Lyric Opera of Chicago
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  • by Richard Wagner
  • In German with projected English texts.
  • Total running time: 5h 29m

    Boxed meals will be available for purchase on performance days. Cash only. Click here for more info.

Majestic yet intimate, heartwarming, and life-enhancing!

This glorious masterwork stands with The Ring as the ultimate test for singers, chorus, and orchestra. At its heart, a song contest that will transform the society in which it takes place. Nürnberg’s ancient guild of mastersingers is looking for a work of art—a shining beacon of poetry and music. Only those who can pass the guild’s onerous test may enter. But the winner gets the ultimate prize—marriage to the peerless Eva.

Walther von Stolzing, the brilliant innovator, competes for art and for love; Beckmesser, the narrow-minded pedant, does everything to defeat him; Sachs, wisest of all the mastersingers, mentors the young genius, sometimes at the cost of his own happiness; and the people wait breathlessly to crown the victor.

In Wagner’s only foray into comedy, great art triumphs over all in one of the most joyous and overwhelming achievements in the history of music.

New production. Lyric coproducion with Glyndebourne Festival Opera and San Francisco Opera Association.

 

New Lyric Opera coproduction generously made possible by the Kenneth L. Harder Trust, Mr. & Mrs. Dietrich M. Gross, Whitney and Ada Addington, Irma Parker, and the Estate of Howard A. Stotler.

Starring

  • James Morris

    Hans Sachs

    James Morris

    Sachs is Meistersinger’s moral compass, and legendary James Morris has made the role his own. “Dignity…subtlety…integrity and stentorian power. He simply is Hans Sachs and rightfully receives enormous ovations.” The New York Times

  • Johan Botha

    Stolzing

    Johan Botha

    Anyone who heard Johan Botha’s Lohengrin in 2011 knows exactly why the Financial Times says he “sings like a god.” “His tenor is the most gorgeous to be heard in lyrical Wagner roles in years.” New York Sun

  • Amanda Majeski

    Eva

    Amanda Majeski

    Amanda Majeski: This recent Ryan Opera Center alumna is already creating waves with her “commanding stage presence and gleaming vocal beauty.” Chicago Classical Review

  • Bo Skovhus

    Beckmesser

    Bo Skovhus

    Bo Skovhus is a marquee star with major opera houses and orchestras everywhere. “His Beckmesser is wonderfully sung and acted…a multilayered depiction of a fool who doesn’t know he is one.” Opera News

Lucia di Lammermoor - Susanna Phillips

Hans Sachs
James Morris

Lucia di Lammermoor - Giuseppe Filianoti

Stolzing
Johan Botha

Simon - Krassimira Stoyanova

Eva
Amanda Majeski† †

Alan Held

Beckmesser
Bo Skovhus

Elektra - Roger Honeywell

David
David Portillo

Aida - Raymond Aceto

Magdalene
Jamie Barton

Aida - Kocan

Pogner
Dimitry Ivashchenko*

Aida - Kocan

Kothner
Darren Jeffery*

 

Aida - Kocan

Moser
David Cangelosi† †

 

Aida - Kocan

Nachtigall
Daniel Sutin

 

Aida - Joel

Conductor
Sir Andrew Davis

Aida - Joel

Original Production
David McVicar

Aida - Lata

Director
Marie Lambert*

 

Aida - Halmen

Designer
Vicki Mortimer*

Aida - Halmen

Original Lighting Designer
Paule Constable

Ian Robertson

Guest Chorus Master
Ian Robertson

Aida - Halmen

Choreographer
Andrew George

*Lyric Debut
† current member, Ryan Opera Center
† † alumnus/ alumna, Ryan Opera Center

