Musical Commentaries and Spoofs
First up is the most brilliant thing ever done on Wagner’s anti-Semitism as far as I am concerned. Yes, it’s a repeat from earlier in the blog, but it’s the best! From the genius of Larry David in the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode “Trick or Treat.” The beginning:
And the denouement:
This next item is from the 1943 film Hi Diddle Diddle with Pola Negri, with Brünnehilde’s famous bit from Walküre and the Pilgrim’s Chorus from Tannhäuser—to the point of tedium, at least for the Wagners. Check that out in the trippy wallpaper:
Below is another repeat, Anna Russell’s lecture on The Ring. (The first part is embedded, the second two parts are links.) But if you haven’t seen it, it is certainly one of the great comic monologues of all time, and a good introduction to The Ring at the same time:
The second part is here. The third part is here.
There are two 2 1/2 minute introductions to The Ring out there, both worthy of viewing: Here is one that does it with music and speech balloons; here is another that does it via sketching with narration. Together, you will have it down!
And then, there is Bugs Bunny in What’s Opera, Doc. This is a weird Italian version, because Warner Bros. had them pull down the English versions for copyright infringement. And I would have embedded it, but they didn’t allow it. Damn them. Anyway, here is the link. For those who don't know the music well, the cartoon uses a fusion of music from Tannhäuser, Flying Dutchman, Rienzi and The Ring.
If you are interested in musical structure, this one is about the Wagner’s musical language in Tristan und Isolde. Part two is here.
Another repeat, but one of the best things I have ever heard (or read) on Wagner, is Nicolas Spice’s lecture entitled “Is Wagner Bad For us.” You can read or listen here. Or download the podcast here.
Finally, here you can find the original John Culshaw lectures on The Ring, which are excellent (scroll to the bottom of the page). This link gives you more than that, though. The site by Richard Tryhall also features “The Passion, the Myth and the Mania,” another good radio broadcast about The Ring, among other things.
Biographical documentaries and films
The best documentary about Wagner available online is from The Great Composers series from PBS. There is a lot of nonsense in it, so take the commentary with a grain of salt. For instance, they have a bit from an an Auschwitz survivor who says Wagner was “the person who was the first to preach a separation of the races. The first, in fact, who created the notion of a nation of masters.” This is just utter and complete nonsense; Wagner did nothing close to either thing. So, in this sense, the documentary does the so-called “objective balance” that means quoting “both sides,” but in an uncritical manner. That said, it is fairly interesting and accurate on most biographical details and of high quality.
Here is a shorter (34 minutes) straight-forward documentary biography. However, see the warning in the comment section below about it’s (lack of) accuracy.
The most prominent film biography of Wagner is the multi-part BBC production starring Richard Burton. While the film quality is high and the music is great, Burton is crap as Wagner. He plays him as unrelentingly dour and insensitive, and that just wasn’t his personality, at least the majority of the time. He was manic, upbeat, fast-talking, full of wit and humor. All the descriptions I have read of his personality bring to mind someone like Robin Williams. Yes, he could be mean, cutting, angry, and hysterical but he was more often sweet, kind, funny and engaging. So, the most essential part of the film is just completely off. I wrote a longer critique of this series at the end of my bibliography here. For those who are, nevertheless, interested, the full series is here. However, I would suggest it would be better to see it in these four parts: One, Two, Three, Four.
This is Stephen Fry’s documentary on his attempt to square his passion for Wagner with his guilt as a Jewish man (with Spanish subtitles!). Part biography, part fan worship, part exploration, it’s interesting and Fry is always charming. This is an oddball thing that doesn’t really fit the heading, but Fry hosted a “debate” between an advocate for Verdi and an advocate for Wagner as to who was the most important figure, with musical excerpts from both men’s works. It is entertaining though silly in many ways.
For those interested in Wagner’s benefactor, King Ludwig II, here is a documentary biography.
Musical Style Adaptations and Parodies
The above “Happy Birthday to You” is Tristan-style. John Phillip Souza arranges the “Star-Spangled Banner,” Tannhäuser-style, here. Souza also decided Parsifal could be a march (really??). Listen here.
Here is Wagner’s Ring on piano for four hands by Gabriel Fauré and André Messager, described as “a satirical set of brief dances on the main themes and leitmotifs of Wagner’s Ring. Listeners familiar with the Ring Cycle will immediately recognize the melodies being parodied.”
For jazz adaptations of Wagner, below is Stan Kenton’s orchestra doing “Ride of the Valkyries.”
Here’s a German brass band doing a Wagner medley, Dixieland style.
And here is Valery Caper’s “Winter’s Love,” transforming the music of Siegmund and Sieglende into a bossa nova, from the album Wagner Takes the A Train. The title track, for which I could not find a link, combines 29 Wagner Ring motifs into a cool jazz piece.