NEW YORK CITY: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

The Metropolitan Opera

In Review Met Meistersinger hdl 315
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Met, with Cargill, Appleby, Morris, Botha and Dasch
© Beth Bergman 2015

When the Met revived Otto Schenk’s 1993 production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, on December 2, the evening had a valedictory feel. James Levine, who had conducted the production since it was new twenty-one years ago, was back in the orchestra pit, and James Morris, forty-three years after his Met debut, returned as Sachs when Johan Reuter bowed out of the engagement before rehearsals began. But there was a deeper undercurrent. Schenk’s production, which is not expected to return again, is of a type already rare in Europe and probably not long for the Met either. The four scene designs are entirely realistic and representative of Wagner’s instructions, there is a full complement of extra musicians and dancers, and the company fielded enough choristers and supernumeraries to fill out the individual processions of tailors, bakers and shoemakers in the finale. 

Levine’s interpretation reveled in the details, such as the perfect amount of vinegary string ponticello under the two pairs of mellow horns in the lead-in to Sachs’s “Flieder” monologue, the gleeful accents as the orchestra merrily bashed about in Sachs’s “Jerum” song, the little orchestral explosions and chain reactions underneath David’s music and the prancing rhythmic inflections that colored the scene of David and Sachs in the workshop. But Levine’s masterpiece was the Sachs–Eva scene in Act II, in which each stage of the progression from bantering to deeper understanding of the other character’s situation was richly inflected. (There was none of this in Schenk’s stage direction, which is now under the care of Paula Suozzi.) Levine returned in glory, but Morris was cautious in the gargantuan assignment. For two acts he mostly indicated how the role ought to go, without quite doing it, but in the workshop scene his voice, which had hardly seemed to be anchored to anything, hinted at earlier triumphs at the start of the “Wahn” monologue and the composing scene with Walther. At this late stage of his career he might have deepened his characterization, but he still plays Sachs as merely avuncular and jovial, ignoring the prickly, sarcastic and angry sides.

On the forward-looking side, there was a tremendous Met debut for Johannes Martin Kränzle as Beckmesser. All of the many layers in the character were accounted for, but he was never ridiculous. He was proud of his wooing song in Act II, and his competition performance was an etude in missing the point with absolute commitment, yet the character was so real that he had the audience’s full sympathy. Annette Dasch was a young, fresh Eva, the voice full of sap (one stray high note in “O Sachs! Mein Freund!” aside). She was charming as an actress in Act II, showing how Eva overplays her hand. Hans-Peter König has the firm, full voice for Pogner; if he would add a generous legato he would be magnificent. The David and Magdalene, Paul Appleby and Karen Cargill, had opposing vocal approaches: he was always present but never forced, while she, with a less focused voice, didn’t trust Levine and the acoustics and often pushed too hard. Johan Botha repeated his familiar Walther, thrilling in “Ha! diese Meister!” but intimate in the workshop. 

The chorus managed to sing as magnificently in the frenzy of Act II as they did standing still in the festival meadow. The oboe-playing was balm to the ear for all six hours, and the horn quartet in the prelude to Act III was a superb group. But the solo cello was vibrato-ridden, and Matthew Rose did damage as the Nightwatchman. Wagner asked him to sing his second call “with a gently quavering voice,” but Rose stood downstage center and sang it like Wotan’s farewell. spacer 



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