voor Sierkunsten en Ambachten (Municipal Institute of Decorative Arts) in Antwerp. All of Fabre's works refer in one way or another to a belief in the vulnerable body and the defence of it; and scrutinising mankind and questioning how it will survive in the future. Over the years he has developed his own universe with its own laws and rules, recurring characters, symbols and motives. In 2007 he created the installation Ik spuw op mijn eigen graf (I spit on my own grave) for the Venice Biennale. In 2008 he created thirty large installations for the Louvre, as a response to the Flemish, Dutch and German masters in the Richelieu Wing. In 2011, Fabre's works were on show in an extensive exhibition at the Dutch Kröller-Müller Museum. Fabre's oeuvre has been awarded many prizes, including the Prijs van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap voor Beeldende Kunst 1992 (Prize of the Flemish Community for Fine Arts), the Premio Pino Pascali by the Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Polignano a Mare in Bari in 2008, and the International Arts Award of the Cristóbal Gabarrón Foundation in Valladolid in 2009. That same year he received an honorary doctorate of the University of Antwerp. Fabre was made Grand Officer in the Belgian Order of the Crown in 2004 and Commander in the Order of Leopold in 2007.

In the late 1970's the young Fabre was very successful as a performance artist; in his Money performances he would set fire to stacks of money from the audience and create drawings with the ashes. In 1980 he directed the first of his many theatre performances, Theater geschreven met een K is een kater. He had his international break-through with two marathon performances in 1982 and 1984: Het is theater zoals te verwachten en te voorzien was (It's theatre as could be expected and foreseen), and De Macht der theaterlijke dwaasheden (The power of theatrical madness), both of which, with a new cast, have returned as part of the repertoire. Fabre still explores and breaks the codes of contemporary theatre by introducing real time performances – sometimes called living installations. Also in dance, he continues to forge ahead scrutinising the medium in order to enrich its choreographic possibilities.

This performance was made possible with support by