Tag Archives: richard wagner

‘Das Rheingold’ at Lyric Opera of Chicago — The ‘Ring’ Begins Anew

Lyric Opera of Chicago‘s current season opened on Saturday with a new production of Richard Wagner‘s Das Rheingold, kicking off a four-year unveiling of a new Ring cycle, which will culminate in full proper cycles in 2020. Having attended their last Ring cycle in 2005, I was glad to be a part of this double-opener.

This production of Das Rheingold, as well as the cycle overall, is noteworthy in several ways. Whereas 2005 featured James Morris as Wotan (in one of his signature roles), this production features Eric Owens in his role debut. (He sang Alberich in the Met’s 2013 production.) Adding Wagnerian heft to Das Rheingold‘s playbill, bass-baritone and Bayreuth staple Samuel Youn made his American debut as Alberich. (In later installments, Christine Goerke is to play Brünnhilde.) Visually, Das Rheingold (and presumably the rest the tetralogy) is a clean break from 2005’s minimalist aesthetic. Director David Pountney, continuing with the original designs of the late Johan Engels (1952-2014) with current designer Robert Innes Hopkins, has conjured up a playful and visually rich staging, particularly in contrast to ’05’s Ring. As someone who saw the Pountney/Engels production of Die Zauberflöte at Bregenzer Festspiele (of which Pountney was the Intendant from 2003 to 2014, and which I attended 2011-16), there are certainly shades of that in this Ring, namely the use of color and frivolity. (Their production of Die Zauberflöte was in the vein of a child’s dream or fantasy. And while that’s not the exact course here, a related whimsy is present throughout Rheingold.) Related, Engels’s use of color was also striking in Lyric’s 2013 production of Parsifal.

Notably, this production of Das Rheingold begins before the Vorspiel, with the three Norns, onstage and in silence, laying the groundwork for the Rhine — a golden satchel that gives way to the river (which in turn houses the gold) — and by extension the drama of the entire cycle. (I presume they will again play some role once the ring finds its way back to the Rhine at Götterdämmerung‘s end. We’ll see in 2019.) The river then begins to flow with the orchestra’s opening churn, with the rapids’ intensity increasing with the musical texture’s density and volume. From the opening scene until the final curtain, Pountney made use of the entire stage, manipulating the width, depth, and height for a more expansive view. The Rhinemaidens themselves were both singing and “swimming” in three dimensions (a task often left to two separate trios) via wheeled, levered platforms. Diana Newman, Annie Rosen, and Lindsay Ammann blended beautifully as Woglinde, Wllgunde, and Flosshilde, respectively. This use of height of course helped also to demonstrate both the depths of Nibelheim and the heights of Valhalla. Further, Wilhelm Schwinghammer and Tobias Kehrer, who sang Fasolt and Fafner, respectively, spent most of their time tastefully singing while stories above the stage, drawing both the eyes and the ears upward as if they actually were the giants they embodied. My only quibble with such staging is that occasionally those singing near the stage’s ceiling didn’t project as strongly as others, likely a consequence of the natural acoustics. (It was less of an issue for the same singers when placed elsewhere, particularly in the case of Flosshinde.)

There was far more humor in this production than I had anticipated, most of which worked quite well. Sonically, this was achieved via more vocal utterances from the characters — laughing, coughing, yelling — than I had expected. Some of the visual elements, I believe, are a consequence of having come fresh off the heels of the Pountney/Engels Die Zauberflöte. (The original announcement of this cycle’s production team was in 2014, and Zauberflöte premiered July 2013.) For Alberich’s transformations while wearing his magical helmet Tarnhelm, he became a dragon and then frog via instantly inflatable backpacks. (I immediately thought of Zauberflöte‘s inflatable grass.) There were the Norns who suddenly appeared with a mop to clean up after Alberich’s severed arm, and Loge’s near-caricatured portrayal as a carefree dandy. (As an example, while the gods initially made their entrances on carts symbolizing their powers, Loge casually rode in on a passenger bicycle.) The gods themselves — including the demigod Loge — were portrayed less as powerful entities and more as hapless patricians. Upon reading the Director’s Note afterwards, it made sense to learn that Pountney likened Valhalla’s inhabitants to the likes of the Habsburgs. Also, Pountney’s describing Rheingold as a “political cartoon” adds to the comedic and structural elements. Many non-singing cast members were mimes who performed a lot of the “behind the scenes” work — operating the Rhinemaidens’ levers and Fasolt and Fafner’s giant limbs — while onstage and visible. In total, it could be seen more as a fantastical reading of Das Rheingold than a cerebral re-telling.

Musically, the cast gave strong performances across the board. While Owens has received top billing as Wotan, he was joined by an excellent cast and by no means the show’s only star. Owens sang and emoted well throughout, though I would’ve preferred more volume. For me, Štefan Margita nearly stole the show as Loge, a role that’s become a regular for him as of late. His fanciful yet emotional tenor soared above the orchestra. And I wouldn’t have guessed that it was Youn’s role debut as Alberich, as he sounded natural throughout. Tanja Ariane Baumgartner‘s Fricka and Laura Wilde‘s Freia commanded attention as Wotan’s wise, seasoned wife and her youthful sister, respectively. Each sang with both power and nuance that really broke through to another level beyond an already strong production and performance. Rounding out the cast were Okka Von Der Damerau as Erda (whom I saw excel as Mary in Der fliegende Holländer in Munich this past July), Rodell Rosel as Mime, Jesse Donner as Froh, and Zachary Nelson as Donner. Sir Andrew Davis led the Lyric orchestra in an exciting rendition of the score, with the brass particularly shining in the later scenes.

Performances continue through October 22, with the new Die Walküre debuting in the 2017-18 season and Siegfried and Götterdämmerung following in kind. Whereas Lyric’s previous Ring featured more marquee names (e.g., Morris, Placido Domingo) and a rather traditional (though minimalist) staging, this new production seems to be going in a new direction in both regards, and I’m excited to see it unfold over these next several years.

Guerrilla Opera: Reflections on Bicentennial ‘Rienzi’ at Bayreuth’s Oberfrankenhalle

rienziposter

Under the heading “Better Late Than Never,” I figure it’s worthwhile to jot down a few thoughts on my seeing Wagner’s Rienzi in Bayreuth this past July. It’s something I’ve been meaning to do for months, but as the schedule got increasingly busier with work, teaching, and playing, the blog grew dormant. It’s not yet midnight/2014 EST, and it’s best to at least get this out during the same year as the performance…

Also, I feel compelled to at least mention it here because the performances seem to have came and went with little notice from the journalistic- and blogospheres. (A handful of reviews are here, here, and here, with a brief video from the Bayreuther Festspiele here.) I can somewhat understand the cold shoulder, unintentional or not: of the three orphans, Rienzi is perhaps the “most performed,” so particular attention was paid to performances of Die Feen and Das Liebesverbot. (But don’t let that fool you, Rienzi is rarely performed and gathers much dust.) And of course there was the Castorf Ring, which sucked much of the air out of the room at summer’s end…

The ban of the first three operas from the Festspielhaus remained in place during the bicentennial. However, as a compromise, they were performed down the road at Bayreuth’s Oberfrankenhalle: an arena that’s home to sporting events and pop concerts. (Bayreuth’s municipal opera house was closed for renovations.) Hence “guerrilla opera” – the experience of seeing any opera in such a venue would be memorable enough, let alone Rienzi in Bayreuth during the bicentennial celebrations. As regular readers know, I’ve attended many arena rock/pop shows, but never have I seen an operatic performance in such a venue. It provided an odd but unique backdrop to the occasion.

