I was back in my seat like an eager beaver awaiting Act III of Die Meistersinger.
I spoke briefly to the lady who was occupying the seat to my right while awaiting the lights to go down. Her name was Marilyn and she works for the Met. I first assumed she was on the lookout for singers. When she told me her job was fund-raising for the Met I said, "Oh, gosh-darn! I have left my wallet back at the hotel!" "No you haven't....here", she said, and handed back said wallet, now considerably lighter than I remembered.
The lights went down and out. From the pit rose the gorgeous music of the prelude to Act III with the horns giving me that first glimpse of "Wach Auf". A tear fell down my cheek, moved by the music, and by the sight of Marilyn in the gloom counting my money by holding a wad of it to her ear and flicking through it with her thumb.
Sachs sat alone at his desk in a small glaringly white room reading a mighty tome. After a fine Wahn monologue he was joined by David entering through the narrow open doorway at the rear of the set. The writing of the Prize Song gave one early warning that the scene on the meadow would be a supreme test for the tenor of Robert Dean Smith, as it was with visible effort that he climbed to the high notes as the song progressed.
No such problems for Emily Magee. So it was that the moment arrived for that sublime creation referred to as the "Quintet". It was anchored like a rock by Magee's sublime legato singing, her breathing relaxed and effortless. She was taught by Margaret Harshaw so her excellence wasn't altogether a surprise. One by one the voices joined in a harmonious and uplifiting blend. It was a perfect moment.
Soon my adrenalin was pumping as we were off to the meadow! Here the curtains closed for a major scene change, but unlike at the Chicago Lyric last March, the audience stayed in their seats and didn't converse. The coughers took it as a cue to blast forth though, even though the music was thundering away.
The curtain arose to reveal what seemed like the entire population of Nuremberg as seen today, in gay summery attire. The cyclorama now showed a projection of a close-up of tree foliage. The various tradesmen's Guilds made their way on stage to declaim their place in the city's history, and to give the thrilling male chorus a chance to show its wares.
A favorite moment for me, among many, is the arrival of the girls from Furth (in this case members of the Festspiel ballet troupe), and the sweet dainty waltz that follows. Wottrich as David was light and nimble on his feet and the many children on stage joined in to dance.
The Meisters were heralded, not only by the orchestra in the pit, but by the onstage trumpets who did sterling service during the intermissions. They were lined up in costume at the rear of the stage.
With banners waving, each of the Meisters made his entrance, eliciting a frenzy of waving among the assembled chorus and supernumeraries. The children sat down at the very edge of the stage and the crowd formed into a circle, some on raised platforms that acted as bleachers from which to witness the song contest. Downstage, with their backs to the audience, sat Pogner and Eva facing the Meisters, who were sitting on a bench at the rear. Sachs stood to address the assembly.........
The gale of sound from the chorus parted my hair and I have worn it that way since. It was one of the most stunning and moving sounds I have ever heard. Worth the price of a ticket in itself.
A small stage was brought out for Beckmesser. Andreas Schmidt was wonderful and crowned a fine performance with his Prize Song. Robert Dean Smith used all his resources to make it through his Prize Song. It stretched him to his limits. Robert Holl brought matters to an end and the chorus to another mighty climax, as the bands on stage and in the pit punched out the syncopated finale, firing on all cylinders. Eva placed the victory laurel on Sachs' head while Beckmesser rejoined the Meisters.
A fabulous afternoon and evening of music! After the principals came before the curtain for a group bow, the curtain arose to reveal not only the cast on stage but also the orchestra in casual attire, holding their instruments where physically possible. Only the tympanist had a problem, and in fact he dropped his drums and they disappeared into the pit, crushing a harpist to death as she tried to hoist her instrument onstage. The thundering feet of the audience, like 2000 bison stampeding in place, was deafening.
The next time the curtain rose, Norbert Balatsch was standing to take a bow, surrounded by his superlative chorus. Wolfgang Wagner took a bow as director/scenic designer to applause and some vociferous booing, and joined hands with Emily Magee in the group bows. Barenboim looked none the worse for wear, having conducted Tristan the night before.
The applause went on for some time, but I was itching to get out into the fresh air and get my camcorder from the coatcheck before it closed. I also looked forward to a calming cigarette.
We met up with Eugene outside. He was now faced with a long drive home to his village near Frankfurt, while we had a dinner at Weihenstephan to look forward to. Waiting for us there would be our German friends, Günter, Herbert, and Matthias, who had also been at Die Meistersinger. They had secured for us a large table and were already drinking from tall beer glasses when we arrived. As we relaxed and gave our drinks orders, they were telling us about a German-speaking American from Ohio who had sat beside them, it being his first time in the theatre. When they told us he had been loudly booing Wolfgang Wagner at the curtain calls, we realised without a doubt that it had been our friend Eugene.
I ordered a huge tasty Wienerschnitzel. Now, a few observations about dining in Bayreuth. The food we had had was first rate but the tables were usually missing things I have come to expect from living in America: salt and pepper, glasses of water, bottled condiments or sauces, and the like. There was no evidence of a salad bar or a salad included in the cost of the meal as is common at home. Meals were simple; seldom more than three items on a plate, but well prepared with good quality ingredients. Luckily I like sauerkraut, red cabbage, and creamed spinach.
Our German friends were great companions and we became firm friends. Next day they were due to leave and make a five hour drive home to Lorrach.
As we were about to leave, we noticed Emily Magee also leaving the restaurant and stopped to introduce ourselves and congratulate her on a marvellous performance. She was very gracious and friendly. Then we were joined by Entrich Wottrich, who sang David. Accompanying him was the lovely Katharina Wagner, Wolfgang's daughter, who was assistant stage director for the production.
A short drive took us home to the hotel for a good night's sleep. With no opera to attend next day, we were free to do as we pleased, without time constraints. Another perfect day had come to a close.
To be continued......