January 31, 2020
Longer, Louder, Laughter: Second City takes on Wagner's Ring
If you love opera and you love to laugh, there’s no better way to spend an evening than LONGER! LOUDER! WAGNER!, the hilarious collaboration between Lyric Unlimited and The Second City! The one-act original musical comedy, inspired by the life of Richard Wagner and his journey creating the Ring, premiered in 2016 and won rave reviews as “compulsively entertaining” (Chicago Tribune), “deliciously naughty” (Chicago Sun-Times), and “90 giddy minutes of belly laughs” (Chicago Reader) during its sold-out run. Shows take place backstage in Lyric’s William Mason Rehearsal Hall, giving ticket holders a unique opportunity to enjoy the show in an intimate, comedy club-like venue within the backstage spaces rarely seen by the public. With a running time of approximately 90 minutes with no intermission, LONGER! LOUDER! WAGNER! brings audiences to 1848 Germany where Wagner first began work on the Ring, and to modern-day Bayreuth, home of Wagner’s personally-designed opera house.
Tim Sniffen, author of LONGER! LOUDER! WAGNER!, took the time to answer our burning questions about his comedic journey to find Valhalla.
Wagner’s Ring cycle is one of the most massive projects an opera company can undertake. As a writer, how do you approach a topic of such epic scale like the Ring and Richard Wagner’s colorful life?
I begin by listening to Wagner’s work and reading about his life, trying to absorb as much as I can, writing down anything odd or memorable. “Father used to put on puppet shows for the family after dinner” — written down. “Tried to elope with wife of one of his benefactors” — definitely written down. I also try to ask lots of other people about their thoughts on Wagner — since the show’s not just a book report on his life — it’s a study of what Wagner and his work means to all of us.
Following the huge success of The Second City Guide to the Opera, what makes you excited about Longer! Louder! Wagner!? What should audiences look forward to? What’s different about this project?
I was part of the first SC/Lyric collaboration and I am THRILLED to be back! I’ve basically been biding my time, waiting for Lyric’s call. That show covered a little bit of everything: as stated in the title, a guide to all things opera. This time, we zero in on a single topic — an enormous, timeless, hugely influential topic — and dig deeper. [It turns out, there’s plenty there.] Also, working with Lyric’s vastly talented singers was so much fun the first time that we’ve tried to incorporate them even more into the show. Finally, while our first show was a series of songs and sketches, our signature style, this show has a more connected story to tell.
Richard Wagner was a complicated and complex man, and people tend to have very strong opinions about him. What draws you to him as a writer, and how challenging is it to write about someone so well known?
Strong opinions are good. Writing about someone who most people describe with “Eh, he’s fine…” is harder. Larger-than-life personalities fascinate me because some of their worst traits are similar to our own flaws, amplified a little. We’ve all had moments of feeling overlooked, but only Wagner, feeling the same way at a dinner party, struck a high note and held it until everyone stopped talking and paid attention to him. [Really.]
While writing Longer! Louder! Wagner!, what has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about Wagner, the Ring cycle, or opera in general?
I will admit, I thought Wagner was more celebrated during his lifetime. I had no idea he had it so rough — always running out of money, often denied the critical acclaim he clearly wanted. I was surprised to learn about his political life — Wagner played a role in a revolution in Dresden. But of course, it’s Wagner: when it looked like the uprising wouldn’t be successful he basically said, “Okay, I’m gonna skip town now — good luck going to jail and everything!” I think Wagner made a lot of people angry in his life.
Wagner composed the Ring cycle from 1848-1874…well over 100 years ago. What still makes it relevant today?
In its essence the Ring is a story about power, corruption, impossible quests, bravery, betrayal, love, and sacrifice. It will be around as long as people are. [And as our lifespans increase, devoting four days to a single masterwork will feel like less and less of an imposition.]
What do you want audiences to know before they walk into Longer! Louder! Wagner!? What do you want them to know by the end of the show?
Nothing you don’t already know. A comedy show shouldn’t require homework! Your current level of Wagner knowledge is perfectly sufficient. But I would like you to ask this question:
What if Wagner had a long-lost great-grandson…
…who founded an opera company of his own…
Longer! Louder! Wagner! runs from April 15 - May 2 at Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Critical acclaim for LONGER! LOUDER! WAGNER!
“The 90-minute show is laced with salty punchlines, operatic in-jokes, groan-worthy puns and enough bad German accents to fill an entire season of "Hogan's Heroes." - Chicago Tribune
“Director Anneliese Toft keeps all this musical-comedic mayhem on high boil.” - Chicago Tribune
Second City addicts and Wagner opera fans alike should find this revue compulsively entertaining.
“A deliciously naughty bit of sanctioned heresy with an aptly zany script and a couple of sensational “legit” operatic voices all part of the mix.” - Chicago Sun-Times
“You don't have to know anything about composer Richard Wagner to laugh your head off.” - Chicago Reader
“90 giddy minutes of belly laughs.” - Chicago Reader
“Sniffen’s show is an excellent primer.” - Third Coast Review
“A complex, swift-paced narrative about Richard Wagner and his famous Ring Cycle… Longer! Louder! Wagner! is laugh-out-loud funny whether or not you’re familiar with Wagner....a real treat for opera lovers. Writer Tim Sniffen and music director Jesse Case have done their research well.” - Stage and Cinema
"Get ready for a show that has a little bit of everything and a lot of fun.” - Stage and Cinema