Oberfrankenhalle

Oberfrankenhalle

Because of July’s teaching schedule in Bregenz, Austria and August’s schedule back in MI, I was only able to make it to Bayreuth for two days and nights. After my train journey, I spent much of Saturday 07.06 wandering around Bayreuth on foot, including my venturing into town from my hotel, which was approximately an hour’s walk away. I of course paid my respects at Wahnfried and the Festspielhaus. I spent the first part of my Sunday catching up on work at the hotel before trekking to the Festspielhaus. (While there, I was unintentionally serenaded by the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, members of which were staying on my floor and loudly singing excerpts while hanging out.) Heading into town for the performance, I found the Oberfrankenhalle to be prepped for the operagoers who came from all over the world, including cloth tables for drinks beforehand and during intermission. An added twist for me was the fact that, while it was my second visit to Bayreuth, this was my first time attending a Wagner performance in the city. And while I have yet to see a performance in the Festspielhaus, this was technically my first festival concert (since it was a co-production). (But considering I’m only 30 and live in the US, there’s still much time to get inside.)

oberfrankenhalle2

Oberfrankenhalle

The juxtapositions continued into the arena. Throughout the concourse formalwear abound, and merchandise stands sold official Bayreuth Festspielhaus goodies including clothing, CDs, DVDs, programs, and books. A very different scene than, for example, Rage Against the Machine at the Palace of Auburn Hills.

Once I took my seat – pricey, but near the back – the transformation/juxtaposition continued. Tiered seating filled the arena floor to provide the “illusion” of the theater, as well as a specially-designed stage and set design and and makeshift orchestra pit. Worlds had definitely collided to realize this performance:

rienzistage

The co-productions of the first three operas were joint ventures by the Bayreuther Festspiele and Oper Liepzig, the latter city being Wagner’s birthplace. At the podium was Bayreuth staple and renowned Wagnerian Christian Thielemann, leading the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and Oper Leizpzig Chorus in a solid and often moving performance. Because of the venue, there were understandable limits to the staging, but Matthias von Stegmann‘s production was often effective, all things considered. It was a mix of old and new. While not a historic production by any means, allusions to ancient Rome were peppered throughout. As you can see from my (snuck) photograph above, coliseum arches were a mainstay for much of the production, often trading place with a tree and another pillared platform that occasionally doubled as a church. One effect – mostly effective but occasionally head-scratching – was the use of image and video projection. There were occasionally militaristic videos and images to complement the militaristic themes of ancient Rome (and/or other militaristic powers and societies). However, there was one image that appeared a few times that looked to be a visual continuation of either the bleachers or the “inner working” of the arena. Was it supposed to give on the illusion that the arena – and therefore the audience – was part of the story? Hard to tell, but it nonetheless made an impression, if only a confused one. The wardrobe choices were a mix of austere, leather-clad designer-wear for the militaristic and political figures, and pastel outfits for the townspeople who looked more at home in the Hamptons than ancient Rome. A nice visual cue throughout, however.

With it being almost six months later, some of the musical nuances are fuzzy in my mind. But certain aspects definitely stuck out and still remain clear:
• The chorus was lovely. They shined throughout, but particular highlights were the end of Act I and beginning of Act II. A very nice blend, especially considering the sporting complex’s acoustics.
• Mezzo-soprano Daniela Sindram as Adriano. Hers was the single role that musically stole the show. She was impeccable, emotive, and forceful.
• Tenor Robert Dean Smith as Rienzi and soprano Jennifer Wilson as Irene were quite fine, though they didn’t stand above the rest like Ms. Sindram. Smith’s Rienzi was rather light and lyrical.
• Thielemann and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra received the biggest ovation, and deservedly so.

