(Richard Wagner) (Met, N.Y., Dec. 2014)
Whilst perhaps a German might find an opera of over 6 hours duration a droll concept, only Richard Wagner would turn that concept into reality. Yet in mirific fashion, he succeeds with his most human and entertaining work, a wonderful mix of romance and comedy that does not equate, thanks god, to a ‘romantic comedy’. From the Magisterial overture to the polyphonous redux of the Masters’ motto, we are enthralled and can even look past the score-settling with critics like Eduard Hanslick (the libretto originally had Beckmesser as ‘Hanslich’), with Jews such as Meyerbeer, with the traditionalists’ shock of the new, and closing rants extolling the purity of German art. Wagner may have been verballed here: if der Führer had truly ‘honoured his German masters, humanity may have been stayed his disasters’.
Wagner suggested that the inspiration for Meistersinger came from viewing Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin (below) while on a visit to the Wesendoncks in Venice in 1861. It has also been suggested that there are autobiographical elements in the form of Walther and Sachs.
TVC caught the high-definition film of the Metropolitan Opera’s December 2014 production featuring Annette Dasch as Eva, Michael Volle as Hans Sachs, Johan Botha as the Knight errant and Johannes Martin Kränzle as Beckmesser. Beautifully if traditionally staged (the street in Nuremberg evokes the F. W. Wanderer painting of the Muse visiting Sachs in his cottage) and sung, particularly by Hans and his Falstaffian protégé, directed with a rare verve for filmed opera, as conducted by the legendary James Levine, the music was controlled yet joyous, with sufficient space and deference to the singers, none of whom had been versungen.
Plagued with nasty back problems in recent years, Levine has the type of disposition that regards his need for a wheelchair atop the pit as a special piece of luck – it enables him to get through the vigorous endurance test of conducting Meistersinger in relative comfort. TVC had an uncrowded Palace Nova Cinema in Adelaide to view it and was sustained by the freedom to remove tie, shoes, and imbibe from the cinema’s unique “Epic-standard” wine glasses. At the end, around one am, TVC’s slate was pretty much free of marks.