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Friday, August 27, 2010

Ten Most Boring Moments in Wagner

"Wagner's music is much better than it sounds."
--Mark Twain

Richard Wagner wrote ten really great operas.

OK: music dramas.

And one "stage-consecrating festival play."

But even so, the Meister could drag on for a bit here and there. Here's a tongue-in-cheek guide to ten "rough spots" in his works. Chronological order, and no opera is spared.

1) Der Fliegende Höllander: The Act II duet between Senta and Erik, followed by her long first meeting with the Dutchman. No wonder she jumped.

2) Tannhäuser: The Song Contest in Act II. Well, at least until the title character busts out his harp and starts singing the praises of Venus. Given the quality of the other arias on offer, can you blame him?

3) Lohengrin: Middle of Act II. Following the terrific Ortrud-Telramund and Ortrud-Elsa scenes, it's necessary to set things up onstage for the big wedding procession. This leads to some trumpet fanfares, a march, and a lot of note-spinning.

4) Das Rheingold: I might be biased here having seen Rheingold wayyy too many times. But I would go with the long scene in Nibelheim where Alberich beats up his brother to show what an (invisible) badass the Ring has made him into.

5) Die Walküre: Sieglinde's panic attack in Act II, where she thinks the dogs are after her. Comes right before the Annunciation of Death scene which wakes the audience back up.

6) Tristan und Isolde: The long scene with Kurwenal and the Shepherd in Act III is a snoozer. Brangäne's Watch-tower Song can put you to sleep, but if the singers and orchestra are doing their job you should be having an out-of-body experience at that point anyway.

7) Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: At four and a half hours, there are a lot of candidates. Here's three: David's long list of "tones" in Act I, Beckmesser's "limping" scene in Act III, and the final oration by Sachs, which Wagner wanted to cut in the first place.

8) Siegfried: The long scene between Wotan The Wanderer and Alberich at the start of Act II. These two characters hadn't met since Das Rheingold--you think they'd have something more interesting to say to each other.

9) Götterdämmerung: Hagen's Watch in Act I. The first half is great, with the bass hulking onstage and plotting evil. The second part, with the scenic (nocturnal) transition back to the Valkyrie Rock, can knock you right out.

10) Parsifal: The first half of Act III when Gurnemanz is blathering about in the forest, then wakes up Kundry, and then encounters Parsifal. Music's great, but by golly, he goes on for a bit.

Bernd Weikl in Act III of Meistersinger.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.