We were treated to an edited version of Rienzi, not the 5+-hr. behemoth. (Though, considering the arena seating, I think my back appreciated it.) It would have been nice to see the ballet, but there are a lot of “would haves.” It would’ve been neat to have seen it in the Festspielhaus, but oh well. I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed Rienzi at Oberfrankenhalle. However, I must admit that the simple fact that it was Rienzi in Bayreuth during the bicentennial helped. Would I see Die Zauberflöte at such a venue, etc.? Nope. All that aside, it was a fine performance and truly a unique experience – one that helped make this Wagnerian’s bicentennial a special one. Furthermore, considering all the hubbub around Castorf’s bicentennial Ring at Bayreuth just a few weeks later, perhaps I lucked out with my 2013 Bayreuth experience? (Though, admittedly, I would like to see that Castorf production in person for myself.)

Bicentennial or not, here’s to more Wagner in 2014. First up, details from Chicago Lyric Opera on 01.17 regarding their next Ring…

More bicentennial Wagner posts here, here, here, here, here, and here.

(All above photos by yours truly, 2013.)

‘Parsifal’ at Chicago’s Lyric Opera

Chicago’s Lyric Opera debuted its new production of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal this past Saturday, directed by John Caird. It was delightful and moving. Much like my post on Lyric’s production of Die Meistersinger, I’m not here to necessarily write a “review” of the performance, but rather to discuss my experience.

Parsifal is Wagner’s final opera. Premiering in 1882, it’s the only one to have been written after the construction of the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. Wagner didn’t consider it an opera, but rather a “a consecration play for the stage” (or, in German, ein Bühnenweihfestspiel). Adding to the work’s quickly mythologized status, the Wagner estate kept Parsifal from being performed anywhere save Bayreuth for its first twenty years. Such quasi-religious treatment of the work is appropriate, considering its deeply religious and philosophical themes and overtones. Centering on the knights of the Holy Grail, Parsifal is a tale of temptation, compassion, and redemption. Despite the piece’s drama, Wagner’s characteristic dissonance and aggressiveness are downplayed in comparison to his other works. It’s still dramatic, chromatic, and moving, however the sonic experiences is one of beauty, reflection, and awe. It’s a wondrous sonic experience that nicely complements the work’s nearly liturgical ambitions.

This production is Caird’s first Wagner endeavor, and I thought it a successful one at that. (“Official reviews” have been mixed to positive.) He and set designer Johan Engels created a visually striking series of images and scenes. (This was my second Engels outing this year after his David Pountney-directed Die Zauberflöte at the Bregenzer Festspiele.) The set’s centerpiece – a large circular platform with removable panels and a mechanically adjustable eye – was utilitarian and provided a focal point. Aside from the Grail, holy spear, abdominal wounds, and a trio of swans, there was little overtly Christian iconography, opting instead to focus more on philosophy and cultural symbolism. (For example, women play a an important role in Act III, adding a sisterhood to the brotherhood of Grail knights.) I enjoyed the use of color throughout: from the sullen green forests and stark blue worship hall of Act I, to Klingsor’s hellish red domain and the Flowermaidens’ vibrant garden in Act II, to the pale forest in Act III. The Flowermaidens (Act II, Scene 2) were a highlight. Call me a sucker, as I’m sure many will scoff and say that this part is an easy “go to” visually, but I thought that the brilliant colors mixed with the choreography was stunning. That, coupled with the female chorus’s impeccable performance made for an arresting second act. Having the swans played by people was a nice touch also. The three swans – the Trinity? – flying in the forest during the prelude and the lone swan – in lieu of a dove – in the finale offered not only a visual treat during the prelude but also a nice way to bring the production full circle at the end.

Vocally, recent Bayreuth staple Kwangchul Youn as Gurnemanz and Thomas Hampson as Amfortas reigned, along with Tómás Tómasson‘s Klingsor. Daveda Karanas‘s Kundry and Paul Groves‘s Parsifal were both quite good, but there were moments in which they felt stretched in their extreme ranges. That’s being picky of course. However, I can’t say enough good about the Lyric Opera chorus. The choral moments were phenomenal – deep, musically rich, and well balanced.

