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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Metropolitan Opera Preview: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

The six-hour echt Deutsch Wagner comedy returns.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The South African tenor Johan Botha returns in Die Meistersinger.
Photo © 2007 The Metropolitan Opera courtesy the Metropolitan Opera Press Department.
Of the ten major Richard Wagner operas, only one is a comedy. And it's the six-hour Meistersinger: a celebration of all things German.

Hans Sachs is at the center of Meistersinger, the wise old cobbler who must overcome his passion for girl-next-door Eva Pogner, who has herself fallen in love with the hansome knight Walther von Stolzing. The catch: Walther has just 24 hours to brush up his singing skills and get invited into the stodgy guild of Mastersingers: artisan/poets dedicated to holding long meetings and maintaining the German art song as a genre some 200 years before Schubert. he is in love with Eva, Sachs takes Walther under his wing and teaches him to harness his artistic inclinations according to the rules set by the stodgy Guild, using the traditions of German music to create a new style that proves an enormous popular hit. (Wagner, author of his own librettos and tireless writer about music theory is clearly retelling a version of his own story here.)

This is the probably the last run for Otto Schenk and Gunther Schneider-Siemssen's picture-book production, which recreates Ye Olde Germany in a level of detail that would make Walt Disney green with envy. Gabled roofs, winding streets and a festival meadow replete with pretzels and beer serve as the background for this story of singing, art and intrigue.

The cast features James Morris and Michael Volle platooning in the key role of Hans Sachs. This may be Mr. Morris' last run as the cheerful Nuremberg cobbler. Tenor Johan Botha brings his sweet voice and stolid stage presence to Walther, and soprano Annette Dasch is Eva. Like La bohème or Aida, this is a show that the Met costume and set department go "all in" for--but it's as long as both of those operas placed end-to-end. James Levine conducts.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg opens Dec. 2. All evening performances start at 6pm.

Recording Recommendations:
There are a lot of Meistersinger recordings in the catalogue and famous conductors like Herbert von Karajan and Sir Georg Solti made two each. These two are a safe investment for the at-home Wagner lover.

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Rafael Kubelik (Arts and Artists, originally recorded in 1967, released 1994 and reissued since.)
Hans Sachs: Thomas Stewart
Eva Pogner: Gundula Janowitz
Veit Pogner: Franz Crass
Walther von Stolzing: Sandor Konya
Sixtus Beckmesser: Thomas Hemsley:
Like many recordings made by Rafael Kubelik, this Meistersinger is conducted with a fresh approach to the music. Kubelik displays his usual command of rhythm, phrasing and texture, and the orchestra plays brilliantly. Stewart's performance as Hans Sachs is both genial and confident, and is one of the best recordings made by this underrated baritone.

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Wolfgang Sawallisch (EMI/Warner Brother, originally released 1994)
Hans Sachs: Bernd Weikl
Eva Pogner: Cheryl Studer
Veit Pogner: Kurt Moll
Walther von Stolzing: Ben Heppner
Sixtus Beckmesser: Siegfried Lorenz

Made with the same orchestra three decades later, Wolfgang Sawallisch's studio recording (originally on EMI and returning to the catalogue on Warner Brothers) features Cheryl Studer and Ben Heppner as a raiant Eva and Walther. The set is marred by the slightly dry Sachs of Bernd Weikl who nevertheless sings the role with experience and good humor.

Tickets for Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg are available at MetOperaFamily.Org, by calling (212) 362-6000, or at the box office.

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