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg—The Story of the Opera

ACT ONE 

Walther von Stolzing, an impoverished Franconian knight, has come to Nuremberg to dispose of his lands with the aid of Veit Pogner, the wealthy goldsmith. Having fallen in love with Pogner’s daughter Eva, Walther has followed her to church. As the congregation sings a final hymn and files out, Walther talks with Eva, who invents ruses to distract her nurse-companion, Magdalene. Finally a tongue-tied Walther blurts out his question: Is Eva already betrothed? Magdalene informs Stolzing that Eva is betrothed to whoever wins the Mastersinging contest at tomorrow’s festival. The young women are dismayed that Stolzing is aware of neither the Mastersingers’ Guild nor their art. David, Magdalene’s lover and the cobbler Hans Sachs’s apprentice, arrives to prepare for the Guild’s meeting. Certain that David can teach Stolzing everything he needs to gain admission to the Guild, Magdalene hurries Eva away.
David is appalled at Stolzing’s ignorance of the art of singing and his confidence that he can easily master it. As other apprentices set up for the meeting, David explains the rules of Mastersong. He warns that, should Stolzing sing to the Masters today, he will face the Marker, who will allow only seven faults before disqualification. Stolzing decides to trust to the inspiration of love and ignore the rules.
The town clerk Sixtus Beckmesser, who currently serves as Marker, enters with Pogner. He means to compete for Eva’s hand, but asks Pogner to speak to her on his behalf. Pogner has decreed that Eva will have the casting vote and may decline her bridegroom, making Beckmesser nervous about his chances. Stolzing surprises Pogner by telling him that his real reason for settling in Nuremberg has been his love of art and his intention to join the Mastersingers. Pogner is delighted that a nobleman should so appreciate a burgher’s Guild and promises to support his candidacy. Hans Sachs is the last of the Masters to arrive and Fritz Kothner, the baker, declares the session open. Pogner declares his intention to give his daughter’s hand as the prize in tomorrow’s contest, but dissent soon breaks out. Sachs urges that the maiden and the people should also judge the winner, but he is shouted down by Beckmesser, and the others reject the suggestion. Sachs concedes defeat, provided that Eva may turn down her prospective bridegroom, whoever he may be, but Pogner is adamant that only a Master will wed her.
When Pogner introduces Walther as a candidate for the Guild, it becomes clear that he lacks the formal training required. Still, the Masters let him sing, with Beckmesser in the Marker’s box. The improvised love song is greeted with incomprehension by the Masters and noisily interrupted by Beckmesser’s scoring. Eventually his chalk board is so full that he insists Stolzing stop singing. His mockery of the knight’s efforts is halted by Sachs who, alone among the Masters, has listened attentively. A quarrel erupts when Sachs suggests that Beckmesser may have personal motives for destroying Stolzing’s chances. The Masters refuse to hear any more as Stolzing rushes away. The Masters leave in confusion and Sachs is left alone, contemplating the strange new song he has just heard. 

ACT TWO 

The houses of Pogner and Sachs face each other across the street. David is working outside as the apprentices prepare for tomorrow’s festivities. When Magdalene discovers David’s failure to help Walther, she rushes furiously indoors. Eva and Pogner return home from a walk, both preoccupied with thoughts of the contest. Learning from Magdalene that Stolzing has not been admitted to the Guild, Eva decides to speak with Sachs.
As darkness falls, Sachs begins working outside his shop but is unable to forget Stolzing’s song. Eva approaches and begins questioning him. He concludes that she will certainly refuse Beckmesser, should he win tomorrow. She admits that, should Sachs compete, she would accept him. His own wife has long since died and he has watched Eva grow into a beautiful young woman, but he gently rebuffs her idea. When she mentions Stolzing, Sachs pretends to dismiss the knight’s singing. Eva’s hysterical response tells him all he needs to know. After she tearfully runs off, Sachs vows to do all he can to help the lovers.
Magdalene informs Eva that Beckmesser plans to serenade her tonight with his song for tomorrow’s contest. When asked by Eva to take her place at the window, Magdalene is delighted at the chance to play a trick on the jealous David. She goes indoors when Stolzing is heard approaching. Admitting his humiliating failure, he rails about the Masters before imploring Eva to run away with him. As the nightwatchman’s horn is heard, Eva agrees that elopement is their only option. She slips indoors and Walther takes cover as the watchman crosses the street. Having overheard the lovers, Sachs decides to find another solution to the dilemma. Eva emerges in Magdalene’s clothes, ready for the elopement, but Sachs opens his door, flooding the street with light.
Eva hides with Walther as Beckmesser arrives. His preparation for the serenade is interrupted as Sachs starts singing and beating with his hammer. Disguised as Eva, Magdalene appears at the window. Through tortuous negotiation, Beckmesser persuades Sachs to reserve his hammer blows for “marking” his serenade. He finally begins, but Sachs’s hammer is soon marking fault after fault. When David comes to his window and sees Magdalene wooed by an unknown man, he jumps down into the street and attacks. Soon the townspeople are awake and a riot breaks out. At the sound of the watchman’s horn, the crowd disperses. Sachs pushes Stolzing into his house as Pogner rescues Eva. The watchman finds the street empty, save for Beckmesser, who stumbles away. 

