As can be easily understood from the header this is no “pocket-version”
of Wagner’s opera but a completely self-contained parody, based
on Wagner’s work but with music by Carl Binder – mostly adapted
from Wagner’s score. As to Johann Nepomuk Nestroy’s role it is
not clear that he actually wrote the text, even though he was
known ‘for writing caustic pieces’. But he was also an opera singer,
who sang Sarastro at the Vienna Hofoper in 1822, but obviously
lacked the important low notes and changed the pitch of his voice,
next year singing Max in Der Freischütz, which of course
is a tenor role.
Anyway, two months
after the Vienna premiere he staged this parody in his Carltheater.
Tannhäuser in this version is banned from the singers’ hall
at Wartburg to a stage where the ‘Future Opera is being cultivated
/ the easiest way to ruin your voice …’ Wagner’s music was even
at this early stage of his development ‘the music of the future’
but the mockery is as much against the notion that Wagner’s
music has no melody, that it is harmful for singers as well
as listeners. Certain aspects of the Tannhäuser story have been
disposed of, thus all the religious references are gone – obviously
since the censorship objected and the text had to be re-written.
Whether this was Nestroy’s work rather than creating the whole
manuscript is open to debate. A certain doctor from Breslau
named Wollheim had written a farce along the same lines a few
years earlier. It was even printed and he died shortly afterwards.
Maybe Nestroy had bought the rights from Wollheim’s heirs.
The present production
was originally played at Vienna’s Burgtheater during the 2005/2006
season and was a great success and last season it was staged at
the Vienna Volksoper, from where this recording comes. Robert
Meyer re-elaborated the piece further – to what extent it differs
from Nestroy’s version I don’t know and this is, honestly, beside
the point. Suffice it to say that this is a highly entertaining
performance. It is a one-man-show with Robert Meyer playing and
singing all the roles as well as being the narrator. The image
from the DVD box above shows that he does all this with small
means: no sets, no costumes, just a few attributes to illustrate
the characters. Knowing Wagner’s is not necessary, even though
the parody becomes more obvious if one does. It also helps to
be reasonably versed in German but those who are not will be able
to follow the play through English or French subtitles.
Robert Meyer is
certainly a tremendous actor and there isn’t a dull moment throughout
the 80 minutes. He is well supported by the four musicians who,
besides making the most of the clever arrangements, also function
as opera chorus.
Any Wagner performance
can be a heavy meal for an outsider. I am not sure if this performance
is the best way to convert the uninformed but at least open-minded
non-Wagnerians should be curious to find out what the real thing
is like. Good sound and good pictures and as I already said.