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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Opera Review: The Tax Man Cometh

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Met.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Johan Botha as Walther von Stolzing.
Image © 2007 The Metropolitan Opera.
The Met's 2007 revival of Wagner's Meistersinger boasts a strong cast--maybe the best since Ben Heppner, Karita Mattila and Hermann Prey took the stage together almost ten years ago. As Sachs, James Morris' warm bass-baritone has worn a little over the years--the top is not quite as sweet as it was.

He gets through the third act by taking repeated pulls on a tankard that sits on his cobbler's bench. But he recovered beautifully for the final scene, singing with gentle humor in the first act, meaning in the second and real pianissimo and emotional weight in the final scenes of Act III. His monologues were dead-on, and the cobbling song was (as it should be) a riot.

The star of the evening was the town clerk. Hans-Joachim Ketelsen played Beckmesser as a vibrating bundle of nerves, a man who drives himself further and further into the ground--Wile E. Coyote to Sachs' shoe-making Road Runner. And yet, he hit the big high note at the end of the Act III "argument" scene dead-on, and engaged in inspired comic business in the big scenes in Acts II and III. Medieval musical torture has never been so much fun.

Johan Botha settled into the role of Walther beautifully, riding the high notes and supporting them with a voice that, while not always ideally sweet was impassioned and powerful. His Prize Song was a model performance in all four verses. Hei-Kyung Hong was a flirtatious, sexy Eva, wrapping her arms around Sachs in Act II and cooing in his ear. Flirt she may be, but she sang with real pathos in the third act--you could believe for once, that deciding between Walther and Sachs was both a serious and difficult choice.

The other impressive performance, albeit in a minor role, was John Del Carlo as Fritz Kothner, the pompous baker who serves as master of ceremonies for the Mastersingers. He played this part with gestures and comic nuance, nearly stealing the scene during "Fanget An!" by repeatedly putting his hands over his ears in musical protest, and displaying the same comic instincts in the Act III finale.

Matthew Polenzani was a very funny David--a role that he owns at the Met these days. His Magdalena was in the capable hands of mezzo Maria Zifchak, albeit a little under-characterized. James Levine's reading of the score has picked up its pace, allowing the conductor room to spread the musical line out in the slow passages. The whole affair clocked in at five hours and fifty-five minutes, counting two intermissions.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.