Last night was the first time in 62 years of musical life that I ever attended a live production of a Wagner opera. At that rate I’ll be 124 before I see my next one. I can wait.
The event du jour was The Flying Dutchman, one of Wagner’s earliest works. The music was listenable, the singers were real loud — a prerequisite for singing Wagner, the orchestra played well, meaning the first horn player didn’t crack too many high notes, and the sets were fabulous.
What was the plot? I’m not really sure. Something about a sailor condemned to ride around in a boat until he could find a faithful wife, which would somehow bring him salvation. It should be noted that it doesn’t always work out that way, including in Wagner’s own case. Theoretically this was based on something that was considered akin to slapstick comedy in its day, but Wagner had a way of putting a morosely serious spin on things.
At a performance time of three hours, Dutchman weighs in as one of Wagner’s shorter works. So what does one do in a theater seat for that long? Obviously it’s not possible to concentrate on Wagner for that long, so I whiled away the time writing Wagner jokes.
Q: What’s the difference between a Wagnerian soprano and a police siren?
Q: What do you get when you cross a Wagnerian soprano with a Mack truck?
A: Another Wagnerian soprano.
Q: What words about Wagner will you never hear?
A: That’s the Wagner lover’s yarmulke.
Q: What do you call all the scores to the Ring Cycle at the bottom of the ocean?
A: A good start.
Q: What did the Wagner lovers do before heading off for a performance of a Wagner opera?
A: Shut off their water, gas, and electricity, canceled their magazine subscriptions, had the post office hold their mail, got their affairs in order, and left their children at an orphanage.
Q: What is Armageddon?
A: The basis for an amusing Wagner comedy.
Q: Who are Moe, Curly, and Larry?
A: Actors from whom Wagner derived an epic drama about life, death, love, salvation, and universal truth. (He called it Parsifal.)
But seriously, folks …
The production was excellent, and the singers some of the best the Arizona Opera has ever hired, particularly the soprano, who has a towering yet beautiful voice, and is not built like a weightlifter, as many Wagnerian sopranos are. In fact she’s kind of a babe.