Sir Andrew Davis led the orchestra in a mostly superb performance. I say “mostly” due to one glaring error at the very end, in which a trumpeter opted to hold a note between the final two chords. (Perhaps he/she thought they were proceeding to Rienzi attacca?) That and a couple small intonation blips aside, the orchestra sounded lovely and offered a warm, moving reading.

Moving. And that’s what it’s all about. It’s why I don’t want to really focus on more “negative” aspects or drawbacks, as is the case with many reviews and reviewers, because, ultimately, I was moved. And greatly so, at that. Parsifal‘s gesamtkunstwerk was in full effect Saturday night. Many will quibble about the production’s interpretive qualities, and of course performances of any kind are subject to criticism. But the DRAMA is what matters. And by that measure, this new production wholly succeeds. I wasn’t checking my watch throughout the 4.75-hour event. In fact, much of the time, I wasn’t even really “there,” but rather lost in the soundworld and imagery. I understand that that’s probably too naive for some, but I doubt Wagner intended for us to attend every performance in the context of the scores of other audio and video recordings – and possibly score study – serving as a reference point. I believe that the performance can largely be judged on this simple yes/no: was the listener affected (positively, of course)? If yes, then much of the battle is already won. And it was a glorious victory Saturday in Chicago.

NOTE: This production runs through November 29 in Chicago.

Austro-German Opera-ing 2013

I recently returned from my annual month-long course in Austria. It was another great program and I saw some great performances.

As mentioned before, the program is based in Bregenz, Austria, home of the Bregenzer Festspiele. I teach a music appreciation course focusing on opera, and as part of the program I take the students to both of the festival’s operas. This year featured Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte on the renowned floating stage and the posthumous world premiere of André Tchaikowsky‘s The Merchant of VeniceDie Zauberflöte was, as expected, pure spectacle, though it was well performed. (What else is there to expect when the Queen of the Night wears a crystal-encrusted gown with the help of Swarovski?) Tchaikowsky’s almost Berg-ian setting of Shakespeare’s Merchant was rather compelling. The official reviews have been mixed to positive, but I enjoyed it. The audience at the premiere was somewhat lukewarm, but I was told that subsequent performances were enthusiastically received.
Festival aside, I also took the group to see Verdi’s Attila at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien. This little-performed work was staged for Verdi’s bicentennial. Although it was far from a traditional staging, as it was featured a new production by renowned director Peter Konwitschny. Known for his association with the Regietheater movement, he directed a surprising and lovely production that was both entertaining and artistically satisfying. For example, Attila and his Huns were lost boys with wooden spoons and fur pelts, and the closing (supposedly serious) quartet portrayed the characters as senior citizens on the verge of comical deaths. While it’s not a scientific measurement, all but one of my students – many of whom hadn’t previously attended an opera – enjoyed the production. In fact, many of the students credited the production with their enjoying the opera overall. From what I could tell, the rest of the audience was in general agreement.
The crown jewel was my pilgrimage to Bayreuth to see the bicentenary production of Rienzi under the baton of renowned Wagnerian Christian Thielemann. The fact that one of the “orphans” was fully staged in Bayreuth is news alone, even if it didn’t take place in Wagner’s Festspielhaus. Nonetheless, it was under the banner of the annual Bayreuth Festival. And the audience’s excitement over Wagner, Bayreuth, and seeing a rarely-performed work fully staged under the direction of the Bayreuth Festival’s unofficial music director was palpable. Needless to say, this experience deserves its own post. (But doesn’t everything regarding the old wizard?)
It was a nice operatic assortment: Classical, Romantic (both Verdi and Wagner), and contemporary. I’m glad the students were able the productions (minus Wagner), as it was a great assortment both musically and visually.
What’s more, I’m glad to be home and getting back into the usual routine. Keep an eye out not only for new posts but also possibly a new release or two on the horizon.

