Ride of the Wagnerian

There’s nothing I would like to do more than go for a pint with Giacinto Palmieri and discuss Wagner. Maybe a discourse on the semantics of logical connectives could round off the conversation. Then The Jazz Bar for a bit of a dance. He’s a passionate, intelligent and interesting man; the kind of person who will pursue an interest until it consumes him. He really does know his stuff when it comes to Wagner.

Without the right setting and structure to demonstrate this, his Ride isn’t exciting enough to sustain its purpose.

But why demonstrate it in this rambling, ill-suited format? Palmieri is comfortable onstage but doesn’t seem to be terribly self-aware. Not many people can tell jokes effectively in their second (or maybe even third) language, and much of Palmieri’s material suffers from odd structures, or ill-timed punchlines, or suspect logical inferences only a native speaker might pick up on. This is not to say that he isn’t a funny guy, his observations are smart, but too often the jokes just don’t click.

Another problem is that, in attempting to mix a discussion of Wagner with comedy, the result has to be that one reinforces the other – otherwise there’s no point. I agree that more people should engage with Wagner (I’ve just put on Das Rheingold and it is spine-tingling). However, the target audience for this show (show? routine? talk? it isn’t clear), Wagner beginners (I think, but again, it’s not clear), aren’t going to be interested, even with some laughs to help them along. “Hey, I’m at the Edinburgh Fringe! You know what my life is missing right now? An understanding of the mythology of Der Ring des Nibelungen! Wow, isn’t it great that I can finally fill this well of ignorance that’s been burdening me for so long!”

I mean, why focus on the Ring Cycle, possibly the most complex artwork ever made? Palmieri takes us through some well-chosen excerpts, but the structure of the whole is left unclear, as is its cultural significance, as is the controversy surrounding Wagner and the appropriation of his music by the Nazis. Many people refuse to engage with Wagner, much like Nietzsche, because they have become (wrongly) associated with Nazism. Palmieri might have prefaced his show with this problem – although, juxtaposing it with comedy may have presented him with difficulties.

Palmieri mentioned ‘the semantics of logical connections’ in an improvised moment on the day I was there, and it was these moments that were most impressive. He is very, very smart. But without the right setting and structure to demonstrate this, his Ride isn’t exciting enough to sustain its purpose. It’s a shame, because I really do like the guy. I’m sorry to only give you two stars, Giacinto. Drinks this Thursday? 

Reviews by James Macnamara


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The Blurb

What is it like to be obsessed with a 15 hour-long cycle of late Romantic operas sung in German? Giacinto Palmieri loves Richard Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung so much that he told the plot to all his ex-girlfriends (note the ex). Now he wants to do the same with his audience. Hear all about dwarfs, giants, Walkyries, magic helms, love potions ... and their connection with office parties, IKEA, Facebook and modern dating rituals. A show for those who love Wagner, those who hate Wagner, and those for whom he's just an X Factor contestant.

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