Totally Off-Topic: John Derbyshire`s TakiMag Column
March 07, 2013, 04:05 PM
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In my Taki`s Magazine column this week I do my quarterly potpourri of random brief notes.  Here`s one, fruit of six hours (there were two 40-minute intermissions) spent at the Metropolitan Opera last Saturday watching Richard Wagner`s Parsifal.

Most operas have longueurs, but Wagner has more than the average. ("Wagner has great moments but dull quarter hours." ? Rossini.) During those boring stretches I amuse myself by mentally condensing the plot of the thing into a few stanzas of doggerel.

 Parsifal concerns the medieval Knights of the Holy Grail and Holy Spear. Here are four and a half hours of opera condensed to less than 150 words. You`re welcome.

Act One 

 Knights guard Grail, the Spear`s gone missing:
Stolen while the Prince was kissing,
Then used to give him wound that`s cruel,
Which none can heal but virgin fool.

Female messenger is mocked.
Swan gets shot; the knights are shocked.
Knights assemble, worship Grail.
Shooter joins them, hears Prince wail.

Act Two 

. . . (Read the whole thing at Taki`s Magazine.)

Here`s a thing I found myself wondering about Parsifal.  Concerning the doomed swan, Wagner`s actual stage directions read: "A wild swan flutters feebly from over the lake, strives to keep up, and finally sinks dying to the ground." (It sounds better in German, of course.  What doesn`t?  Ein wilder Schwan flattert matten fluges vom See daher; er ist verwundet, erhält sich mühsam und sinkt endlich sterbend zu Boden.)

 This has traditionally been a nightmare for opera producers.  How do you pull that off?  At the Met production on Saturday they just carried the dead swan in and dumped it on the stage.  In other productions it`s been thrown in from the wings or dropped from the flies.

 Surely nowadays, with micro-drone technology, we could at last meet the true spirit of Wagner`s stage directions (which he wrote himself)?  And be spared the muffled sniggers from the audience when the late swan hits the deck with a thump?