Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

James Levine
New York Metropolitan Opera Chorus and Orchestra
11 April 1998
Metropolitan Opera House New York
Recording Type
  live  studio
  live compilation  live and studio
Hans SachsJames Johnson
Veit PognerHans Sotin
Kunz VogelgesangMatthew Polenzani
Konrad NachtigallKim Josephson
Sixtus BeckmesserHans-Joachim Ketelsen
Fritz KothnerJohn Del Carlo
Balthasar ZornAnthony Laciura
Ulrich EißlingerCharles Anthony
Augustin MoserThomas Studebaker
Hermann OrtelThomas Hammons
Hans SchwartzLeRoy Lehr
Hans FoltzRichard Vernon
Walther von StolzingBen Heppner
DavidGert Henning-Jensen
EvaEva Johansson
MagdaleneWendy White
Ein NachtwächterHao Jiang Tian
The New York Times

‘Nurnberg’ Revisited: A Meister’s New Spin

TWhen the Metropolitan Opera first presented the Otto Schenk production of Wagner’s ”Meistersinger von Nurnberg” in 1993, Mr. Schenk’s work, though conservative, was evocative and colorful, and James Levine’s conducting was spacious and nuanced. When the production was brought back two seasons ago, the production was even more humane, and Mr. Levine’s conducting more luminous.

”Die Meistersinger” returned on Monday night. The original reason for bringing it back was that the great bass James Morris was planning to sing his first Hans Sachs, one of opera’s longest roles, Wagner’s wise shoemaker, a widower in medieval Nurnberg and the most beloved member of the town’s guild of master singers. But Mr. Morris withdrew last fall, and the Met had to come up fast with a replacement. In James Johnson, an American bass making his house debut, the company had a creditable Sachs. Moreover, Mr. Levine’s intricate and organic work seemed even deeper this time around. The orchestra playing on Monday positively glowed.

Yet onstage there was a sense of a production thrown together and lacking inspiration, and the likely cause was the jokey and intrusively busy stage direction of David McClintock. ”Die Meistersinger” is a comedy, but a tender, insightful and, at times, troubling comedy, not the antic fest it sometimes seemed here.

Take, for example, the depiction of Beckmesser, the town clerk. Beckmesser may be laughable, but he must be endearingly laughable. His dream of marrying Eva, the daughter of his fellow master singer Pogner, by winning the guild’s annual song contest, and his scheming to outmaneuver Sachs show him to be hapless, not nasty or stupid. Hans-Joachim Ketelsen, the German baritone, sang the role splendidly but was not helped by the stage direction. When his nighttime serenade to Eva is mischievously interrupted by Sachs’s cobbling, a pouting Beckmesser struts about the street in circles, his hands linked behind his back, a cartoonish and cliched idea. The aches and pains he suffers from the town brawl set off by his serenading were inanely overacted.

Aside from the directorial slips, there were some vocal rewards, especially from the musicianly tenor Ben Heppner, who had a triumphant evening reprising the daunting role of the young knight Walther. His voice sounded rested, free and thrilling. Mr. Johnson has a sturdy though not exceptional voice, and stamina. He could have projected more of Sachs’s dignity had he not been directed to act like a bully, shoving Beckmesser around at will, and flinging Eva at Walther (three times!), which the fatherly Sachs would never do.

Eva Johansson, a Danish soprano making her Met debut, made a lovely Eva, but the girlishness of her characterization was too aggressively projected, and at full volume her voice tended to turn harsh and wobbly. The Danish tenor Gert Henning-Jensen made his debut as Sachs’s apprentice, David, and with his boyish looks and balletic agility he looked the part. But his voice was hard pressed in places. Wendy White was sympathetic as Magdalene, and Hans Sotin was a stentorian Pogner.

The amassed sound of the Met chorus greeting Sachs in the final scene will not be easily forgotten. If only the antics of the stage direction could be cleaned up. It almost makes you long for Robert Wilson’s glacial staging of ”Lohengrin.”


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Media Type/Label
Technical Specifications
320 kbit/s CBR, 44.1 kHz, 620 MByte (MP3)
Matinee broadcast
A production by Otto Schenk (1993)