Saturday, April 7, 2007

WAGNER : DIE MEISTERSINGER

WAGNER'S MASTERSINGERS
Radio New Zealand Concert network

Sunday 18th of September 2016 at 6.03 - 11 pm
Sunday 11th of January 2015 at 6.03 pm -12 am
Sunday 17th of April 2012 at 3 - 8.25 pm
Sunday 8th of April 2007 at 3pm

WAGNER: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg,
The Mastersingers of Nuremberg,
an opera in three (long!) acts
The cobbler poet Hans Sachs, hearing a fresh but unformed poetic voice in the young knight Walther, helps him win the master-singer contest, and with it the hand of Eva
2016
Hans Sachs.................. James Rutherford
Eva............................... Rachel Willis-Sorensen
Magdalene................... Sasha Cooke
Walter von Stolzing..... Brandon Jovanovich
David........................... Alek Shrader
Sixtus Beckmesser....... Martin Gantner
Veit Pogner.................. Ain Anger
San Francisco Opera Chorus and Orchestra/Mark Elder
2015
Eva................................... Annette Dasch
Magdalena........................ Karen Cargill
Walther............................ Johan Botha
David................................ Paul Appleby
Hans Sachs....................... Michael Volle
Pogner.............................. Hans-Peter König
Sixtus Beckmesser........... Johannes Martin
Fritz Kothner.................... Martin Gantner
Kunz Vogelgesang........... Benjamin Bliss
Konrad Nachtigall............ John Moore
Hermann Ortel................. David Crawford
Balthasar Zorn................. David Cangelosi
Augustin Moser............... Noah Baetge
Ulrich Eisslinger.............. Tony Stevenson
Hans Foltz........................ Brian Kontes
Hans Schwarz................... Ricardo Lugo
Nightwatchman................ Matthew Rose
Apprentice........................ Rosalie Sullivan
Scream............................. Marie Te Hapuku
Metropolitan Opera Chorus & Orch/James Levine

INTRODUCTION
RECORDINGS  (Video)
RECORDINGS (Audio)

REVIEW (Bayreuth 2007-8)
GERMAN LIBRETTO

LIBRETTO (Deutsch + English)

Here it is! The wonderful top-class opera set in 16th-century Germany, celebrating and illuminating life in Nürnberg, that same Nuremberg where the Nazi war-criminals, all Wagner-lovers, were put on trial. In this opera we see aspiring master-singers put on trial, or in competitions to perform their compositions, and striving to produce a prize-song. Here comes the procession of the old trade-guilds; when I first learned about them in school, the sound of the word guild sounded delicious; and now Wagner's distillation of the music of the guild of mastersingers thrills and delights me. My schoolmate Brian Taylor has gone further and become an expert on the lore of the Meistersänger. Some of their technical terms are hurled at us by the apprentice David in the first act.

I have managed to see this great opera three times in my life (London [Coliseum], Sydney, Wellington). I have various recordings, and one of them has Placido Domingo as the hero-tenor with a Spanish accent (which is acceptable in Parsifal, because the Grail-Castle is in Spain), but Meistersinger is quintessentially Teutonic. Never mind, when he goes onto the stage these days as Siegmund in The Valkyrie, his German vowels are convincing.

The highlights for me are: the meditative prelude to Act 3 (Hans Sachs brooding); the Prize Song (sung by Walther at the end, but with various versions throughout the act, as Sachs helps him put it together, and also a trial song in Act 1); and the quintet is marvelous; Sachs has a couple of monologues, and there are duets, and rousing choruses, the grand ensemble brawl at the end of Act 2, and dances. Bless me, Wagner has gone back to writing operas! And it's a comic opera! And it's so human and divine that it takes your breath away.

