United States Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera / Sir Antonio Pappano (conductor), Metropolitan Opera, New York, 26.10.2021. (RP)
Director – Otto Schenk
Sets – Günther Schneider-Siemssen
Costumes – Rolf Langenfass
Lighting – Gil Wechsler
Choreographer – Carmen De Lavallade
Revival stage director – Paula Suozzi
Eva – Lise Davidsen
Magdalene – Claudia Mahnke
Walther von Stolzing – Klaus Florian Vogt
David – Paul Appleby
Hans Sachs – Michael Volle
Beckmesser – Johannes Martin Kränzle
Kothner – Martin Gantner
Pogner – Georg Zeppenfeld
Watchman – Alexander Tsymbalyuk
This was a glorious evening at the Metropolitan Opera which, but for the pandemic, would not have been. Otto Schenk’s traditional 1993 production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg with Günther Schneider-Siemssen’s storybook sets was to have been retired after its 2014 run. Stefan Herheim’s whimsical production, first seen at the Salzburg Festival in 2013, was scheduled for the 2019/20 season.
For many in the audience, including this critic who saw the production when it premiered, it was a trip down memory lane. For those new to Wagner’s comic masterpiece, it was an introduction to the opera as Wagner himself might have envisioned it. Given the number of young people in the audience, they seized the opportunity. Their presence, plus the standing ovation and bravos during the curtain calls, must have been a boon to Peter Gelb, the Met’s General Manager.
Wagner composed the opera in the 1860s, and he mined the vein of growing German nationalism (Germany was not unified as a country until 1871) in crafting this tale of a guild of mastersingers in sixteenth-century Nürnberg. However, he pitted tradition against the new. When Walter von Stolzing, a stranger to all, sings his song of love for the guild, he is rejected by the masters. Only Hans Sachs intuits the young knight’s artistry and musters the wherewithal to make it bloom.
The Met assembled a dream cast for this revival. Michael Volle was a splendid Hans Sachs: his stentorian baritone effortlessly carries throughout the house at any dynamic level. The tender scenes with Eva in Act II and later with Walther as he coaches him in the creation of his prize-winning song were beautifully sung and acted. Especially moving was his rebuff of Eva when she offered her hand to him in marriage. The spark is there and perhaps the flesh is willing, but she is to be the dashing young knight’s bride. He deservedly received the loudest ovation of the night.
Many a Wagnerian’s hopes rest on Lise Davidsen, whom Met audience have embraced since her 2019 debut as Lisa in Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades. In her first Wagnerian role at in the house, she did not disappoint. Her voice is youthful and fresh with a glistening metallic sheen that heralds of great things to come, and her compelling stage presence is just as important. In all ways, Davidsen was a perfect Eva.
Once in a generation or so, a tenor comes along with the dashing good looks and voice to make Wagner’s heroes come alive. Klaus Florian Vogt is one such man. Now in his early fifties, Vogt’s voice has retained its youthful freshness and pliancy. He is also a fabulous actor: his ‘Morgenlich leuchtend im rosigen Schein’, the song with which Walther wins the prize in the singing completion and Eva’s hand in marriage, was superb.
Johannes Martin Kränzle’s Beckmesser was a delight. As full-voiced as Volle, Kränzle was a bundle of ego and delusion as he seeks to woo Eva. Buoyant and youthful, Paul Appleby was an endearing, if slightly dimwitted David. Appleby’s gleaming tenor lifted every scene in which he appeared. Georg Zeppenfeld was a warm, all-knowing Pogner, a father attentive to his daughter’s wishes. And although his appearances are brief as the Watchman, bass Alexander Tsymbalyuk made an impact with his resonant voice. Making her company debut, Claudia Mahnke’s Magdalene was a star turn, vivacious in spirit and beautifully sung.
The return of Sir Antonio Pappano to the Met for the first time since 1997 was also a highly anticipated event. Music director of the Royal Opera House at London’s Covent Garden since 2002, Pappano has had no time to guest conduct in any opera house. He took a measured approach to the score that let it unfurl naturally. Perhaps some of its majesty was missing, but the emotional connection with the music was never lacking.
The most remarkable orchestral playing came in the preludes to the opera’s three acts. Schenk is a wise man who keeps the curtain closed, with nothing to distract from the music. The somber orchestral prelude to Act III was stunning, as was the beloved quintet from the same act.
It was not a perfect performance. There were some tuning issues in the orchestra, and the Met chorus still seems to be finding its footing. The dancing in ‘Tanz der Lehrbuben’ (Dance of the Apprentices) was also a bit slipshod. Such instances, however, were fleeting. The Met chorus and orchestra are still one of the glories of the operatic world. And as if to make the point, the hymn of praise to Hans Sachs, ‘Wach’ auf, es nahet gen den Tag’, using words written by the historical Sachs himself, was simply glorious.