About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

New York

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



Holy German Art

New York
The Metropolitan Opera
12/02/2014 -  & December 6, 9,* 13, 17, 20, 23, 2014
Richard Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Johan Botha (Walther von Stolzing), Annette Dasch (Eva), Karen Cargill (Magdalene), Paul Appleby (David), Hans-Peter König (Veit Pogner), Johannes Martin Kränzle (Sixtus Beckmesser), Michael Volle (Hans Sachs), Benjamin Bliss (Kunz Vogelgesang), John Moore (Konrad Nachtigall), Martin Gantner (Fritz Kothner), David Crawford (Hermann Ortel), David Cangelosi (Balthasar Zorn), Noah Baetge (Augustin Moser), Tony Stevenson (Ulrich Eisslinger), Brian Kontes (Hans Foltz), Richard Lugo (Hans Schwarz), Matthew Rose (Night Watchman)
The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and Chorus, James Levine (conductor)
Otto Schenk (production), Günther Schneider-Siemssen (sets), Rolf Langenfass (costumes), Carmen De Lavallade (choreographer)

J. Botha (© Ken Howard)

James Levine's triumphant return to the Met podium after prolonged health problems could find no finer expression than in his beloved Wagner conducting. His first work with the composer since returning is this seven-performance revival of Otto Schenk's engrossing storybook production of the only comedy among Wagner's mature works. Unhappily, this is the end of the road for the Schenk production. Tentative reports suggest that it will fall under Peter Gelb's axe to be replaced a few seasons hence by a new production imported from the Salzburg Festival. Replacing crowd-pleasing favorites may not be the best strategy for a house that no longer commands 80 percent capacity, but it is the course the management has chosen. The results and sense of loss can only be endured. For more than two decades we have had a luxuriously depicted Nuremberg laid out in exquisite detail. Now we must move on.

Meistersinger works so well in traditional productions because the opera is a powerful allegory about the nature of art itself. The young nobleman Walther von Stolzing has left the boredom of his estates to seek aesthetic pleasure and romance among the mercantile middle class of bustling Nuremberg. At stake is Eva, daughter of the wealthy goldsmith Veit Pogner. Her hand in marriage is pledged to whichever champion can triumph in a song contest governed by the rules of the town's singers guild, a voluntary association devoted to maintaining exacting traditional standards of vocal art. Within this rarefied milieu the town clerk Beckmesser thinks he has an edge. Pogner has promised to intercede for him to win Eva's legitimate affection. As a man who knows the rules better than anyone, Beckmesser's confidence in winning the vocal contest is high. Walther's arrival - handsome, brilliant, formed outside the traditional "master" system through his private study of the writings of a different Walther, Walther von der Vogelweide (a character in Wagner's earlier opera Tannhäuser) - threatens to upset all of Beckmesser's plans. Beckmesser, who was based on the viciously anti-Wagner Viennese critic Eduard Hanslick and also has a clearly anti-Semitic characterization, does all he can to cast doubt on Walther and his suitability. At the end of Act I, he appears to dispose of him through a rigid application of the singers' rules to Walther's audition song, an audacious piece that strikes the most respected of the masters, Hans Sachs, as something that sounds so old but is so new, a song that does not follow the rules yet contains no error. Inspired to help the young man when he fails to elope with Eva, Sachs moves past his and Eva's own mutual attraction and instead cultivates a dream Walther has had to compose the winning "prize song." Beckmesser tries to steal it, only to have Sachs catch him in the act. Sachs nevertheless invites him to take it, knowing that a mind and spirit as limited as the town clerk's will never express it as heartfully as Walther will. Beckmesser humiliates himself at the contest, leaving Walther to perform the song with unassailable beauty. Triumphant, he scorns the honor of the mastersingers, only to have Sachs upbraid him for his refusal to honor tradition and its importance in preserving "holy German art."

The major allegory at work is of Wagner's own troubled career. Espousing and producing a new sound in opera, he found himself readily and frequently dismissed by doubters, critics, rivals, and others who neither understood nor wanted to understand his obvious genius. And naturally, it is Wagner's self-idealization as Walther who triumphs in the end and the critics who are confounded. His superego, represented by Hans Sachs, still compels him to respect and honor tradition but the future of that tradition is now for him to define. For such a self-referential work by a man who was in all personal accounts an egomaniac, it is only to be expected that Meistersinger should be Wagner's longest opera. Clocking in at six hours, including intermissions, one patron was overheard comparing it to a transcontinental flight, though one hopes her aesthetic experience was more enjoyable.

The Met's revival had a troubled start in its casting of the leading role of Hans Sachs. The excellent baritone Johan Reuter, memorable from his performances as Barak in Richard Strauss's Die Frau ohne Schatten last season, had been scheduled but yielded the role in most performances to the veteran Wagnerian bass-baritone James Morris, who performed the role so regally in the last revivals of 2001 and 2007. In two performances - including the one under review and the broadcast of December 13 - the role went to the fresher voice of Michael Volle, known for his excellent debut as Mandryka in Strauss's Arabella last season. Possessing a fine, rich legato and superb line, Volle had all the stamina he needed to move decisively through the hardest Wagner baritone part. Johan Botha's Walther resonated with a strong clarion tone, though by the end of the evening he seemed to fade under the strain. As Eva, Annette Dasch may have been out of her league. A warm, soft voice that has served her well in smaller European houses seemed lost in the cavernous Met, forcing a shriller tone at times. Johannes Martin Kränzle captured Beckmesser as an annoying person rather than a crude stereotype or shrill ham. Pogner should be sung by a stentorian bass of true authority and Hans-Peter König fit the bill, though not in as round a way as he has done in his other Wagnerian singing. Paul Appleby and Karen Cargill did well as David and Magdalene, but one could not escape how unnecessary these characters are to the work. The evening's true stars were the orchestra and chorus under Levine's authoritative baton. Some object to his slower tempi, but the sound was plush and every note in the score received marvelous pollination from the practiced hand of the Met's own master.

Paul du Quenoy



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com