Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

SF Opera's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

_B5A0405* Notes *
Let's not beat around the bush on this one, San Francisco Opera's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg  is very long and not for the faint of heart. Maestro Mark Elder's style is glacial, and while every single beautiful note is heard, it seemed tough on both the orchestra and the singers. Coupled with the attractive but tame production, it can make for a monotonous evening despite the gorgeous singing.

The exceedingly slow tempi are stately and Elder certainly had control of the orchestra. Playing that unhurriedly does seem to wear on the musicians though, and there was an obvious mistake by the oboe player in Act II and a painful brass blooper in Act III. Quite a surprise, given the oboist normally plays very beautifully and in this piece, the brass did really well otherwise. The singers got ahead of the orchestra, which is a distinct rarity.

The production by David McVicar is mild. The action happens under a fancy vaulted ceiling the whole time, with other elements to change the scenes. The switch from Hans Sachs' house in Act III Scene 1 to the festival banks of the River Pegnitz (pictured above, photograph by Cory Weaver) in Scene 2 was wonderfully quiet. The costumes look like pretty cast-offs from a film adapted from Jane Austen, so it seems the setting is updated a few centuries. The choreography of the chorus in the first two acts is a bit on the silly side, and doesn't quite match the music or the setting. All that said, the production did not get in the way of Wagner's opera. It could have been funnier though.

The cast has a lot to recommend it. The bright tones of Sasha Cooke (Magdelena) and Alek Shrader (David) cut through the orchestration. Cooke has a particularly lovely voice, and one only wanted to hear more of her, the role being relatively small. As Eva, Rachel Willis-Sørensen has a cold, piercing sound but isn't nearly as grating or scary as some Wagnerian sopranos.

I really loved Martin Gantner as Beckmesser, his characterization is spot on and his voice has such pretty resonances. Brandon Jovanovich cuts a bold figure as Walther von Stolzing, he was fighting a cold during the first performance, which wasn't announced until before Act III. He almost lost it at the end of his big Act I aria, but managed to keep it together. He sounded tentative in the final act, but did sing the whole role.

James Rutherford is an impressive Hans Sachs, his voice has much vigor. He might sound a touch youthful for the role but he gave an imposing and solid performance.

* Tattling *
There was hardly anyone in the last rows of the balcony, and it was easy to see the stage from standing room. Someone a few rows ahead of the very back of the house had her flashlight on for the beginning of the opera, but her companion slapped her hand and insisted she put it away.

Some of the house staff was at the back of the balcony listening to the end of the opera, but one of their walkie-talkies sounded and they hurried away before they could hear the finale.

Final Dress of SF Opera's Meistersinger

Meistersinger-rehearsal-sfo* Notes *
It was a distinct pleasure to see and hear the final dress rehearsal of San Francisco Opera's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (Brandon Jovanovich and the cast pictured left) was held last night at the War Memorial Opera House. The cast is great, and I'm sure they will be even better once everyone is singing out for the first performance on Wednesday.

The orchestra beautiful and I loved hearing the musicians, despite Maestro Mark Elder's very slow tempi. It was so nice to see the violist carefully make notes in their scores and I appreciate sitting in the side boxes as to observe the members of the orchestra. The production is tame, there's some cute dancing, and the jugglers need to work on their act.

* Tattling *
It was fun to attend an Orpheus (the young people's donor program) event in the Jeannik Méquet Littlefield Intermezzo Lounge. I heard that the programming for the theater in the Diane B. Wilsey Center for Opera will be announced this week and while there is no Baroque opera, Matthias Goerne will be singing Schubert.

Also, it seems that some members (a violist and hornist?) of San Francisco Symphony are part of Orpheus, which is lovely to see.

Wahn! Wahn! Überall Wahn!

