Wagner -- public genius with a private passion for bustles, bows and bodices





A previously unpublished letter by Richard Wagner to a firm of Milanese couturiers offers the intriguing possibility that the great composer was, in fact, a cross-dresser.

The letter is published for the first time today in the inaugural edition of the Wagner Journal. In it, the composer of the Ring des Nibelungen details the cut of an outfit, ostensibly intended for his wife, Cosima.

Requesting "something graceful for evenings at home" he continues: "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)..."

According to Barry Millington, co-editor of the Wagner Journal, the letter, dating from January 1874 and now in a private collection in the US, "adds weight to the theory that the composer exhibited the tendencies of a cross-dresser". At the very least, he suggests, it points to an extremely detailed, if not fetishistic, interest in the minutiae of ladies' apparel...

Rumours about his proclivities circulated during his lifetime.

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