Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg is second only to Tristan Und Isolde as among the best of Wagner's operas. It's one of his longest operas, but the one I get the most entertainment of. Wagner's music I cannot criticise, the Quintet between Sachs, Eva, Walther, David and Magdalene is especially sublime. But I just couldn't get into this Katharina Wagner-directed production. I loved the 1984, 2001, 1995 and 1988 productions previous to this, and enjoyed the 1999 performance also. So the opera is capable of being done well, superbly in the above cases.
This production's pros come from the magnificent music and two great performances, Michael Volle's splendid Beckmesser(a potentially problematic role but one that Volle relished clearly) and Klaus Florian Vogt's vocally crystal-clear Walther complete with a winning Prize Song. The rest of the performances are not as successful, Micaela Kaune does sing beautifully but doesn't have very much to work with as Eva, and Franz Hawlata as well as a lack of resonance in his lower register and being dramatically ill at ease is hindered by the fact that Hans Sachs has been transformed in Act 3 from the voice of reason to a Hitler-like/Jekyll and Hyde-like personality.
Visually, the production just doesn't work. The sets are dully lit, but it was the amateurish staging that really brought the production down. I don't mind productions that are different, but I do when a production leaves a bad taste in the mouth by its own crassness and confusion with so sense of heart and warmth. The staging here applies to the latter. It's not just the whole Hans Sachs thing, but also the idea to have him barefoot and the whole transition to the Meadow scene with the cheaply rendered artists(papier-mache heads and strapped on dildos). Aside from the directorial touches, the production also suffers from being too busy and a lack of genuine chemistry between the singers.
I have no better news about the musical values either. There are times when the orchestral playing is lush and powerful, but most of the time it is uninspired and too grey in colour. The overture is not rousing enough and the Quintet, which always moves me, left me cold here. The Prize Song is good though. The chorus are a little better, they are very well-balanced, sadly the staging makes them rather static dramatically. Sebastian Weigle's conducting is rather dull in my opinion, some of the tempos bordered on sluggish and I didn't really get the sense that he liked the score very much. That's probably not the case but that's what it felt like.
Overall, irritating and crass rather than entertaining and warm. I didn't think much of the 1998 Tristan or the 1994 Tannhauser, but together with the Stuttgart Siegfried, I'm sorry to say, this production of Meistersinger is the worst Wagner production I've seen. 3/10 for the music, Volle and Vogt. Bethany Cox
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