The Metropolitan Opera – Otto Schenk’s production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg [James Morris, Johan Botha, Annette Dasch, Hans-Peter König, Johannes Martin Kränzle, Paul Appleby & Karen Cargill; conducted by James Levine]

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Opera in three Acts to a libretto by the composer [sung in German with English Met Titles by Christopher Bergen]

Hans Sachs – James Morris
Veit Pogner – Hans-Peter König
Kunz Vogelsang – Benjamin Bliss
Konrad Nachtigall – John Moore
Sixtus Beckmesser – Johannes Martin Kränzle
Fritz Kothner – Martin Gantner
Balthasar Zorn – David Cangelosi
Ulrich Eißlinger – Tony Stevenson
Augustin Moser – Noah Baetge
Herrmann Ortel – David Crawford
Hans Schwarz – Ricardo Lugo
Hans Foltz – Brian Kontes
Walther von Stolzing – Johan Botha
David – Paul Appleby
Eva – Annette Dasch
Magdalene – Karen Cargill
Night Watchman – Matthew Rose

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
James Levine

Otto Schenk – Production
Günther Schneider-Siemssen – Set Design
Rolf Langenfass – Costume Design
Gil Wechsler – Lighting Design
Carmen de Lavallade – Choreographer
Paula Suozzi – Stage Director

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 2 December, 2014
Venue: Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, New York City

A scene from Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Photograph: Ken Howard/Metropolitan OperaThis was the first night of the Metropolitan Opera’s sixth and final revival of Otto Schenk’s realistic and charming 1993 production of Richard Wagner’s comic masterpiece, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It is slated to be replaced some five seasons hence by the Stefan Herheim production that premiered at the 2013 Salzburg Festival.

The Mastersingers of Nuremberg is both grand and intimate: grand in the scale and richness of its score, in the poetry and philosophical content of its libretto, and in its portrayal of the life of a thriving medieval community; intimate in its depiction of the principal characters as real people with very human emotions, virtues, faults and foibles. Schenk’s production captures both aspects perfectly. It pays meticulous attention to detail in Rolf Langenfass’s costumes and in Günther Schneider-Siemssen’s realistic sets, depicting both the large-scale settings of the Katharinenkirche, the street adjoining Hans Sachs’s workshop, and the meadow outside the walls of Nuremberg, and the much smaller-scale interior of Sachs’s shop. Paula Suozzi’s stage direction (she succeeds Peter McClintock, who directed each of the previous revivals), in conjunction with Carmen de Lavallade’s choreography, brought the spectacular Act Two riot and Act Three Johannistag festival vividly to life, and were also effective in Sachs’s monologues and in Beckmesser’s solo turn in Act Three.

James Morris as Hans Sachs and Johan Botha as Walther in Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Photograph: Ken Howard/Metropolitan OperaJames Levine conducted, as he has in all but one of this production’s previous 31 performances, drawing sensitive playing from the Met Orchestra that was faithful to every detail in Wagner’s score. The members of the Met Chorus, prepared by Donald Palumbo, also performed brilliantly as they portrayed congregants, apprentices, rioting neighbors and, in the final scene, Guild members and celebratory townspeople.

When Johan Reuter, who was to have sung the role of Hans Sachs in this revival, withdrew, the Met turned to James Morris, who has sung the role in every Met performance since 2001 and will portray Sachs in five of the current seven performances. (Michael Volle will take on the role in the other two performances, including the December 13 matinee that will be broadcast worldwide.) Morris, who came to the role of Sachs quite late in his career, but made it one of his signature roles, persuasively conveyed the philosopher-poet-cobbler’s dignity, wisdom and humanity. His voice still projects a rich bass sonority, but it seemed to tire in the demanding final scene.

Annette Dasch as Eva and Johan Botha as Walther in Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Photograph: Ken Howard/Metropolitan OperaJohan Botha was a vocally ideal Walther, superbly depicting the evolution of his ‘Prize Song’, and finally delivering it in definitive form in glorious clarion tones before the assembled populace. This enables him to marry his beloved Eva, sung by Annette Dasch in her first Met role since her 2009 debut as the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro. Her voice, although on the small side, was luminous, especially in her solo preceding the marvelous Act Three ‘Quintet’, and she exuded enormous charm, enough to make every bachelor eager to enter the Song Contest to win her hand.

Paul Appleby gave an excellent portrayal of David, Sachs’s Lehrbube (apprentice), a sort of ‘everyman’ character who serves as the audience’s guide and with whom we can readily identify. He is entrusted with a great deal of the opera’s expository material, most notably his explanation to Walther (and to us) of the workings of the Mastersingers’ Guild and their art, and his physical comedy plays a major part in the hostilities of Act Two and the festivities of Act Three. Appleby brought a pleasing tenor voice and a winning persona to the role, evoking our sympathy as Magdalene, Eva’s nurse, sung with clarity by Karen Cargill, toyed with his affections by providing (or withholding) baskets of food.

Johannes Martin Kränzle made a most auspicious Met debut as Sixtus Beckmesser, the Town Clerk and would-be suitor of Eva, who comes to grief in the final scene. It falls to the portrayer of this opera’s most enigmatic character to flesh out his actions and emotions and thereby bring Beckmesser to life. Kränzle’s Beckmesser seemed to combine elements of malice and vindictiveness that marked Hans-Joachim Ketelsen’s portrayal of the Clerk in 2007 with the conniving, petulant and pathetic character portrayed in earlier runs of this production by respectively Hermann Prey and Thomas Allen. Kränzle was vocally excellent and he carried off with masterful and perfectly timed gestures Beckmesser’s refusal to shake Walther’s hand, his antics in the Marker’s booth, his frustration when serenading Eva, and his humiliating failure to win the Song Contest.

Hans-Peter König gave a superlative performance as Pogner, his deep bass voice ringing out as he projected the dignity and geniality of Eva’s well-meaning but somewhat misguided father. Two other portrayers of Mastersingers were making Met debuts. Martin Gantner was impressive as Kothner, particularly in the florid passages of his reading of the “Tabulatur” – the Guild’s rules, and Benjamin Bliss chimed in capably as Vogelsang. Matthew Rose was excellent in the brief but amusing role of the Night Watchman who is completely oblivious to the chaotic happenings around him.

Although the entire performance was outstanding, the final Act was especially magnificent, from the sublime Prelude, to the joyous festivities in the meadow, where Kränzle’s hilariously confused singing was topped by Botha’s superb rendition of the ‘Prize Song’. In between, the goings-on in Sachs’s house were simply wonderful. Kränzle’s enactment of Beckmesser’s surreptitious search was priceless as the still-sore Clerk mimed his ill-fated adventure of the night before, angrily scattered Sachs’s papers, and then fell squarely into Sachs’s clever trap after discovering the cobbler’s handwritten copy of Walther’s song. The closing ‘Quintet’ was extraordinarily beautiful.

Mixed in with the spectacle, humor and romance, Wagner gives us a great deal to ponder concerning the nature of art and its creation. Although Wagner prefers Walther’s spontaneous creativity to Beckmesser’s rule-bound outlook, it is Sachs’s more balanced view that prevails: Tradition, although important, must bend to accept new ideas.

  • Further performances on December 6, 9, 13 (matinee), 17, 20 & 23
  • The December 13 matinee will be broadcast live into cinemas worldwide (Michael Volle takes the role of Hans Sachs)
  • Metropolitan Opera

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