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!"
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.
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:
Waga! Waga la Weia!
"Gin a body meet a body coming through the Rhine." Everybody
joins in chorus.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
wife drives in on her chariot drawn by rams to the "Baa, baa
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.
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.
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?
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
voice you have," says Siegfried.
do you think so? That's very kind of you," says Brünnhilde.
in the least. Can you sing A's?"
can sing B's."
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!"
strange! Never mind. Come on!"
to those who want to hear the Grand Vocal Competition: Go outside. Use
your own judgment as to coming in again.
is one excellent thing about the Götterdämmerung — it
is the last of the series.
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.
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.
Herr Wagner's music is in advance of his age (is he twelve?), his mise
en scène is very far behind it.
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
how very Victorian it is, too, with its nervous discretion regarding
Siegfried’s brother-sister parentage.
Bikwil title is taken from U.S. humorist Harry Leon Wilson's 1919
novel Ma Pettengill.)