Wagner & Seinfeld: Die Meistersinger von Monk’s

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 23 November 2013 | 12:09:00 am

Michael Teager
Michael Teager is an experienced performing musician, both as a leader and a sideman. Currently, Mike serves on the faculties for Michigan State University and Spring Arbor University. At MSU he is Instructor of Music for the Office of Study Abroad, teaching Music Appreciation each summer in Bregenz, Austria. At SAU he teaches Music History and he previously taught Music Appreciation.

Mike performs frequently throughout Michigan. Recordings can be found on Slo.Blor Media, Neighbor Neighbor LTD, ITAV Records and VagueTerrain.net. He can regularly be seen with Matt Borghi (often as Teag & PK), The Fencemen, and various other groups, and he writes for and manages MT-Headed Blog.

Convocation, his new album with Matt Borghi, can be found on iTunes, Amazon, eMusic, and Spotify.

Mike also likes Seinfeld. Oh and Wagner! In the following, article he examines parallels between Seinfeld and Wagner, specifically Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. A parallel and link, which seems especially relevant given a rather famous, in some Wagner circles, episode of Seinfeld's co-creator, Larry David's own show, the genuinely excellent, "Curb Your Enthusiasm". But we will let Mike explain. Recommended.


Wagner & Seinfeld: Die Meistersinger von Monk’s
Michael Teager 


A thought I’ve returned to over the last couple weeks is an odd parallel between Seinfeld(my all-time favorite show) and Wagner (my favorite composer), specifically Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It’s perhaps not poignant, but I think it’s worthwhile to share and hash out a bit. If nothing else, it can be my own little twist on the bicentennial celebrations. After all, there’s nothing like juxtaposing the composer often considered “too German” with the show that was originally considered “too Jewish”…

I’ll be walking a bit of a tightrope here, as I don’t want to be either overly general or too deep in the weeds on both topics. Now for some context:

Wagner:
As Gioachino Rossini noted, “Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour.” While I don’t agree with the latter sentiment, I understand the criticism. Here at the home front, my love of Wagner’s music isn’t fully shared by my wife. As she enjoys telling me, she thinks his music is beautiful and she enjoys playing it (as he wrote interesting viola parts), but she doesn’t have the patience to sit through a full work. Most of Wagner’s most memorable moments fall into one of two categories:
1. Leitmotif – melody, harmony, rhythm, or combination thereof
2. “Chunks” – a scene or other extended period of action

It’s worth pointing out because, as you may have noticed, I didn’t mention either of opera’s most noteworthy terms: aria (song) and recitative (musical speech). As a genre, many of opera’s memorable moments are arias or recitatives. Wagner, however, melds the two devices. His hyper-focus on drama kept him from featuring popular musical devices that often stalled the plot and/or dramatic development. Because of this, rarely does one hear an all-out “song” in his works.

Seinfeld:
Yes, Seinfeld is often considered the greatest sitcom of all time by many outlets and publications. I happen to think it’s the greatest show regardless of genre, but that’s just me. I grew up withSeinfeld. I’ve been watching it regularly since before I was ten years old. My mom watched it on its original run I watched right alongside her. And that continued through daily syndication viewings and eventually on DVD whenever I wanted (which was and is often). I laughed as a kid on one level throughout the original airings, and two decades later I’m still laughing just as hard but now at its many subtle layers and nuances. Despite the series’s respect and loyal following, reactions to the series finale were mixed at best. (Many considered it to be an epic disappointment.) Since Seinfeldended its run in 1998, fans (myself included) had been clamoring for some sort of reunion. Not only did we want a reunion because we loved the show and its characters, but many people wanted a proper resolution to make up for the original finale.

After Seinfeld, the show’s co-creator, Larry David, then created and starred in HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which he portrays a fictional version of himself living and occasionally working in LA after Seinfeld. Long story short, it’s a darker, no-holds-barred version of Seinfeld on steroids that quickly became and remains another favorite show of mine. Because of the self-referential nature ofCurb, fans were occasionally treated with cameos by the Seinfeld cast in the first six seasons. (Jerry’s brief appearance, his first, in season four’s finale is perfect – he doesn’t even speak.) All the while, in the real world, Larry, Jerry, Julia, Jason, and Michael ruled out a Seinfeld reunion.

Now, what do the above scenarios have to do with one another? If Wagner wrote more full-blown arias, he’d probably have more mainstream appeal nowadays. And if Seinfeld would’ve done a traditional reunion, mainstream America would’ve had more resolution. Alas, both Wagner and Seinfeld delivered, albeit on their own terms and after a very long wait. Hence the parallel.

Larry David: Who says I can't listen to Wagner?
Wagner, severe dramatist and denier of arias, composed Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, a comedy that revolves around a songwriting guild and a singing contest. It’s also quite lengthy, lasting approximately 5.5 hours including two intermissions. And despite the plot’s emphasis on songs, the listener isn’t treated to a complete, uninterrupted song throughout. Numerous songs are sung, but they are in segments or interrupted if more complete. For instance, all three acts feature passages about songwriting, and therefore examples of good songwriting (from one character to another). But the songs aren’t performed in full. Instead, a verse or after-verse is heard out of context, or a more complete song is sung but is interrupted by another character (e.g., Beckmesser’s chalk, Sachs’s tools, or the vocal reactions of the “audience” on stage). Both kinds of scenarios occur in all three acts. In fact, at the end of Act III, right before Sachs’s closing monologue, Walther sings his prize song (“Morgenlich leuchtend…”) at the competition. Leading up to this point in the opera, the listener has been treated to bits and pieces but one thinks that he/she will finally hear the song in its entirety. Instead, Wagner makes you earn the aria on his terms: he intersperses the contest’s audience’s commentary throughout the song, breaking up Walther’s momentum. And when the aria finishes, the music escalates with the crowd’s reaction, leading to Eva’s response. Here is Johan Botha as Walther in the Vienna Opera’s 2008 production: