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 – Michael Volle
Veit Pogner – Georg Zeppenfeld
Kunz Vogelsang – Miles Mykkanen
Konrad Nachtigall – Mark Delevan
Sixtus Beckmesser – Johannes Martin Kränzle
Fritz Kothner – Martin Gantner
Balthasar Zorn – Chaz’men Williams-Ali
Ulrich Eißlinger – Scott Scully
Augustin Moser – Robert Watson
Herrmann Ortel – Bradley Garvin
Hans Schwarz – Scott Conner
Hans Foltz – Richard Bernstein
Walther von Stolzing – Klaus Florian Vogt
David – Paul Appleby
Eva – Lise Davidsen
Magdalene – Claudia Mahnke
Night Watchman – Alexander Tsymbalyuk
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus
Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
Sir Antonio Pappano
Otto Schenk – Production
Günther Schneider-Siemssen – Set design
Rolf Langenfass – Costume design
Gil Wechsler – Lighting design
Carmen de Lavallade – Choreographer
Paula Suozzi – Revival stage director
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 26 October, 2021
Venue: Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York City
This is The Metropolitan Opera’s seventh revival of Otto Schenk’s 1993 production of Richard Wagner’s comic masterpiece. It had been slated to be retired and replaced in the 2019-20 season by the Stefan Herheim production that premiered at the 2013 Salzburg Festival, but by 2016 that plan had fallen apart and was abandoned. Instead, the Schenk production has now been dusted off to serve as the vehicle for the much-anticipated return to The Met of Sir Antonio Pappano, nearly twenty-five years after his only other stint here, leading a run of Eugene Onegin in the spring of 1997. He was greeted loudly by the first-night audience and cheered enthusiastically before each Act and at the final curtain call.
Returning to this production in three critical roles are Michael Volle as the cobbler-poet Hans Sachs, Paul Appleby as his apprentice, David, and Johannes Martin Kränzle as the town clerk, Sixtus Beckmesser. Sachs, the opera’s central figure and the expounder of Wagner’s philosophical views, engineers the plot machinations that bring the lovers Eva and Walther together. He thwarts Beckmesser, not only as Walther’s rival suitor, but also as a closed-minded obstacle to the expansive and evolutionary view of the nature of art that Walther and Sachs represent. David, who is on the stage much of the time, serves as the audience’s guide as he explains to Walther (and to us) the workings of the Mastersingers’ Guild and their art.
Volle brings out Sachs’s avuncular nature as he works to bring Eva’s dreams to fulfillment, and he is a stern but ultimately soft-hearted mentor to his apprentice. He communicates a passionate commitment to art in his arguments with Beckmesser and, in the final scene, when he persuades Walther to join the Mastersingers’ Guild. Volle’s rich baritone voice takes on a gentle quality in his extended soliloquy in Act Three, but rings out forcefully when Sachs disrupts Beckmesser’s attempt to serenade Eva, and, in the final scene, as he urges respect for the masters of German art.
Kränzle’s vocally excellent portrayal of Beckmesser, the most enigmatic of all the characters, has elements of malice, vindictiveness, and petulance. His comedic timing is perfect in Beckmesser’s refusal to shake Walther’s hand, his antics in the Marker’s booth, his frustration when his serenading of Eva is ‘marked’ by Sachs with hammer blows, and, finally, in his humiliating failure to win the song contest. His surreptitious search of the shoemaker’s shop is a hilarious gem as Beckmesser’s scatters papers and finally discovers Sachs’s handwritten copy of Walther’s song, thereby falling squarely into the cobbler’s clever trap.
Paul Appleby gives an fine account of David, his physical comedy excellent in the hostilities of Act Two and the festivities of Act Three. We sympathize with David as he suffers the taunts of his fellow apprentices and Sachs’s scolding, and as Magdalene toys with his affections by providing (or withholding) baskets of food. Claudia Mahnke, in her Met debut, sings with a lovely mezzo voice as Magdalene, serving as Eva’s diligent companion and an effective comedic partner to David.
The lovers at the center of the opera’s story are glowingly portrayed by German tenor Klaus Florian Vogt as Walther von Stolzing and Norwegian soprano Lise Davidsen as Eva. This is Vogt’s third Wagner role at The Met, having sung the title roles of Lohengrin in 2006 and Parsifal in 2018. His Walther is fiercely aggressive and independent, reluctant to conform to others’ rules. Wagner clearly prefers Walther’s spontaneous creativity to Beckmesser’s rule-bound outlook, but in the end leaves it to Sachs to strike a balance in which tradition remains important but must bend to accept new ideas. These philosophical points emerge through the vehicle of Walther’s evolving Prize Song, which Vogt performs with stunning beauty, its glorious definitive form sung before the assembled populace which proclaims him the contest winner, thereby enabling him to marry his beloved Eva. Although Walther has a generally serious demeanor, Vogt manages to inject some humor into the proceedings, as when he mimic’s Pogner’s deep voice proclaiming that only a Mastersinger may wed Eva.
This is Davidsen’s second Met role (she was Lisa in The Queen of Spades in 2019), but only the first of three in the current season, as she will sing the title role in Ariadne auf Naxos in March and Chrysothemis in Elektra in April. She imbues Eva with winning charm that explains how she has so quickly captivated the visiting knight, Walther, and her powerful yet crystalline voice more than holds its own in ensemble numbers, most notably the magnificent Act Three quintet, atop which her vocal line, along with Vogt’s, rings out gorgeously.
Outstanding among the Mastersingers are Georg Zeppenfeld as Eva’s father, Veit Pogner, his bass voice projecting dignity and geniality, and baritone Martin Gantner as Fritz Kothner, particularly impressive in the florid passages of his reading of the ‘Tabulatur’ of the Guild’s rules. Two other portrayers of Mastersingers were making Met debuts: Chaz’men Williams-Ali as Balthasar Zorn, and Robert Watson as Augustin Moser. Alexander Tsymbalyuk was an amusing Night Watchman, completely oblivious to the chaotic happenings on his watch.
Under Pappano’s baton, the Met Orchestra gave a superb reading of Wagner’s rich score, the opening Prelude stirring and majestic, and the introspective one to Act Three featuring delicate playing by the strings, kept in perfect balance with the mellow and resonant brass. Pappano is unerring in adjusting tempos and dynamics to create anticipation or emphasis at crucial moments. The recurring melody of Walther’s Prize Song and the jovial music associated with David and Magdalena are skillfully interwoven throughout the opera, and the joyous festivities in the meadow brim with rustic charm. The Met Chorus, under the direction of Donald Palumbo, sings brilliantly as they make the Nürnberg populace a significant and lively presence.
Although I share in the sense of loss over The Met’s abandonment of the acclaimed, innovative Herheim Meistersinger, I am delighted to have had this unanticipated opportunity to spend yet another heartwarming several hours immersed in Schenk’s vivid depiction of sixteenth-century Nürnberg, aided by Rolf Langenfass’s meticulously detailed costumes and Günther Schneider-Siemssen’s attractive and realistic sets. Paula Suozzi’s stage direction animates Wagner’s portrayal of a day in the life of a thriving medieval community, populated by real people, replete with human emotions, virtues, faults, and foibles. Her deft touch is evident in Sachs’s introspective monologues and in Beckmesser’s hilarious visit to the cobbler’s shop. Carmen de Lavallade’s choreography of the Act Two riot and Act Three Johannistag festival is brilliant.
Further performances on October 30 (matinee), November 4, 7 (matinee), 11 and 14 (matinee)