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.
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
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: This recent Ryan Opera Center alumna is already creating waves with her “commanding stage presence and gleaming vocal beauty.” Chicago Classical Review
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
Amanda Majeski† †
David Cangelosi† †
Sir Andrew Davis
Original Lighting Designer
Guest Chorus Master
† current member, Ryan Opera Center
† † alumnus/ alumna, Ryan Opera Center
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg—The Story of the Opera
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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)
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.
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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