Paul Heise's review of "Never Ask the Merry Nibelungs: Wagner in Operetta from Critique to Aspiration," a talk presented by Micaela Baranello (Princeton Univ.) at the Wagner Worldwide 2013 bicentennial symposium sponsored by the Univ. of South Carolina in the winter of 2013:
'Whatever overpowers us is strong.' Thus Nietzsche mocked Wagner's excesses. 'Whoever elevates us is divine. Whoever gives us intimations is profound.' Nietzsche mocked Wagner's bid for transcendence.
Operetta, on the other hand, is light, conscious of its fakery, of the present day, and doesn't countenance mysticism. There was, however, an effort to transpose high art into this frivolous context. But operetta became maudlin, taking itself too seriously.
In operetta, the passion of Wagner's devotees was parodied. "Tannhaeuser," for instance, was parodied in 1857.
In 1886 Hanslick criticized operetta's turn toward opera, describing Offenbach as a paradise lost.
Oscar Strauss offered "Die Lustige Nibelungen," drawn from the "Nibelungenlied," in which the Woodbird offers stock tips. There was also the Rhine Savings Bank.
The elements of these operettic parodies combined parody of Wagner, Viennese Waltz, and Offenbachian 'motto technik.' These works destroyed any enchanting residue left over from Wagner. Different stylistic aspects of Wagner's operas were mocked, with lots of Waltz's. [PH: this reminds me of that fabulous re-cutting of scenes from Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" to tango tunes by Noel Coward in a 20 minute film short produced for British Intelligence during WWII, a sublime sendup of Hitler and his minions and ideology, to be carried behind Nazi lines and shown by local resistance members to audiences in occupied Europe. I recall hearing that audiences, even with Gestapo or SS personnel watching over the proceedings in the theater, couldn't stop laughing to save their lives. Evidently the high-point in this film short's history came about when Goebbel's got ahold of a copy and went on in front of Hitler's inner circle about what a horrific example of degenerate Allied propaganda this was. It was reported that when he showed it to this circle, first one, then another of those present began laughing and couldn't stop. This may be too good to be true and I my memory may be faulty, but this I believe was reported by those who introduced this film to PBS audiences many years ago, as an entertaining short to follow-up a viewing of "Triumph of the Will."]
There were various protests against operetta mocking German values, history, and literature.
The public took its operetta seriously. Franz Lehar's operatic tendencies were on the increase. Lehar's "Zigeunerlieder" showed a direct influence from Wagner.
There was a continuous secularization of operetta's ideals. The Silver Age of operetta was pure escapism.
Offenbachian parody was the antithesis of Lehar's operatic seriousness. Ironically, though mocked, Wagner's brand was still being advertised in this way.
The serious strain in operetta ultimately descended into maudlin escapism for the new lower and middle classes, mostly the new Slavic inhabitants of Vienna.
Question: Were most operetta composers Jewish, with the exception of Lehar?
Answer: Anti-Semitism didn't become a significant influence in Vienna until the 1920's, though Graz suffered from it. Graz was the site of the premier of "Salome." 1905-1906 was the Silver Age of operetta in the Lehar school. When the Jews decamped from Vienna, operetta declined. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was a great home for the Jews.
Question: Does Lehar directly parody Wagner?
Answer: There are a lot of "Tristan and Isolde" references in "Zigeunerlieder," but not a coherent parody.
Question: How does the film score composer Max Steiner fit into this history? How much Wagner or operetta was taken as a model for his film scoring?
Answer: Erich Wolfgang Korngold wrote operas in the Lehar-mould. He did re-writes of 19th century operettas. There was a direct influence of operetta on film scoring, since the composers of operetta went to Hollywood.
PH: One among many lectures at this symposium enhancing our knowledge of Wagnerian echoes in the wider realm of popular art.
General Discussion about Wagner and The Ring of the Nibelung
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