A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler / Richard Wagner

A Singer's Notes 2: Meistersinger Redux

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Richard Wagner in Lucerne, 1868
Richard Wagner in Lucerne, 1868

All my performing life Die Meistersinger has been more a polemic than a performance. It goes around the music world as a political document like the John Passion. Performances are sold on the basis of political incorrectness. I have been hearing Meistersinger all the time this summer. I have found myself more moved than ever before by the sad humanity of the work. Maybe it’s being a little older. I have no idea what the secret anti-Semitic code in the part of Beckmesser is. There are good reasons to think it is there. But when I saw John Hancock’s Beckmesser at Bard turn to the harpist and make a face after her first riff, I saw him as a human being, not some kind of political symbol. The ranting tone of Hans Sachs’s “Verachtet”, though excessive (and apparently foisted on Wagner by Cosima) made sense somehow as the reasonable and just credo of someone who worked within his heritage to recreate it. This worked better at Bard, by the way, because, even though James Johnson does not have the chemistry in his voice that James Morris still has, he sang it with less effort. For a few shining moments we heard Devon Guthrie sing an all-too-short section of Eva’s music, leaving me wanting more. I know she is a singer of promise.

At Tanglewood the best thing of all was the miracle of James Levine coaxing a Prelude to Act III out of the Tanglewood Fellows that had the deep song in every bar. The orchestra we could hear in something like its natural sound. The singers boomed out electronically.

It was the opera that moved me; the stuff around it could not compete.

See also Michael Miller’s “What would Die Meistersinger sound like on a cruise ship?” (July 12, 2009)

and Seth Lachterman’s “Got Wagner? Bard’s Triumphant Solution to the Wagner Problem.”(September 4, 2009)

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