On Live from the Met today, they did Gotterdammerung, the final of four operas in the Ring of the Nibelung cycle by Richard Wagner. This put me in mind of the brilliant and hilarious piece by the great Anna Russell, in which she summarizes the entire Ring Cycle in just 21 minutes and singing all the parts.
If you don't know of Anna Russell, she was basically to opera and concert singing what Victor Borge was to classical orchestral music. She actually began her career in opera, briefly, and then moved into folk music, before taking on a solo concert career -- which lead, in turn, to how veering off into her comic performances. She came to prominence in the '50s, even appearing on Broadway a few times, but performed into the '80s, after having retired a couple of times. She was a gem, and I was lucky enough to see her perform in a small venue south of Los Angeles at some college, not long before she again retired. (She'd had a lot of "Farewell Tours," but this one really was.)
Even if you don't know The Ring Cycle, or like opera, her "lecture" is still a hoot. As she says, she wants to tell the story from the point-of-view of "one average opera-goer to another," and she goes about shredding the ludicrous nature of the story, as well of most opera in general.
"The scene opens in the River Rhine," she begins, and then pauses for comedic effect, finally adding with incredulous emphasis -- "IN it." And then goes on from there. The title of her autobiography, comes from the most famous line in the lecture -- "I'm not making this up, you know." Generally, I don't give away punch lines, but these 21 minutes have so many punch lines, and this one is still so funny every time I hear it (half is her delivery) that much of the fun is waiting for it, as audiences tended to do, anticipating her saying what they all are thinking. Indeed, the Ring story gets SO convoluted (which is the point here) that you tend to forget that it's even coming, which is makes it all the funnier.
But then, it's pretty darn funny all on it's own.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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