A scene from Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Photo: Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera
Reviewed by James Karas
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg has a number of unique features: it is Richard Wagner’s only comic opera; it holds the Guinness World record as the longest opera; it is an opera that manages to be of epic proportions and comic at the same time.
The Metropolitan Opera has revived Otto Schenk’s 1993 production for the last time and sent it around the world in HD. Not everyone in the theatre had the stamina to stay for the full six hours but those who did were treated to a grand production, vocally, musically and theatrically.
German baritone Michael Volle dominated the performance in the role of Hans Sacks, the humane shoemaker and mastersinger in 16th century Nürnberg. Volle’s sonorous voice is perfect for evoking Sack’s humanity, humour and decency. He maintains his dignity and generosity including the self-awareness that he is too old for Eva, the heroine of the opera. A performance that is as attractive and enjoyable as the character that Volle is playing.
South African tenor Johan Botha plays Walther von Stolzing, the knight who comes to Nürnberg and falls in love with Eva, the goldsmith’s daughter. Knights used to get the girl by defeating the competition in battle; in Nürnberg he has to best everyone in singing. If he does, he will marry Eva. Our knight has the voice but not the knowledge and he has a few hours to master rules and compose a Prize Song. Botha has a marvelous voice displaying both romantic fervour and power. But there is a problem that may be made worse by the close-ups of watching the opera in the movie theatre.
Stolzing is the dashing knight that Eva falls in love with at first sight. We are quite used to singers who are a poor match for the way we imagine a character and critics should avoid commenting on a singer’s appearance. But in the case of Botha suspension of disbelief becomes almost impossible. He is a big man, who moves awkwardly and the idea of him as a figure of romance is hard to fathom.
German soprano Annette Dasch made a wholesome and pretty Eva with a sweet voice and even sweeter manner. The daughter of the wealthy goldsmith Pogner (done well by Hans-Peter König), she is a worthy objective for a knight or any man. Dasch knows when to look alluring and sing beautifully to give us an exemplary Eva.
Tenor Paul Appleby comes in for special praise. He is a young artist who performed the role of the apprentice David with delightful verve, energy, agility and just plain joy. His supple voice stood him in good stead for a very good performance.
German baritone Johannes Martin Kränzle got the juicy role of the foolish and nasty Beckmesser. He wants to beat all the mastersingers and get Eva but he makes a laughingstock of himself, gets his comeuppance and does not get the girl. Kränzle gives a superb performance.
Otto Schenk’s production can be classified as traditional with the additional phrase of “they don’t make them like they used to” attached to it. The production will be retired at the end of the year and we will have to wait for the next view of the opera.
Schenk is Franco Zeffirelli with restraint and common sense. The set is by Günther Schneider-Siemssen. The opening scene in the nave of the church is grand without being ostentatious. The street scene and the interior of Sacks’s workshop are realistic and attractive, displaying a well-ordered and well-off city. The final scene is supposed to be in a meadow on the banks of a river but looks more like a wide street with rising steps.
Die Meistersinger has a demanding score and surely few conductors and orchestras can equal James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra in performing it. The length of the opera is bound to get to you – concentrate on the orchestra when it does!
The Live in HD Director was Matthew Diamond who decided on exactly what we would see on the screen with sense, intelligence and taste. That is no small achievement when he is compared to some of his colleagues who think opera on the screen is a video game
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Richard Wagner was shown Live in HD from the Metropolitan Opera on December 13, 2014 at the Cineplex Odeon Eglinton Town Centre Cinema, 22 Lebovic Avenue, Toronto, Ontario and other theatres. Encores will be shown on February 7 and 23, 2015. For more information call (416)-752-4494 or visit www.cineplex.com/events.