Richard Wagner has been called many things: the world’s greatest opera composer, the inventor of film music, an inspired genius. But he was also a “fucking asshole,” says Second City’s resident musical director, Jesse Case. “He was anti-Semitic, infidelities all over the place, a complete drama queen, serial liar, and basically a terrible person to be around.”
Wagner’s malice and genius are both at play in Longer! Louder! Wagner!, a new production from Second City and Lyric Opera that pokes fun at the titanic 19th-century German composer. The musical comedy follows Wagner’s fictitious great-grandson as he leads his Schaumburg opera company in putting on the ambitious four-part Ring cycle. The composer himself appears sporadically, but only to detail his obsessions with silk underwear, rose water, and women.
“Wagner took himself so seriously that he would make people build entirely new opera houses for his productions,” says Anneliese Toft, who directs the show written by Second City’s Timothy Sniffen, with music by Case. “That kind of hubris is ripe for comedy.”
The second collaboration between the two Chicago powerhouses—The Second City Guide to the Opera opened in 2013—Longer! will be staged in Lyric’s William Mason Rehearsal Hall and feature singers from Lyric and its training school, the Ryan Opera Center. It’s no coincidence that Longer! opens the same month as Das Rheingold, the first production in Lyric’s four-year Ring cycle project. “Opera has a reputation of being dark and long and boring,” says Case. “I think people who see our show will discover that there’s a lot to it that’s pretty ridiculous and funny.”