ACT THREE

Scene 1. Sachs has spent the night in his workshop and David has been out early, delivering Beckmesser’s shoes. He nervously returns with a festive basket in hand. Sachs seems oblivious to his apprentice’s apologies for his behavior the night before. Instead he asks to hear David’s latest attempt at Mastersong. The song is about St. John, whose festival falls on that day. Sending David away, Sachs broods on last night’s events. He resolves to turn the madness engulfing his community to a greater purpose.
Walther has awakened and enters, rapt with the memory of a wonderful dream. Sachs encourages him to write it down, so that it will not escape him. In this way he gradually helps the knight to learn the rules of art that will make a Mastersong. Walther begins to create a wonderful song praising Eva and Sachs commits it to paper, but the third verse eludes him. Sachs nonetheless urges him to prepare for the festival and a wedding, and the two of them leave the room.
Bruised and battered, Beckmesser arrives  to confront Sachs but finds only an empty  workshop. Seeing Walther’s manuscript in Sachs’s handwriting, and instantly assuming that Sachs will be competing against him in the contest, Beckmesser pockets the piece of paper. When Sachs returns, Beckmesser challenges him about the song. Sachs denies that he intends to sing at the festival and, as proof of good faith, gives Beckmesser the manuscript as a gift. Initially suspicious, Beckmesser is quickly overcome with excitement. His own song has been sung out last night, but with a new piece by Sachs to perform, his chances now look excellent. He rushes home to study the song, despite Sachs’s warning that he may find it difficult to master.
Eva arrives, dressed for the festival and complaining about the new shoes Sachs made for her. He knows that this is a pretext to see Walther, and when the knight enters, he and Eva gaze rapturously at each other. Sachs pretends to alter Eva’s shoe, declaring that his work would be made easier by a song. Walther finds the inspiration for his third verse and Eva, overcome by the beauty of his words, falls weeping into Sachs’s arms. He reacts brusquely, berating his pointless, empty life as a cobbler and widower. Realizing how Sachs has always loved her, Eva begs to be forgiven if she must now choose another. Resigned, Sachs masters his emotion. As David and Magdalene enter, he frees David from his indenture and asks all to bear witness to the baptism of Stolzing’s beautiful new song.
Scene 2. The people have gathered on the banks of the Pegnitz River to celebrate St. John’s Day. The whole town welcomes the Masters. Sachs, last to arrive, is greeted by the crowd singing one of his own songs. He is overcome with emotion and struggles in making his speech for the contest. After the competition is declared open, Beckmesser – apparently the only candidate – takes his position and begins to sing. He has failed to comprehend Walther’s words, badly fitting them to his own melody. His performance grows increasingly comical and the people eventually laugh him off the stage. Furiously, he confesses that the song is Sachs’s composition, not his own. Sachs denies writing so beautiful a song and tells everyone that if they heard it correctly performed, they would share in his estimation. When he calls for a witness to validate his claim, Walther steps forward and is allowed to sing again. His song is heard by an enraptured crowd. Eva crowns him with laurels, and Pogner and the Masters prepare to admit him to their Guild, but Walther declines. His object has been to win Eva, and he is content with this alone. Sachs urges him not to scorn the Masters’ Guild, nor to undervalue the importance of the art he has created to the people who have heard it. He joins the lovers’ hands and, as Beckmesser leaves the scene, the crowd joyfully praises Sachs.— Sir David McVicar (ed. Roger Pines)

 

 

Song of Summer
February brings the return of Wagner’s heartwarming comedy
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg 
by Roger Pines

 

In the deep midwinter, Lyric audiences will feel summer’s warmth when Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg arrives on our stage. “It’s a supremely joyful, radiant piece,” says Lyric Opera music director Sir Andrew Davis. It’s also an immense challenge for any opera company – a score exuding grandeur, performed by a huge cast, chorus, and orchestra. It’s no exaggeration to call a great Meistersinger a once-in-a-lifetime experience for any opera lover.

Sir Andrew will be on the podium when the pleasures of Meistersinger brighten Lyric’s stage this season. Originally staged by Sir David McVicar, the new coproduction is a collaboration of Glyndebourne Festival Opera (where it premiered last year), Lyric, and San Francisco Opera. 

