A Gripping Drama
[ Issue 10 ]

Gripping Drama intrigues Emily Bronto

Let Bikwil introduce you to Gripping Drama

A Gripping Drama, Replete with Punch

The first complete performance of Wagner's Ring in England took place in 1882.  A Gripping Drama, a satirical review of the occasion by Alfred E. Watson was published in Punch in May that year — though under a different title.

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"A Gripping Drama, Replete with Punch"

Few men have made more noise in the world than Herr Richard Wagner, and if anybody doubt it, let him try the Ring des Nibelungen; or, Panto-Mime and the Three Merry Maidens of the Rhino. The Nibelungen is made up of "motives," but Herr Wagner's motives are often hard to understand. "Blow it all!" says Herr Wagner (they have trombones, and they all do it), "here goes!"

Herr Wagner's rule is, "When in doubt, play the drum." This raises a spirit of emulation in the bosom of the gentleman who has been entrusted with the cymbals. Bang they go! The violins tremble with indignation. Herr Seidl waves his arms to the ophicleides; at it go the horns, and the singers yell in another key, to show that they are not to be put down by the odds against them. Half-a-dozen "motives" have been going on — if one could only have picked them out.

The Nibelungen opens with a view of some queer fish in an Aquarium. Here are the Rhine Maidens with Our New Patent Self-instructing Swimming Apparatus fitted on them trying to remember that pretty little thing they heard last night. They don't recollect the proper words, so Woglinde sings the tune, which seems to be badly recollected from Mendelssohn, to the thrilling words:

"Weia! Waga! Waga la Weia!
Wallala, weiala weia!"

Then "Gin a body meet a body coming through the Rhine." Everybody joins in chorus.

These bodies are taking care of the Rheingold, or Rhino, as it is generally called, and a bad young man, Panto-Mime's brother, comes and walks about in the water; to which these bold young minxes do not object until he goes up the ladder, which has been incautiously left, from the bottom of the Rhine to the shelf on which the Rhino rests, and walks off with the treasure. Then they let off the steam which, by the way, they do on every possible occasion.

Before the steam has quite evaporated, and while there is still a good deal of Hot-bathy smell about the place, the gauze rises, and discovers about as coarsely a painted scene as we ever remember. Here Wotan, the King of the Gods, is in a very low state of mind, because the Giants have built him a palace and are coming to ask for their money. The "Can't pay the Rent and don't know what l shall do about the Taxes Motive" expresses Wotan's sorrow, after which, to some good old pantomime music, in come the giants Fafner and Fasolt. You know they are giants directly, because it is stated so in the bill; though, as a matter of fact, dwarfs, giants, and gods are all the same size. To their "Now tben, Gov'nor, are you going to weigb in? Motive," Wotan replies that he really shall be very much obliged if they will kindly make it convenient to call again, and off they go, taking with them the goddess Fry-a, so named because she acts as a sort of plain cook and bakes the apples, which is all that keeps the gods young.

For these gods are in a very bad way altogether. Wotan, who is a disreputable old man, then goes off on an expedition to steal the Rhino from Panto-Mime's brother, who is very good at conjuring tricks; and, at the bad old man's request, transforms himself into a crocodile, which makes the god very nervous, and he hits at him with his spear to the "I say, you know, no larks Motive." The performer then changes himself into a toad, and to the "Halloa! now I've got you Motive," Wotan treads on him and steals the ring and the money. The Giants call again, Wotan settles their little account, and then, to the "Schlog him on tbe kop Motive", Fafner settles his brother.

Parts of the Walküre had better not be talked about; but it may be said that Siegmund, having been engaged in mortal combat for some hours with the brother of Hunting (a great sportsman), runs away, and takes refuge in Hunting's hut. Hunting asks him to supper, but doesn't give him any, and Siegmund, who hates being chaffed, accepts a challenge to settle it next morning after breakfast — that is to say, after Hunting's breakfast, for Siegmund's chances of getting any are remote.

Wotan's wife drives in on her chariot drawn by rams to the "Baa, baa -black sheep Motive," and after letting the poor old god have it right and left, insists upon his seconding Hunting; and his daughter Brünnhilde backs up Siegmund, though her father distinctly tells her not to do so. Neither of the combatants has the least idea of fighting, and they both die apparently of fright, in spite of the fact that Siegmund has found a sword sticking in a tree which he has been assured will render him invincible; but that's the way it happens when Herr Wagner is to the fore. The Prize Ring they are all fighting about is not really the least good to anybody, and the all-conquering sword is smashed at the first go off.

