Sunday, August 26, 2012

Die Meistersinger.

Hans Sachs: Franz Hawlata (bass-baritone)
Walther von Stolzing: Klaus Florian Vogt (heldentenor)
Eva: Michaela Kaune (soprano)
Sixtus Beckmesser: Michael Volle (baritone)

Act I

I enrolled in a regular membership in and have chosen to watch Katharina Wagner's production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg from Bayreuth.  The one I'm watching doesn't look exactly like the above.  Walther von Stolzing, sung by Klaus Florian Vogt, is on the left, and Beckmesser, sung by Michael Volle, is on the right.  Both work the jigsaw puzzle correctly, only Walther does it upside down.  He doesn't think to turn it over to fix it.

In the one I'm watching the Meistersingers are all in the sedate gray business suits, but Walther the neophyte is dressed in a brown leather jacket and white pants printed with the fleur de lis in black.  This changes him into someone outrageous, a much better idea in my opinion.

I am writing this act by act and will add the next act after I have watched it.  Walther goes around the stage painting things.  You may have gathered by now that I am not an hysterical Wagner fan.  This act starts well, goes on OK and then in the last scene becomes astoundingly tedious.  This opera violates the "never attend an opera with three baritones" rule.  The tenors are fine.  So far I do not see what the fuss is about.

Act II

I'm still not getting what the fuss is about.  The entire second act is set in a cafe with small tables and yellow checked tablecloths.  There is a giant hand sculpture which Walther and Eva paint and climb on.  Here we have an explanation:  "The peculiarity of this stage direction is that Katharina Wagner wants to make Sixtus Beckmesser... friendly, because he is really humiliated through the opera."  So we're supposed to be shocked because Beckmesser sings rather nicely and in a dignified manner.  Besides that Hans Sachs, sung by Franz Hawlata, types instead of cobbles.  Shoes are falling from the sky.  They're constantly talking about shoes, Sachs is supposed to be a cobbler, so I suppose some way to bring shoes into the story is required.

Then everything breaks into a riot.  Students are throwing their books.  People come out holding Campbell Soup cans, open them and throw the contents all over the stage.  At the end when the night watchman comes out, everything is a complete mess.

I have a far stronger negative reaction to the singing.  The legato seems to be dying in German singing.  It's all a kind of raspy talky groan and not what for me is appropriate Wagner singing.  Hawlata is the worst offender.  I have a DVD here at home with James Morris as Sachs.  The contrast is quite shocking.  Walther and Eva, sung by Michaela Kaune, are not too bad.  I see what Vesselina Kasarova is talking about.  I advise everyone to ignore this and sing normally.

I have a small idea.  Beckmesser's song is usually done in a ridiculous way for laughs.  This is the first time I've heard it done straight.  Is it possible it is supposed to be a parody of someone singing coloratura?  Forgive me if this is well known.


The interesting parts of this production of Wagner's Die Meistersinger are all in the third act.  We are in Sachs' house which is furnished with a few pieces from Ikea [eye-KEY-a / ee-KAY-a], including a small shelf full of German language opera libretti--at least that's what these small yellow books are in my house.

Behind him is a wall of boxes containing what appear to be caricature busts of German composers.  I think I recognize Bach and Wagner.  They are behind a scrim for most of this scene.

Most of the plot of the opera is in the first scene of the third act.  Walther has had a dream which provided his song for the contest.  We hear the Prize Song in fragments.

Beckmesser enters Sachs' house, finds a poem, assumes it is by Sachs, and makes a great show of stealing it.

Eva tells Sachs she loves him and won't know what to do without him.  He responds with a theme from Tristan und Isolde and tells her he won't make the mistake of King Marke and marry a much younger woman.

David is promoted from apprentice to journeyman.  While Sachs sings about naming the new song, David and Walter and their prospective spouses form into tableau with their future children.  Stick figure houses form around the family groups.  They perform the quintet.

The phone company wants me to increase my band width.

Apparently if you want to actually understand this production, you should read here.  The action makes it look like it's about painting rather than singing.  It's easier to dramatize painting.  An opera about the rules of the art of being a Meistersinger is a bit difficult to pull off visually.  I think.  I'm not having the reaction I'm supposed to be having.  People love hidden meanings.  I have a personal preference for overt meanings.

I finally made it to the end of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The guy in the beret is Wagner and the one in the pigtail has to be Mozart. The theme of this opera, you will remember, is die heilige deutsche Kunst. Our sainted composers come out and cavort in their underwear while wearing their formal wigs. One has his head on backwards, I think. I don't seem to be able to find a list of who they are. 

Sachs is bound to a chair. A caricature woman comes out and offers him a lap dance, but he refuses. Wer eigentlich sind die? I think I see Beethoven.

Sachs casts a golden stag. Beckmesser is not a joke in this production. We don't really like his song written on Walther's words, but he sings it with honor and sincerity. While singing, he creates Adam from a pile of dirt. Hmmm. Adam and Eve throw apples to the crowd.

Our hippie tenor painter/poet cleans up well. He sings the wonderful prize song "Morning Dream" to great acclaim. Sachs declares him the winner and gives Eva to him. Two bimbos come out with a large check to contract Walther. Sachs offers him the golden stag and Walther turns it down. He takes his check and Eva and leaves never to return.

Sachs sings to no one that he should not scorn the German master. The opera ends. The audience boos. 

Today something is worth a lot of money or it is worthless. To blog about music because someone loves it and expects to receive nothing in return cannot be understood.

It is hard to know what to do with the pre-Hitler celebration of the holy German art. What use are ordinary men who gather together to celebrate the art of the Meistersinger simply for love?


Anonymous said...

When did the directors and impresarios decide that an opera was a random collection of notes, independent of its dramatic and visual elements — a mere musical shell, to be filled up with and bent out of shape by whatever modern hang-ups seem most likely to catch the public off guard? When did wild controversy, booing and academic apologias in the press replace straightforward storytelling as signs of theatrical prowess? When did "making people think" become the top priority in an art form once clearly intended to make them feel?

Opera is an art form intended principally to make audiences feel, not think. That, in fact, is what opera — is what music — is all about. Prior to our modern age, there's not a composer of opera (or of music generally, for that matter) who ever lived who thought otherwise. Whence, then, this perverse, noxious, and ass-backwards impulse to make opera audiences think first, feel after?

Regietheater is so depressing!

It really is.

Dr.B said...

Modern life is rather a depressing thing. Everything is sex, violence and money, things this production had in abundance. Our emotions respond in the old way, but the pictures just make it feel unsuitable.

A review said people laughed. I didn't. I laughed at Giolio Cesare. Yes. I see. One wants the pictures to fit our emotions.

But Wagner is full of thought and ideas. Just not these.