Much of Wagner’s oeuvre involves legendary heroes, grandiose deeds, and mythical realms. But after submerging himself in the agony and ecstasy of Tristan und Isolde, the composer switched gears to present the personalities and foibles found among real denizens of a real town (in this case, bustling and energetic Nürnberg). As for their music, it bursts with both wit and heart. 

The comic side in Meistersinger can be gentle, but also fabulously boisterous (just wait for the all-out street riot ending Act Two, with everyone in Nürnberg joining in). Sir David considers it “very important to find the funny side of Wagner – I think it’s good that we shouldn’t take him too solemnly – he was a Leipzig urchin to the end of his days. Wagner loved pranks, practical jokes, expressing extremes of joy. He loved climbing trees into his sixties. Impossible, a monster, but also with a great sense of humor!” 

That humor invigorates the opera, which brings to life a whole community. On Midsummer’s Eve, Nürnberg is bustling with anticipation over the song contest to take place the following day. It’s sponsored by the town’s wealthy silversmith, Veit Pogner (bass Dimitry Ivashchenko, debut), and the victor will win the hand of his lovely daughter, Eva (soprano Amanda Majeski). The itinerant knight Walther von Stolzing (tenor Johan Botha), in love with Eva, wants desperately to enter the contest. But only members of the mastersingers’ guild can compete, and their singing must be governed by the guild’s strict rules. In his audition for eligibility, Walther’s passionate artistry is roundly rejected by the guild, except for the thoughtful, warm-hearted cobbler and poet Hans Sachs (bass-baritone James Morris). He helps the knight to produce a song that both adheres to the rules and exploits Walther’s own poetic imagination. In the contest Walther triumphs over the prickly, pedantic town clerk, Sixtus Beckmesser (baritone Bo Skovhus), his rival for Eva – he wins her with his rapturous “prize song.”

In Meistersinger’s penultimate scene, it’s thrilling to witness Sachs give Walther the benefit of all his wisdom as the knight creates a song that can truly uplift its listeners and make them glad to be alive. Clearly this opera is all about the power of music and, as Sir Andrew says, “the idea that tradition is to be valued but shouldn’t be allowed to atrophy. This is something we all have to think about in our own life and art.”

Unforgettable musical highlights abound, beginning with the majestic Act-One prelude, long a much-loved concert item. Walther has three sweepingly romantic arias and Eva two captivating scenes with Sachs (she also takes the soaring top line in the transcendently beautiful quintet). The three acts include irresistible episodes involving the Nürnberg community, young and old. Above all there is Sachs, whose two heartfelt monologues reveal his innermost thoughts. 

Sachs is James Morris’s favorite role (a surprise, perhaps, to those who know him best as Wotan and Scarpia), and in recent years Meistersinger has become his favorite opera. He considers the piece an incredible accomplishment, not just musically but also textually. “A lot of people don’t realize the whole thing is a poem. Everything rhymes for six hours! Nothing repeats – there are no verses, everything’s different. It’s always continuous narrative. Wagner was such a master of his language.” 

Wagner based Sachs on Nürnberg’s reallife cobbler-poet (1494-1576). To Morris, he’s“the person in town who’s viewed as the most intellectual. Also, people come to him for help and advice – they take advantage of him. He’s known as a very wise man, also as a rebellious sort, which is the whole point of this opera: within the framework of your rules and regulations, there has to be something new. He’s always on the lookout for new thinking, ahead of his time in that way. He’s the kind of character we’d all like to be – or at least, that I would like to be: kind, understanding, witty, forgiving.”

One of this story’s most touching elements is Eva’s confusion between her affection for Sachs (a widower who’s known her since her childhood) and her blossoming love for Walther. If there were no Walther, would Sachs marry Eva? “I don’t think so,” says Morris, citing their age difference of at least 35 years. “He’s flattered.Eva’s saying, ‘Why couldn’t someone find contentment with an older man?’ ‘A father is what you want,’ he says. Sachs does have a moment, as anyone would, where he thinks, ‘Well, it would be nice.’ But he’s wise enough to know that it’s not the right thing.”

Sir Andrew, too, is fascinated by Sachs. “You feel his accumulated wisdom and strength. At the same time, you know he’s a person like the rest of us who can be in love. He’s not just a serene old man – the fire’s still burning!” 

