Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Music and libretto by Richard Wagner
Metropolitan Opera in New York City
Saturday, November 17, 2001

(Major characters)
Walther von Stolzing:
Veit Pogner:
Hans Sachs:

Set Designer:
Costume Designer:
Stage Director:
Johan Botha
Solveig Kringelborn
Jill Grove
Mathias Zachariassen
René Pape
Eike Wilm Schulte
James Morris

James Levine
Otto Schenk
Gunther Schneider-Siemsen
Rolf Langenfass
Carmen de Lavallade
Peter McClintock

The Die Meistersinger performance I attended was outstanding and beautiful.  Not just beautiful...  It was FLAWLESS!  The sets were realistic and extremely detailed, too, and really looked like old Nüremberg.

James Morris is a perfect Hans Sachs.  He has the right amount of vocal color for that role.  His voice seemed to register a bit higher than the bass I am used to hearing from him.  His role was very well acted and sung.  He is totally involved with his character and had achieved quite a bit of success in this role at the San Francisco Opera production of Die Meistersinger earlier this Fall.  After having heard and seen him as Scarpia, Wotan, and the Dutchman, it was interesting to see and hear him as the fatherly cobbler.

Eva was sung by soprano Solveig Kringelborn, who has the most beautiful voice.  Her high notes are executed with ease and without a wobble or quiver.  I hope we hear more of her.  Her role is balanced perfectly by that sung by alto Jill Grove, another beautiful voice. Ms. Grove’s voice is darker and heavier, and carries well.  She is a good actress and interacts well with the other characters.

Even though it is an important role, the singer performing David must be must be careful not to overshadow and outdo the singer performing Hans Sachs.  I have always liked the David character in this opera and have noticed how difficult it must be to perform his part.  His function in the opera changes so many times and he must interact successfully with so many characters – starting in Act I teaching Walther the rules on how to sing like a Master, to humble apprentice, lover, poet, dance leader in the Meadow in Act III – and be able to maintain his poise and stamina throughout the opera.  This was Mathias Zachariassen’s début in the role, and he performs with such flexibility and grace and smoothness of voice, that he has great promise in this role.

I was especially moved by the choral "Wach Auf!" in Act III, scene 2, as it cut through the festive merrimaking in the meadow.  The passage begins "Wach auf, es nahet gen den Tag, Ich hör' singen im grünen Hag" and is a very short piece about daybreak awakening and hearing the hawthorn and nightingale sing.  It ends with "Heil Nürnbergs theurem Sachs!", greeting and cheering the cobbler Hans Sachs, the champion of Art.  That "Auf!" did a crescendo and just hung there in the air like it didn't want to drop.  I certainly did not want it to drop.  There is something about those two syllables that when properly sung, packs a huge emotional punch.  I felt sort of a spiritual awakening, a rebirth, as if there was something in that short artful melody of a hundred voices in unison that Wagner was trying to teach us, to tell us, about art and about ourselves.

Die Meistersinger"Wach Auf!" serves as a prelude to the song contest, won by Walther von Stolzing. John Botha as Walther sang that Prize Song (also known as the Morning Dream Song), and sang it so beautifully I hope we hear more of him.  Walther follows Beckmesser in the song contest, and although each are singing the same words, each are using different modes of singing.  There is a bit of slapstick humor with Beckmesser (sung by Eike Wilm Schulte -- whom I met the next day at the Wagner Society of New York Meistersinger Symposium) which makes his character convincing as that pompous fool who *thinks* he can sing.  The audience was laughing at him the whole time.  His clowning antics during the song contest in Act III added to the strength of Walther, and the singer who sang the role of Walther was the best of the performance.  I was impressed at how Mr. Botha’s voice was so clear and smooth, that it was easy to recognize that he was singing the same thing Eike Schulte was singing earlier.  And that is the point.  It is not the words that are sung, but rather how they are sung.  Even more important is Wagner’s point that one does not need to be born into an elite guild to be a great artist.  One can (as does the character Walther, loosely based on Wagner himself) start from nothing and work hard to earn one’s way into the artists’ guild.

I picked up a rumor on one of my opera e-mail groups that the Die Meistersinger performance I attended was videotaped for later showing on television.  If so, television viewers will be in for a special treat.  This was an outstanding performance of Wagner’s longest, most complex, and most powerful work.

by Jan Rosen

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