Do you cringe when your opera-loving friends start raving about the latest production of Tristan? Do you feel faint just thinking about the six-hour performance of Parsifal you were given tickets to? Does your mate accuse you of having a Tannhäuser complex? If you're baffled by the behavior of Wagner worshipers, if you've longed to fathom the mysteries of Wagner's ever-increasing popularity, or if you just want to better understand and enjoy the performances you're attending, you'll find this delightful book indispensable.
William Berger is the most helpful guide one could hope to find for navigating the strange and beautiful world of the most controversial artist who ever lived. He tells you all you need to know to become a true Wagnerite--from story lines to historical background; from when to visit the rest room to how to sound smart during intermission; from the Jewish legend that possibly inspired Lohengrin to the tragic death of the first Tristan. Funny, informative, and always a pleasure to read, Wagner Without Fear proves that the art of Wagner can be accessible to everyone.
- The strange life of Richard Wagner--German patriot (and exile), friend (and enemy) of Liszt and Nietzsche
- Essential opera lore and "lobby talk"
- A scene-by-scene analysis of each opera
- What to listen for to get the most from the music
- Recommended recordings, films, and sound tracks
In this dumbed-down guide, Berger, a librettist and composer, attempts to make Richard Wagner's (1813-1883) operas accessible to the uninitiated. After a breezy summary of the composer's life, he devotes a chapter to each of his mature works, interspersing plot outlines with chatty commentary. There is a bit of performance history, as well as advice on how to pronounce names, get through the rough spots at the notoriously long performances and when to eat, drink and visit the restroom. He also touches on Wagner's "pseudo-philosophy," especially his anti-Semitism, but like everything else in this disappointing book, it's all oversimplified. There is little discussion of the music and too much cuteness: on Act 3 of Tristan, for example: "These monologues are ballbusters!" and "They're dropping like flies at Castle Kareol!" Some of the sections entitled "Lobby Talk" are thought-provoking--"Nuremberg as City and Concept" (Meistersinger) and the speculation about the power of a person's name (Lohengrin), for example. Chapters on Wagner CDs and the best books to read on the composer and his operas are useful. For the most part, however, Berger underestimates the reader and trivializes the works. Do we really need to be told that Magdalena, Eva's nurse in Meistersinger, is a "female companion," not a "medical attendant" and that The Flying Dutchman is "supposed to be, like, spooky?" It's easy to be facetious about Wagner, but Berger overdoes it. Author tour.