“Verachtet mir die Meister nicht” from Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg

This was the climactic monologue from Wagner’s very long comic opera, and like most of the material in that opera it has, by common agreement, absolutely wonderful music. The reason it’s being covered in this section is that it has a reputation for being a xenophobic and paranoid rant about the decline and fall of Germany due to foreign influences. In short, it’s what gets this opera in particular mentally associated with Naziism for a lot of people, and I imagine part of the reason Opera For Dummies had to have the track list of its bonus CD changed in later editions was the unwise inclusion of this particular song. And frankly, I think all this is rather unfair. Now, Wagner was indeed known all too well for that kind of rant, but most of them actually occurred in those self-published propaganda pamphlets he used to circulate, not in his operas. I’m not arguing that Wagner had any shortage of thoroughly reprehensible opinions, but they’re not really on display here (or anywhere else in his actual operas, at least in any easily discernible form). The lyric to this monologue is pretty much boilerplate patriotism (respect your traditions and maintain your nation’s independence), but the only reason people are offended by it is because it’s German. And while there’s certainly a good reason that German nationalism has an especially bad reputation, the fact remains that no-one would be particularly bothered by this sentiment if it was coming from any other country…every country is proud of its cultural traditions, and no country wants to be ruled by a foreign power, including our own. Admittedly, this opera did get co-opted by the Nazis to an even greater degree than Wagner’s other work, but they were completely misinterpreting its message in the process, and there’s still nothing particularly offensive about the actual libretto in and of itself.

Verdict: Wagner said an unbelievable number of offensive things during his life, but this monologue really isn’t one of them.

“King Herod’s Song (Try It and See)” from Jesus Christ Superstar

It’s not just the detractors of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar that point this song out as the show’s low point. Even the show’s most devoted fans tend to decry it as a totally out-of-place Vaudevillian novelty in the midst of the show’s descent into tragedy. Many make much of the fact that its melody was originally written for one of Webber and Tim Rice’s unproduced early efforts (it’s original title was “Those Saladin Days”), and some have suggested that Webber simply wasn’t willing to give up the tune, to the point of shoehorning it into a show where it patently didn’t belong. But what all these critics fail to notice is that the song actually works really well on the original concept album. Its mindless frivolity makes a perfect compliment to the callous and uncaring downward spiral that Jesus is being subjected to at the this point, and it actually makes the show’s inexorable descent into tragedy much stronger and more disturbing than it would have been if they had stuck to an ‘appropriate’ tone throughout. That said, it is true that no-one has ever found a way to make this number work on an actual stage, and Josh Mostel’s performance of it in the film version is one of the all-time bad musical numbers from an otherwise good musical. So while I get why it was included in the first place and even consider that inclusion perfectly justified, I will admit that it has wound up being more of a handicap to the show than anything else.

Verdict: Good on the concept album, but varying degrees of bad in pretty much every stage production the show has ever received.

“Mr. Goldstone, I Love You” from Gypsy

This is the one song from Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim’s Gypsy score that anyone who likes musicals to begin with ever complains about. The problem with the song is that while having Rose burst into song on that first line always gets a big laugh in context, there’s really nowhere for the song to go after that in terms of actual story or character content. For this reason, the entire rest of the lyric is just Rose’s nervous dithering and a lot of random wordplay for its own sake. The final section, with the catalogue of ‘stones’ (“There are good stones, and bad stones, and curbstones and gladstones”) is actually fairly clever, especially in the Angela Lanbury version (where Lansbury recites them as if the character was making them up on the spot), but the first half of the song, which is basically just Rose being a nervous wreck, really is pretty irritating. This song doesn’t compare to the gratuitous wordplay passages in later Sondheim shows, but its real failing is that it’s the only song in Gypsy that doesn’t serve any real purpose and could be cut without anybody noticing, which is a severe let-down in a score that is otherwise so flawlessly integrated and economical. The sometimes annoying lyrics are actually much less of a mark against this song than its status as the only real flaw in one of the most perfect musicals of all time.

Verdict: Bad, essentially, though more for its context in the musical than the song itself.