Wagner & Seinfeld: Die Meistersinger von Monk’s

Things have been silent on the blog front since the recent Wagner festivities. One reason, honestly, was due to somewhat of a Wagner haze I found myself in for about a week after the birthday. Silly but true. One thought I’ve returned to over the last couple weeks is an odd parallel between Seinfeld (my all-time favorite show) and Wagner (my favorite composer), specifically Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It’s perhaps not poignant, but I think it’s worthwhile to share and hash out a bit. If nothing else, it can be my own little twist on the bicentennial celebrations. After all, there’s nothing like juxtaposing the composer often considered “too German” with the show that was originally considered “too Jewish”…

wagsein
[Photo: Kramer attempts to hock some opera tickets outside of Pagliacci in the Seinfeld episode “The Opera.”]

I’ll be walking a bit of a tightrope here, as I don’t want to be either overly general or too deep in the weeds on both topics. Now for some context:

Wagner:
As Gioachino Rossini noted, “Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour.” While I don’t agree with the latter sentiment, I understand the criticism. Here at the home front, my love of Wagner’s music isn’t fully shared by my wife. As she enjoys telling me, she thinks his music is beautiful and she enjoys playing it (as he wrote interesting viola parts), but she doesn’t have the patience to sit through a full work. Most of Wagner’s most memorable moments fall into one of two categories:
1. Leitmotif – melody, harmony, rhythm, or combination thereof
2. Lengthy scene or other extended period of action featuring an “endless melody”

It’s worth pointing out because, as you may have noticed, I didn’t mention either of opera’s most noteworthy terms: aria (song) and recitative (musical speech). As a genre, many of opera’s memorable moments are arias or recitatives. Wagner, however, melds the two devices. His hyper-focus on drama kept him from featuring popular musical devices that often stalled the plot and/or dramatic development. Because of this, rarely does one hear an all-out “song” in his works.

Seinfeld:
Yes, Seinfeld is often considered the greatest sitcom of all time by many outlets and publications. I happen to think it’s the greatest show regardless of genre, but that’s just me. I grew up with Seinfeld. I’ve been watching it regularly since before I was ten years old. My mom watched it on its original run I watched right alongside her. And that continued through daily syndication viewings and eventually on DVD whenever I wanted (which was and is often). I laughed as a kid on one level throughout the original airings, and two decades later I’m still laughing just as hard but now at its many subtle layers and nuances. Despite the series’s respect and loyal following, reactions to the series finale were mixed at best. (Many considered it to be an epic disappointment.) Since Seinfeld ended its run in 1998, fans (myself included) had been clamoring for some sort of reunion. Not only did we want a reunion because we loved the show and its characters, but many people wanted a proper resolution to make up for the original finale.

After Seinfeld, the show’s co-creator, Larry David, then created and starred in HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which he portrays a fictional version of himself living and occasionally working in LA after Seinfeld. Long story short, it’s a darker, no-holds-barred version of Seinfeld on steroids that quickly became and remains another favorite show of mine. Because of the self-referential nature of Curb, fans were occasionally treated with cameos by the Seinfeld cast in the first six seasons. (Jerry’s brief appearance, his first, in season four’s finale is perfect – he doesn’t even speak.) All the while, in the real world, Larry, Jerry, Julia, Jason, and Michael ruled out a Seinfeld reunion.

Now, what do the above scenarios have to do with one another? If Wagner wrote more full-blown arias, he’d probably have more mainstream appeal nowadays. And if Seinfeld would’ve done a traditional reunion, mainstream America would’ve had more resolution. Alas, both Wagner and Seinfeld delivered, albeit on their own terms and after a very long wait. Hence the parallel.

