Historical Guests

Portofino, a World apart
February 2009

Richard Wagner in Portofino


In the sultry summer of 1853, the coastal Italian town of Genoa played host to an unlikely guest: the famed composer Richard Wagner. It was a sojourn that would intertwine nature’s fury with an outpouring of musical inspiration, forever linking the tempestuous weather to Wagner’s masterpiece, the “Ride of the Valkyries.”

Genoa’s Allure*

Wagner arrived in Genoa entranced by the city and its people, captivated by the view of the gulf from the esplanade of Castelletto. To the east lay the imposing Mount Portofino; to the west, the Riviera stretched out toward the distant French mountains. It was an enchanting Mediterranean scene, one the composer described in a letter to his first wife, Minna Wagner, noting, “The oleanders were high with flowers, the nights were divine.”

But soon, the serene setting would give way to nature’s drama.

The Storm

Without warning, the weather, which had been splendid, shifted. Skies darkened, and a storm unleashed a fury that alarmed Wagner. Thunder cracked, lightning flashed over the sea and mountains, and an electrical charge filled the air. The coast was soon bombarded by waves so immense they seemed “higher than houses.”

The following day, Wagner beheld the storm’s aftermath. Beaches littered with debris, cliffs marred by the relentless sea. It was a scene of devastation, yet one filled with raw and mesmerizing power.

Inspiration in Chaos

Perhaps it was this chaotic beauty that planted the seed for the “Ride of the Valkyries.” Wagner’s description of the storm as “deafening” and “blinding” mirrors the intensity of this famous musical piece. Known for its dramatic opening, the composition encapsulates the mythical arrival of the Valkyries, Norse mythology’s formidable female warriors.

There’s a compelling possibility that the storm’s dramatic force in Genoa catalyzed one of Wagner’s most recognizable creations.


Beyond the storm, Portofino held a deeper significance for Wagner. Amid scandal and personal tribulations, he had fled Germany, searching for renewal. Portofino became that sanctuary. It was not just the locale of an inspiring tempest but a place of personal and creative rediscovery.

Portofino, in Wagner’s life, was indeed a world apart.

Epilogue: A Lasting Legacy

Richard Wagner’s 1853 visit to Genoa and Portofino remains more than a historical footnote. It’s a vivid testament to nature’s ability to inspire art, to the way place and experience can ignite creativity. The storm that once swept the Italian coast has echoed through time, immortalized in the powerful strains of the “Ride of the Valkyries.”

It’s a melody that continues to resonate, a reminder of a summer in Genoa where a world-renowned composer found fear, fascination, and inspiration amid nature’s most untamed spectacle. The storm may have passed, but its legacy endures, captured in the notes of Wagner’s music, forever linked to a time and place where a great romantic composer’s imagination took flight.

Richard Wagner

, a World Apart.