Lyric’s production updates the opera to the Biedermeier period (1830s), when Central Europe’s middle class flourished and the arts held a vital importance in everyday life. Choosing this period “just made sense,” says McVicar. “It was a very open, outgoing view of the world and felt very attractive.” 

Sir David’s presentation of the principals has attracted huge critical praise, particularly the distinctive characterization of the tetchy Beckmesser. “Playing him as just a caricature probably would be true to Wagner’s intention,” says the director, “but that’s one intention I don’t intend to let loose onstage! He’s not someone who should be expelled from the community. With all his faults, petty jealousies, small-mindedness, this is still a human being. We played him as a well-dressed, dapper man of means, with dignity of bearing. That also makes him funnier.”

Designer Vicki Mortimer’s unit set is a Gothic arch spanning the stage. “Thatgoes back to the sixteenth century in Nürnberg,” says McVicar, “but what exists within the arch relates to the Biedermeier period, as do the costumes. You can say we’re playing a game with time frames.” Also very important is Andrew George’s choreography in the final song-contest scene. McVicar didn’t want the dancing to be excessively sophisticated: “You feel almost anyone could do it. At Glyndebourne every single member of the cast, everycharacter, chorister, ballet dancer, and super ended up taking part in the dance. Once youdo that, the whole thing becomes so joyous – it’s a true expression of that music.” 

Ultimately, the opera says that community is important and that an artist is important to a community. “That’s a very relevant message for our present western world,” asserts Sir David, “where the arts are so undervalued and dumbed down. Here is a picture of a community that nurtures and cares for art, and believes that great art hassomething profound to say to people. That, for me, is the overwhelmingly positive message of Die Meistersinger.”

On the Record

Roger Pines, dramaturg at Lyric Opera, recommends these performances.

On CD

Stewart, Janowitz, Konya, Hemsley; Bavarian Radio Orchestra, cond. Kubelik (Arts Music)

Frantz, Grümmer, Schock, Kusche; Berlin Philharmonic, cond. Kempe (EMI Classics)

Van Dam, Mattila, Heppner, Opie; Chicago Symphony Orchestra, cond. Solti (Decca)

On DVD

Morris, Heppner, Mattila, Allen; Metrooplitan Opera, cond.. Levine, dir. Schenk (Deutsche Grammophon)

Struckmann, Botha, Merbeth, Eröd; Vienna Staatsoper, cond. Thielemann, dir. Schenk (EuroArts)

Weikl; Jerusalem, Häggander, Prey; Bayreuth Festival, cond. Stein, dir. W. Wagner (Deutsche Grammophon)

McIntyre, Frey, Döse, Pringle; Australian Opera, cond. Mackerras, dir. Hampe (Kultur)

Suggestions for Further Reading

Aspects of Wagner by Bryan Magee, Oxford University Press, 1988.

The Complete Operas of Richard Wagner—The Complete Opera Series by Charles Osborne, Da Capo Press, 1993.

My Life  by Richard Wagner, translated by Andrew Gray, edited by Mary Whittall, Da Capo Press, 1992.

New Grove Guide to Wagner and His Operas  by Barry Millington, Oxford University Press, 2006.
Part of the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians series on major composers, this is a great concise overview of each opera’s history and analysis of its musical material.

Richard Wagner: Die Meister singer von Nürnberg  by John Warrack, Cambridge Opera Handbooks, 1994.

Wagner and Die Meistersinger by R. Rayner, Oxford, 1994.

Wagner’s Musical Prose  by Thomas S. Grey, Cambridge University Press, 1995.

The Wagner Operas  by Ernest Newman, Princeton University Press, 1991.

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Audio Preview

Sir Andrew Davis previews Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

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Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Commentary

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
by Richard Wagner

© 2012/13 Lyric Opera Commentaries 2012 Lyric Opera of Chicago
Original sound recordings of musical excerpts used by permission of EMI Classics, courtesy of Angel Records, a division of Capitol Records, Inc. All rights reserved. Produced by Mark Travis. Daniel Goldberg, Associate Producer.

 

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg Discovery Series

Twenty-four hours in 16th-century Nürnberg on the longest day of the year. That's the when and where of Wagner's comedy. But there is much more—after all, it's Wagner! Join James Morris, Johan Botha, Bo Skovhus, Sir Andrew Davis, and director Marie Lambert as they discuss the opera that Paderewski called "the greatest work of genius ever achieved by any artist in any field of human endeavor."

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