The Wagner Journal

Barry Millington, Happy Families: A Wagner Singspiel Rediscovered

Barry Millington, Happy Families: A Wagner Singspiel Rediscovered

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November 2007, Volume 1, Number 3, 3–18.

The likelihood of previously unknown music of Wagner’s coming to light over a century after his death might be thought remote. Yet that is exactly what happened in the summer of 1994, when sketches for Wagner ’s youthful comic opera Männerlist größer als Frauenlist oder Die glückliche Bärenfamilie (Man’s Cunning Greater than Woman’s Cunning, or The Happy Bear Family), WWV48, previously thought to be irretrievably lost, surfaced in a private collection. Männerlist, which dates from 1838 – in other words immediately prior to Rienzi and Der fliegende Holländer – was to have been an opera in the light French style. Why was Wagner contemplating writing an opera in a style that was surely antipathetic to him? What would it have sounded like? And why did he abandon it? This article aims to answer those questions and in the process to throw light on the development of Wagner’s creative style.

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