Gods, Myths & Legends: Lebanon Opera House
Wait a sec, chances are you do like Wagner’s music.
Remember Star Wars?
Opera is a funny thing. Some people love it, some don’t, and a lot of people think they don’t like opera but they do, or would under the right circumstances. The works of German composer Richard Wagner are often thought of as a special category of intense, some might even say dense, operatic creations. Aficionados are delighted, and opera haters repelled, at the prospect of sitting through his renowned “Ring cycle” that logs in at a formidable 15 hours.
But here’s the truth: you probably do know and love Wagner’s work at least a little, even if you think you don’t or never thought about it at all. His music has moved you if you have ever seen the films Apocalypse Now, The Blues Brothers, and Star Wars, and—I am told—multiple episodes of The Simpsons. (Click below for a brief refresher from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones) As one YouTube comment proclaimed, “If Wagner were alive today, he’d be scoring films.”
The Berlin Wagner Group (BWG) is coming to Lebanon Opera House on March 12, 2023 with “Gods, Myths and Some Marvelous Legends.” According to BWG creator and performer Peter Furlong, “The title was born out of the similarities between the Marvel Universe movies (which take stories and characters from Norse mythology), and Wagner’s operas (and especially his Ring Cycle), which does the same.” Asked what the audience could expect to see, he described it like this:
The production will have three singers and a pianist. There is narration (written by me and presented by the singers themselves, for no one is more passionate about this art form than singers) with some poking fun at the absurdity, but always highlighting the beauty that is in Wagner’s operas. We show the links between Wagner, pop culture movies, and the Norse mythology, both from a dramatic telling and from how Wagner still influences the music we hear today in the cinematic realm.
Star Wars aside, though I am not very knowledgeable about opera, I was compelled to ask Peter this question: “The promo for this program reads “a lighthearted intro to Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle.” I am not an expert on Wagner, but isn’t “lighthearted” and “Wagner’s Ring Cycle” a strange juxtaposition?” His answer traces the program’s recent history in New Hampshire and the group’s mission:
It IS a strange juxtaposition! And that’s why we’re unique.
In the summer of 2022, BWG’s non-profit organisation in New Hampshire had inaugural concerts in New London (Colby Sawyer) and Berlin, NH (St Kieran Center for the Arts). The concert was called "Wagner’s Ring in One Evening” and the audience response was fantastic (one of my favourite (unsolicited) quotes from an audience member was "You made me truly enjoy Wagner for the first time. I didn't want it to end!”) . . . I wrote the script to be welcoming, humorous, and informative (parts of which were written during a bout of Covid a month before the performance) and we put it on with the help of some wonderful colleagues. The audience loved it.
We highlight that juxtaposition by bringing everything we have to this medium, showing off and embracing the foibles, absurdity, and highlighting some outright beautiful and exquisite music. We like to say that we sort of pick up where Looney Tunes left off. Are we having fun? Of course. But we are also serious about our art and the enchanting and enthralling music always has the last word. I know firsthand how dense Wagner’s operas can seem to the unfamiliar, but I also know that when we perform for people, we give the real world, visceral experience that only live opera can offer. . . . To hear that power of the human voice, full force and without electronic amplification, is an experience that brings with it the whole range of human emotion which can (and often does) change lives for the better.
A second half of the program will feature a selection of Wagner’s works in a more traditional mode. Running time for the entire program is 2 (not 15!) hours. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here for LOH’s website. I, for one, am fascinated.
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And in case you are wondering . . . Susan B. Apel shuttered a lifelong career as a law professor to continue an interest (since kindergarten) in writing. Her freelance business, The Next Word, includes literary and feature writing; her work has appeared in a variety of lit mags and other publications including Art New England, The Woven Tale Press, The Arts Fuse, and Persimmon Tree. She connects with her neighbors through Artful, her blog about arts and culture in the Upper Valley. She’s in love with the written word.