The Bayreuth Festival: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

These are the days of reverse travel. I had planned to be in Germany this month for the Bayreuth Festival. Instead, the Bayreuth Festival came to my living room. The cost was approximately $5.00 USD. Die Meistersinger was the opening opera.


Glen and I “dressed up” which means that we wore something a step above the shorts and t-shirts we’ve been wearing since the weather has warmed. I even put on a piece of jewelry—a necklace that my sister had made for me that includes my birthstone and a diamond from a ring of my grandmother’s. When Glen noticed I was wearing a blue-white-black motif, he dug out a shirt he got from Africa on our trip to Tanzania a few years ago.

Given that we were in our living room and not a theater, we decided to eat and watch. Through the pre-performance interviews and Act 1, we sipped on Syrah and ate shrimp cocktails. During Act 2, we ate Bavarian meatballs, an odd recipe that called for onions, beer, brown sugar, and beef boullion. For the final act, we had blueberry calfoutis. The food was fabulous. What about the opera?


From the first notes in the darkened hall it was clear that Maestro Philippe Jordan had command of the orchestra and a deep understanding of the music. We listened through our five-foot tall Dynaudio speakers and subwoofer, which imaged the orchestra wonderfully and produced the dynamic range you’d expect in a concert hall. In fact, it might have been a bit better than the concert hall because there was no discernible audience noise.


The cast was stellar. Michale Volle owns the role of Hans Sachs. In this interpretation, director Barrie Kosky portrayed Sachs as Wagner. While I felt Kosky’s direction resulted in “director-splaining”, Volle did a good job going along with the Sachs-as-Wagner portrayal and made it quite humorous in the first act. Sixtus Beckmesser the old town clerk, as played by Johannes Martin Kränzle, was a despicable character (as he should be), desperately trying to win the young maiden even though everyone thought such an old man should recuse himself from competition. I hated this man, which means he did a great job acting the part. (Image is a screenshot from the stream. Walther is on the left, David on the right and Hans Sachs in the back, between Walther and David.)


Walther von Stolzing (Klaus Florian Vogt) is the young knight who eventually wins the singing competition and heart of the maiden. His singing was mellifluous and acting superb. The “young” maiden Eva, performed by Anne Schwanewilms, was protrayed by Barrie Kosky as Cosima Wagner and first introduced to us in the opera dressed all in black. To me, this was not effective, as she looked like an older woman and not the young daughter being given away in a singing competition. Ms. Schwanewilms’s voice was wonderful, but she simply looked too old for the part. Most people who sing Wagner are older due to the vocal maturity required, but I’ve seen 40-something’s made up to be believable teenagers. I have to conclude that the director is responsible for Ms. Schwanewilms’s “stage age.” (Image is a screenshot from Act 1, with Pozner on the left and Walther on the right)

At the end I was applauding along with the rest of the audience. While I did not enjoy the staging, the orchestra, singing, and acting made the performance worthwhile. I think stage directors should focus more on illuminating the stage directions in the score rather than thinking they need to “illuminate” the audience (or director-splain). I would have enjoyed a staging that probed Hans Sachs and his background. But to set the first act in Wagner’s house, with people entering the stage through a grand piano, seemed odd. So too did the set that emulated the Nuremberg trial, with the flags of Russia, USA, France, and UK in the background. Very odd and, in my opinion, not pertinent to the plot.


This opera is one of the few in which no one dies. It is about art, the interpretation of art, and how rules for art constrain it and are made to be broken. It is about evolution and refinement of art and how today’s artists (and patrons) need to be cognizant of the history of art and how that leads to its current evolution. I do think Mr. Kosky lost sight of the central meaning.


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