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Starting from general considerations on humour, laughter and the ambivalence of comedy – the margin between comedy and tragedy is indeed very narrow – Norbert Abels tackles the issue of comedy in The Mastersingers: the self-centred Wagner, maniacally demanding and obsessed with his own personal views on drama, was completely deficient in humour. In a state of perpetual exaltation, he would often laugh his head off at stupid jokes and pranks, but his hilarity was hardly communicative. His characters hardly ever laugh and when they do, it is out of derision: the unhappy Beckmesser, beaten and humiliated, is ruthlessly scoffed at. Like Mime or Alberich, he is caricatured and made despicable. Wagner viciously exposes his flaws, depriving him of his dignity. The religious connotations of the final apotheosis confirm the lack of humour in this comedy. (However, Sachs, who is able to appreciate Stolzing’s song even though it is not based on his own aesthetic principles, displays a form of impartiality totally unknown to Wagner.)
Richard Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Norbert Abels
Oper Frankfurt / Folkwang Universität der Künste Essen
Hohn und Lohn, Lose Betrachtungen zum Komischen bei Richard Wagner