Monday, February 25, 2008

Operatic Interlude

I've had virtually zilch time to try to write anything lately, but as nothing's been posted here for several days, I thought I ought to put something up. As it just so happens, I've had an idea in my back pocket for several weeks now that I thought deserved mention; right now seems as good a time as any.

Timeliness is generally regarded to be of essence where dated material is concerned; thus I suppose justifying posting this should require more reasons than mere whim on my part. Well, I've come up with a few. First, we've been on something of a parody kick lately anyway; the work of which I write, while not strictly a parody, does contain some elements thereof. Second, the subject is Richard Wagner's Nibelung cycle; Wagner died in February of 1883.

All right, so Wagner actually died a couple of weeks ago on Feb. 13, 1883. I'm a little behind. I should perhaps have tried to come up with something on Baseball Hall of Fame Shortstop and subject of very few baseball cards Honus Wagner, who was born yesterday, Feb. 24th, in 1874, instead.

Getting back to matters at hand, however: I recently "rediscovered" this after having shelved it in the back of my mind for some years, thanks to its having been mentioned in conversation to me. I decided I had to find it, and went a-Googling.

Fortunately for us all, this classic skit by singer/comedienne Anna Russell can be found on the 'Net, so it's not necessary to wait around for NPR to decide to air it. Below is a partial text, plus the link at which I found it (I believe that part or all of it have also been reprinted at other sites.)

As anyone who's heard it can tell you, it's Russell's hilariously deadpan delivery (in patrician British accent) that really makes the piece. Audios of the four parts (listed by title: Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried, and Gotterdammerung) are on YouTube. They look like video; unfortunately, all you get is a still picture of a Valkyrie galloping over storm clouds. I guess film of Russell performing could not be had for that purpose. But the audio is there, with roll-in-the-aisle clarity; thanks to the generous soul who took the time to upload it. It is not to be missed, especially if you're a Norse epic lover, opera lover, opera hater, Wagner lover/hater, musical historian, remotely musically inclined, or just fond of satire. It's a darn good intro to the Nibelung cycle for any novice, as well.

Without further ado:

The Ring of the Nibelungs (An Analysis)
by Anna Russell

Now that the opera season is with us again, I feel it would be appropriate for me to give a talk on Wagner’s “Ring der Nibelungen.” Now I know that analyses of “the Ring” are frequently given over the radio by some great expert for the edification of other great experts, but these are usually so esoteric as to leave the average person as befogged as before…and in fact I think tends to discourage him from going altogether. So I would like to tell you about it as from the point of view of one average opera-goer to another.

Now, the first thing is that every person and event in the Ring cycle has what is grandly called a “leitmotif.” Now you don’t need to worry about that, it merely means a “signature tune.”

The scene opens in the River Rhine. IN it. If it were in New York, it would be like the Hudson. And swimming around there are the three Rhinemaidens…a sort of aquatic Andrews Sisters. Or sometimes they’re called “nixies.” Mairsie-nix and doesie-nix and little nixie-divie. And they sing their signature tune, which is as follows. [Plays and sings] “Weia! Waga! Woge, du Welle, walle zur Wiege! wagala weia! wallala, weiala weia!” I won’t translate it, because it doesn’t mean anything.

The Rhine maidens are looking after a lump of magic gold. And the magic of this gold consists of the fact that anybody who will renounce love and make a ring out of this gold will become Master of the Universe. This is the gimmick.

Now, up from underneath the river, as it might be, let’s say, the Holland Tunnel, comes a little dwarf called Alberich. [Piano swoop.] And here he is. [Plays and sings] “Garstig glatter glitsch’riger Glimmer! wie gleit’ ich aus! Mit Händen un Füssen nicht fasse noch halt’ ich das schlecke Geschlüpfer! Feuchtes Nass füllt mir die Nase…” Well you can see he’s excessively unattractive. He makes a pass at the Rhine maidens, who think he’s perfectly dreadful, and so they’re not very nice to him, they tell him [Plays and sings] “Pfui! du haariger, höckriger Geck! Schwarzes, schweiliges Schwefelgezwerg!” So he thinks “Well, I’m not going to get any love anyhow, I can see that, so I may as well renounce it, and take this lump of gold, make the Ring, and become Master of the Universe. So he takes it back to the Holland Tunnel with him [Piano glissando]. And here he is making the Ring. [Plays] No steel strikes here! Well, that’s him.

Well, now, up here, as it might be on top of the Empire State Building, you find Wotan, the head god. And he’s a crashing bore, too. Well he and his wife, Mrs Fricka Wotan, have had a castle built for them called Valhalla [Plays piano theme] by a couple of giants called Fasolt and Fafner. Well of course the giants want to be paid for building this castle, and part of the giants builders union scale consists of this magic ring that Alberich’s made. So Wotan goes all the way down from where he is to Alberich [Piano smacks] and takes the Ring away from him. Well of course Alberich is simply furious. So he puts a terrible curse on the Ring. [Plays classic Villain theme.] That’s the wrong curse, isn’t it! I’m sorry—here—[Plays Alberich’s curse music.]

But Wotan takes no notice, he takes the ring up [Piano smacks] and gives it to Fasolt. Well right away Fafner kills Fasolt [Piano SMACK] to get the Ring for himself. So Wotan knows that the curse is working. And this worries him, so he goes down to ground level [Piano black-key glissando] to consult an old fortune-teller friend of his called My Friend Erda; she is a green-faced torso that pops out of the ground—at least we think she’s a torso, that’s all anyone’s ever seen of her. And she says to Wotan, she says [Plays and sings] “Weiche, Wotan, weiche!” Which means “Be careful, Wotan, be careful.” She then bears him eight daughters.

These daughters are the Valkyries, headed by Brünnhilde…and they are the NOISIEST women! [Plays and sings] “Heiaha! Heiaha! Hojotoho! Hojotoho! Heiaha! Wo—” Well, that is the end of Part 1.

Read the rest here

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