We all know the trouble Wagner had in Paris about the necessity for a ballet in the second act of an opera: he thought the orgiastic dancing of the Venusberg scene in the first act of Tannhäuser would satisfy them, but no, rioting broke out. The second act of The Mastersingers begins with a rowdy little scene with apprentices fooling around on the eve of midsummer day. In the third act the composer has given them their own "dance of the apprentices", but in the Wellington production they did a mini-ballet at this point. Someone had decided there should be a makeshift curtain on the stage of the Michael Fowler Centre, to hide the scene-changing. On the night when I was in the audience (with my Helen), the curtain merely went up part of the way, so that only the moving legs were visible. And this was in the presence of Wolfgang Wagner, who had come to see Donald McIntyre as Hans Sachs. (Years later I heard a silly rumour that this was not accidental but intentional!)

Wagner's own stage settings will always defeat the producers who want to enact operas on a chessboard or on a subway train. It has to start in a church (not a brothel); next, it can only be a street with houses and a shoemaker's shop (not a hairdresser's salon); and finally an open meadow brightly lit by sunshine (not a dark sleazy saloon in a cellar); and even though it ends with fulsome praise of all things Deutsch, there are no grounds for dressing the members of the guilds in Nazi uniforms with German swastika emblems.

Nevertheless,  because the opera and the Bayreuth Festival had been used in Nazi propaganda under the Third Reich,  in 1956, Wieland Wagner, one of the composer's grandsons, removed German nationalism from the stage, making his production "The Mastersingers without Nuremberg". And in 2007-8, Wagner's great granddaughter Katharina Wagner had the Mastersingers in modern clothing as teachers in a school where the apprentices are the pupils; in the first act, Walther is a rebel, painting graffiti all over the place, and Sachs shows his defiance by smoking cigarettes (not a tobacco pipe); in the second act he does not use a hammer and a shoe-last to mark time, but taps it out on a typewriter. I could not find the precious guilds in Act 3. It is shocking to watch, though it is good to hear it; and the review seeks to justify her approach, but I still don't get it.

I have not mentioned Beckmesser, the marker, the rival for the hand of Eva (not only in competition with Walther but also the old widower Hans Sachs, who eventually decided he did not want to be like King Mark, married to young Isolde, and Wagner quotes from his own Tristan music to underline this). Incidentally, like Wagner, the real Hans Sachs (1494-1576) wrote a drama about the death of Siegfried.

What I liked most about the Wellington version was the final touch when Sachs and Beckmesser came together in cheerful reconciliation (Beckmesser does not usually wait to hear the prize song). This, as much as the poet winning his bride with his prize-song, made it a happy ending for me.

In the 2012 broadcast (ROH London) Walther is played by a tenor from New Zealand who has been mentored by Donald McIntyre, namely Simon O'Neill.
Eva............................... Emma Bell
Magdalena.................... Heather Shipp
Walther......................... Simon O'Neill
David............................ Toby Spence
Hans Sachs................... Wolfgang Koch
Pogner.......................... John Tomlinson
Beckmesser.................. Peter Coleman-Wright
Kothner........................ Donald Maxwell
Vogelgesang.................. Colin Judson
Nachtigall...................... Nicholas Folwell
Ortel............................. Jihoon Kim
Zorn.............................. Martyn Hill
Moser........................... Pablo Bemsch
Eisslinger....................... Andrew Rees
Foltz............................. Jeremy White
Schwarz........................ Richard Wiegold
Nightwatchman............. Robert Lloyd
Chorus & Orch of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden/Antonio Pappano (recorded in the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London by the BBC)

New York Metropolitan Opera Broadcast
Sunday 8th of April 2007 at 3pm

Radio New Zealand Concert network

APPENDIX (bursting with venom)
(RNZ has spent $305,000 dollars of our precious money on "rebranding"; this is sheer commercialism, the very thing its loyal listeners come to them to get away from; they use a white-hot branding-iron on us and expect us not to wince or whine; but we should not have to bear it. Nevertheless, we have to be resignedly grateful for all these opera broadcasts, and especially two of Wagner's "greatest hits" at one Easter time. Another listening marathon, after the Parsifal broadcast on Good Friday, but record it if you can and come back to it again.)

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