Our favorite fantasy stories owe a huge debt to Norse mythology — especially Norse mythology as filtered through Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle of operas. But how can you make sense of all the craziness? Here is Anna Russell, a professional opera comedian, to help you sort it out.
"Opera comedian" is one of those job titles that's sort of unique and yet instantly recognizable in its awesomeness. Russell had a good enough voice to sing opera professionally — although maybe not enough to become a star. But instead, she went into comedy, using her singing ability and her incisive wit to deconstruct opera for regular people who don't quite understand the ins and outs.
Above is the track from her 1953 record, "The Anna Russell Album?" — the 21-odd minutes for which she became most famous. She walks you through the Ring of the Nibelung, singing bits and pieces of it and translating as she goes, although sometimes she remarks, "I won't translate that, because it doesn't mean anything." Most helpfully for parochial New Yorkers, she puts everything in terms of NYC — the Rhine is the Hudson, there's the Holland Tunnel, and Wotan, the "head god" lives on top of the Empire State Building. Also, the Valkyries are "the noisiest."
Russell spent the rest of her career doing this routine about the Ring Cycle (along with her helpful "How to Write Your Own Gilbert & Sullivan Opera") and here's a video of her doing it live, as part of her "First Farewell Concert":