Meistersinger Day

August 19, 2000

Saturday, I decided to "play hooky" from the lecture on Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg that morning, to visit the town market square and shops in downtown Bayreuth with my lunch date friend from the day before. He had already been to Bayreuth two times before and had many good memories to share and wanted to show me around. A beautiful Saturday morning was a perfect time to take advantage of this.

The market square is that part of Bayreuth where Opernstrasse, Maximilianstrasse, and Richard Wagner Strasse meet.  There are all sorts of shops and restaurants, and many many businesses for such a small town.  I was struck by the lively busy crowd and festive atmosphere that Saturday morning.  There were hardly any cars on Maximillianstrasse and shopkeepers had their wares outside the shops and alongside the sidewalks.  Outdoor cafes and food stands were brimming with people enjoying the fine summer day.  I marveled at the numbers of folks outdoors as the street scene resembled more the area where I live in a major metropolitan area than that of a tiny little town. After watching the people closely, I realized that most of them were Wagner Festival attendees whom I had seen the night before at the opera.  August brings a welcome surge in population and potential shoppers to the town.  The old Bavarian buldings, narrow alleys, and automobile-less streets along with the festive atmosphere reminded me of scenes in Die Meistersinger.

We walked all over and must have hit every shop, especially that large record store that Norris and Carol had told me they had visited the year before. It was the first place my friend wanted to show me and he remembered exactly where it was from his last visit to Bayreuth 8 years earlier.  What a treat!  No I did not buy out the store although it was very tempting.  I was impressed with the rows and rows of Wagner CD's and other recordings, some rare and unusual ones that I have not seen in major record and book stores here in Washington.  I busily picked up catalogs so that I could have a list of recordings to order from my local Tower Records back home.  Before we knew it it was time to head back to our respective hotels to get ready for the opera.

CAST of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg:

Sixtus Beckmesser:

Veit Pogner:

Hans Sachs:
Walther von Stolzing:
Christian Thielemann
Wolfgang Wagner

Andreas Schmidt
  (also sang Amfortas in "Parsifal" the night before)
Matthias Holle
  (also sang Titurel in "Parsifal" the night before)
Robert Holl
Robert Dean Smith
Endrik Wottrich
Emily Magee
Michelle Breedt

Of the seven operas I saw in Bayreuth this summer, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was the best - best sung, best acted, and had the best stage sets.  The sets were brightly lit and appropriate for the mood of the music (has anyone dared do a "dark" Meistersinger?).  It was my first live Meistersinger and I was hoping to see a traditional one.  Thank goodness this one was!

To me, Die Meistersinger has among the most beautiful choral melodies in the Wagner repertoire and that is what I listened and watched for carefully.  Didn't want to miss "getting into" the experience.  There must have been one hundred or more singers (as the townspeople) on stage during the "Wach auf!" and every note was sung as one, in unison, with great feeling.

Robert Dean Smith was an excellent Walther.  His "Prize Song" in Act III really is an example of the fine art of singing.  The audience should be able to recognize the developing skill of the Walther character as he is properly training to be a Mastersinger.  In Act I, he is the rough untutored Walther who has a good head and lofty ambitions as well as talent.  By Act III, his singing is finely tuned so that every note is delivered with care and feeling.

Endrik Wottrich was a perfect David, a role that must be well acted as well as well sung in order to be credible.  The character David must move, move, gesture, teach Walther in Act I, dance with the ladies in Act III, etc. and be a humble jack of all trades, a Mastersinger as well as a student of singing (and shoemaking, but this doesn't seem to be what the character in the story really wants to do).

Hans Sachs is always the likeable fatherly character in this story, the humble and wise man who observes, comments, guides and teaches.  He is a role model for the townspeople - they call him "our darling Hans Sachs."  Robert Holl has a good voice for the role, and I enjoyed hearing him sing, but he didn't "look" the part.  There wasn't the "right" electricity or bonding between Sachs and Eva, who looks up to him as a father and would marry him if he would have her or between Sachs and David or between Sachs and Walther, both of whom see Sachs as a mentor.  Sometimes Sachs tended to fade and was not very noticeable.  Sachs' final monologue on (gaining respectibility for) German Art was not very memorable.  Perhaps Holl was tired by the end of that long opera? Or the director wanted to de-emphasize it?  That final monologue is so often misinterpreted, I would just as soon see it left out of the production altogether.  (NOTE: Wagner changed his mind after he wrote it and felt it should have been left out of the opera, but his wife Cosima wanted to keep it in.)

Beckmesser was sung by Andreas Schmidt, who has a fine voice.  He certainly acted the role of Beckmesser very well.  My only comment here is that Beckmesser is supposed to "sound" different from the other characters.  In Act III, the character does such a poor delivery of the song that he had stolen from Hans Sachs' shop that all the towspeople laugh him offstage.  In the opera, the singer performing the role of Beckmesser needs to use his voice, not just his self, in conveying the ridiculous nature of Beckmesser.  In Act III, Schmidt was not too convincing vocally, although the part was well acted.  Schmidt was at his best and most convincing in Act I.

Emily Magee (soprano) and Michelle Breedt (mezzo-soprano) were fabulous as Eva and Magdalena respectively.  Both sang beautifully.  I enjoyed their little exchange after the beginning of Act I when Eva tells Magdalene to go back into the church to fetch a handkerchief so that Eva can see Walther alone for a few minutes.  This comic situation served to set the tone for the opera, certainly a comedy (Wagner's only comedy) and a very delightful one.

by Jan Rosen

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