Wagner, severe dramatist and denier of arias, composed Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, a comedy that revolves around a songwriting guild and a singing contest. It’s also quite lengthy, lasting approximately 5.5 hours including two intermissions. And despite the plot’s emphasis on songs, the listener isn’t treated to a complete, uninterrupted song throughout. Numerous songs are sung, but they are in segments or interrupted if more complete. For instance, all three acts feature passages about songwriting, and therefore examples of good songwriting (from one character to another). But the songs aren’t performed in full. Instead, a verse or after-verse is heard out of context, or a more complete song is sung but is interrupted by another character (e.g., Beckmesser’s chalk, Sachs’s tools, or the vocal reactions of the “audience” on stage). Both kinds of scenarios occur in all three acts. In fact, at the end of Act III, right before Sachs’s closing monologue, Walther sings his prize song (“Morgenlich leuchtend…”) at the competition. Leading up to this point in the opera, the listener has been treated to bits and pieces but one thinks that he/she will finally hear the song in its entirety. Instead, Wagner makes you earn the aria on his terms: he intersperses the contest’s audience’s commentary throughout the song, breaking up Walther’s momentum. And when the aria finishes, the music escalates with the crowd’s reaction, leading to Eva’s response. Here is Johan Botha as Walther in the Vienna Opera’s 2008 production:

So, five hours into an opera about a song contest, the audience is denied a traditional, uninterrupted, full-blown aria. Instead, you get a beautiful song, broken up and delivered on the composer’s terms.

Similarly, Seinfeld indeed had a reunion episode in 2009. Eleven years after the series finale, it was conducted in a truly Seinfeldian manner. Instead of a doing a one-off special, as is the norm with television reunions, the plot of Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s seventh season was Larry David’s convening the Seinfeld cast and crew for a reunion in a ploy to win back his estranged wife. (And the fictionalized versions of the actors occasionally mock Larry for the original series finale, which he wrote.) And what happens throughout the season’s ten episodes is truly magical for Seinfeld fans. We see a (fictional) Larry and Jerry developing and writing a reunion episode for NBC, with the original cast once again taking up their signature characters. It’s not just the main cast that’s included, but also featured are writers, crew, and minor characters such as Wayne Knight‘s Newman, Estelle Harris‘s Estelle Costanza, and Steve Hytner‘s Kenny Bania. And over the course of the season’s final two episodes, the viewer actually gets to see almost all of the “reunion episode.” Between the (fictional) table read, dress rehearsals, Jerry’s whiteboard with bullet points hanging in his office, and select scenes edited with music and a laugh track, one eventually sees much of the plot, jokes, and acting. The lines between reality and fiction constantly blur, as some scenarios in the fictional reunion episode are based on events from Curb‘s first six seasons, just as Seinfeld was based on Jerry and Larry’s real-life experiences as comics in New York. After a while, you don’t know if you’re watching the fictional Seinfeld reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm, or an actual Seinfeld reunion for the viewer at home. Genius. But of course this reunion is broken up, as you’re still watching full episodes of Curb. Once again, you’re on the artist’s terms. Here’s a little taste (it doesn’t include all of the reunion scenes, FYI):

[Embedding has been disabled for this video but it can be viewed here.]

But what would the reaction have been for either of these scenarios taking the traditional route? Let’s face it: five hours into Meistersinger, it’d probably be jarring to sit and listen to an aria dropped into the middle of a final scene. It wouldn’t make Wagnerian sense, and the dramatic flow would be thrown off, especially since Sachs’s closing monologue is right around the corner. Similarly, could you imagine Seinfeld just appearing on NBC on a random Thursday night at 9:00 PM for thirty or sixty minutes? I sure couldn’t. That would betray the spirit of the series. Why would a plotless sitcom whose characters didn’t emotionally develop come back for an out-of-the-blue, traditional reunion special? That’d be like a drama-centric composer who doesn’t write arias featuring one in an opera about songwriting. It’s just too easy. And Wagner and Seinfeld are anything but.

I doubt Larry David was thinking of Meistersinger when he developed his idea for the reunion. But the similarity, for me at least, is quite compelling.

It’s only fitting that I end with this recently-featured clip, in which Larry David and Wagner (including Meistersinger) come to terms with one another:

And if you’re really curious, here’s Ben Heppner singing an “uninterrupted” arrangement of Walther’s prize song:

Previous Wagner-centric posts here, here, here, and here.