Bayreuther-meistersinger * Notes * 
Katharina Wagner's production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Bayreuther Festspiele is simply dumbfounding. From the very beginning it was clear that the person behind the absurd staging was exceedingly detail-oriented and highly neurotic. The concept seemed well thought out and read clearly, and better yet was carried through to the end. The joyousness of the riot at the end of Act II was particularly wonderful. There were shoes falling from the sky; enormous soup cans full of paint; dancing statues of Wagner, Dürer, and others; not to mention plenty of obsessive cleaning.

Sebastian Weigle kept the orchestra moving, though just the slightest bit lax, the playing was still lovely. The chorus, directed by Eberhard Friedrich was entirely committed to both the music and the choreography.

For the most part the singing was perfectly fine, though overall somewhat quiet. Carola Guber was able to convey a certain shrewish annoying quality as Magdalene. Norbert Ernst (David) was pleasantly neurotic, and his pianissimo is appealing. Michaela Kaune could be petulant as Eva, but her singing in the ensemble at the end of Act III Scene 4 was charming. Adrian Eröd amused as Beckmesser, he had a great deal of strain at times in the beginning, but he was a good foil for Klaus Florian Vogt (Walther). Vogt sang with great beauty, sweetness, volume, and effortlessness. On the other hand was our Hans Sachs, Alan Titus, who acted well but lacked both ease and a rich, full tone.

* Tattling * 
A German man in Row 4 Seat 8 on the right side of the Parkett spoke during the music of Act I, and both my companion and I turned around at exactly the same time to give him a stern look. He only spoke once more audibly, when he could not read "Beck in Town" on Beckmesser's t-shirt in Act III. He did press against my companion's seat, and she quite naughtily fondled his knee, which was effective in getting him to stop. The May/December couple in Row 2 Seats 11 and 12 also whispered a good deal, and blocked the view of the woman to my left with their constant movement. The May half of the pair accidentally grabbed my foot when she was trying to adjust her seat cushion.

There was much laughter and murmuring from the audience. I, for one, nearly had a break-down trying to keep my hysterical giggling under control. There were scattered boos at the ends of Act II and III, and very hearty booing for Katharina when she came out for her curtain call.

Gran Teatre del Liceu's 2008-2009 Season

October 4-20 2008: Tiefland
November 11-30 2008: Le nozze di Figaro
December 23 2008- January 14 2009: Simon Boccanegra
January 3-10 2009: El retablo de Maese Pedro
February 3-15 2009: L'incoronazione di Poppea
March 17- April 18 2009: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
April 20- May 2 2009: La cabeza del Bautista
May 18- June 2 2009: Fidelio
June 19- July 7 2009: Salome
July 21-31 2009: Turandot

Barcelona's opera season was announced in January. Karita Mattila sings Fidelio, Nina Stemme sings Salome, and Bo Skovhus sings in Die Meistersinger. The one Baroque offering is a production by David Alden.

2008-2009 Season | Official Site

Die heil'ge deutsche Kunst!

BsomeistersingerThe Münchner Festspiele and the 2002-2003 opera season at the Bayerische Staatsoper ended with a performance of Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. August Everding's production from 1979 was undoubtedly the best I have seen with this opera company, and naturally, they are getting a new one for next time.

Peter Schneider conducted impeccably. The music was very beautiful, less monumental than Der Ring, much more filled with joy. Jürgen Rose's sets and costumes were lovely, the sets were not ornate, of light wood, but filled the space nicely. The costumes were fitting for the middle of the 16th century from what I could tell, and there were no strange choices of color.

The singing and acting all came off well. Jan-Hendrik Rootering as Hans Sachs and Eike Wilm Schulte as Sixtus Beckmesser were especially good in Act II, as the latter is trying to serenade Eva, and the former is cheerfully foiling his efforts by cobbling while singing.

Robert Dean Smith as Walther von Stolzing, our headstrong Frankish knight, was charming, a very pleasing voice, but his accent in German is not perfect.

René Pape has the perfect voice for Veit Pogner, but he seems to young to be the father of Eva, just as far as his carriage.

At any rate, it was a thrilling performance. To think that the opera itself premiered in that very space!