Wotan then proceeds to have it out with Brünnhilde, who has run away to her sisters, and finds them playing at horses, mounted on little wooden animals, to the "Six to four on the field, two to one bar one Motive." Up comes Wotan and condemns Brünnhilde to go to sleep for an indefinite period, only permitting her to have a fire lighted to prevent the bad effects of the night air, lest, when she does wake up, influenza should prevent her from expressing her gratitude to the gallant knight who rescues her. The fire is shown by much vapour with light thrown on it, but it is not very effective here, and can scarcely be called a succès de steam.

This Knight is to be Siegfried, who is living in the forest with Panto-Mime, and, indulging in a good deal of bear-play — brings a bear in with him to help; but though the bear is evidently connected with Panto-Mime, that dwarf does not like it. Wotan is prowling about, and as he can't get anyone else to listen to him, and Panto-Mime is rather small, he keeps on obliging him with another stave, till Siegfried returns, joins together the fragments of the sword his father, Siegmund, made such a mess of, and goes for the giant Fafner, who is living in a cave hidden in a second-hand "property" dragon — that's the way he enjoys the Rhino he has got possession of. Fafner has caught a dreadful cold in his head, and greets Siegfried with the "Aren't you frightened? Motive," but Siegfried isn't in the least, and before Fafner can get out of the "property," he is pierced by the sword, and perishes to the "Just about under the fifth rib, I fancy? Motive."

Here is some graceful and melodious music. The ill-used strings have an innings, and make the most of it, and the flutes, brass, oboes, and clarinets take advantage of the opportunity. Siegfried's general appreciation of larks has taught him to understand the language of the birds, and one of them, to the "Second turning to the right and then keep straight on Motive", tells him where Brünnhilde is sleeping. He goes, wakes her up, falls in love with her, and then begins the Grand Vocal Competition.

"Nice voice you have," says Siegfried.

"Oh, do you think so? That's very kind of you," says Brünnhilde.

"Not in the least. Can you sing A's?"

"Certainly. Can you?”

“I can sing B's."

"Really! I can sing C sharp, if I want to. Let's see how long we can keep on at it? I'm a little out of practice, though. Why, I've been sleeping here since long before you were born!"

"How strange! Never mind. Come on!"

Advice to those who want to hear the Grand Vocal Competition: Go outside. Use your own judgment as to coming in again.

There is one excellent thing about the Götterdämmerung it is the last of the series.

Advice to those who go to hear the Götterdämmerung (which begins at half-past six):— See the Prologue; go and dine quietly at your Club; come back and ask a friend to tell you all about Gunter without the ices — and his relations. Here are Siegfried and Brünnhilde. He gives her the ring, she gives him her horse. To the "Trifle weak in the forelegs, but otberwise sound enough Motive," Brünnhilde tells her husband to "uphold him well" (see Mr. Alfred Forman's ingenious translation of the book). Unfortunately, however, Siegfried, having got a good deal mixed up with all the conjuring business, forgets that he is married, commits bigamy, and is stuck in the back, when he isn't looking, by his brother-in-law, Hagen, who is probably rehearsing Clown's business for Christmas, as he waggishly directs Siegfried's attention to a couple of birds up in the air, and then sticks him. The "Dirty mean trick Motive" expresses natural abhorrence. Out of forty-five characters, forty-one are now dead, so the vocalists give in, and with a triumphant flourish in the orchestra it's all over.

Honourable mention: Herr Niemann, voice a good deal worn, but good artist all round. Herr Heinrich Vogl, good singer, good actor. Herr Schlosser, very admirable performance of Panto-Mime.

If Herr Wagner's music is in advance of his age (is he twelve?), his mise en scène is very far behind it.

(This satirical review of the first complete performance in England of Der Ring des Nibelungen was written by Alfred E. Watson, and was originally published in Punch 20 May 1882 under the title The Prize Ring des Nibelungen; or, Panto-Mime and the Three Merry Maidens of the Rhino.

And how very Victorian it is, too, with its nervous discretion regarding Siegfried’s brother-sister parentage.

The Bikwil title is taken from U.S. humorist Harry Leon Wilson's 1919 novel Ma Pettengill.)

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