West side story à la Wagner with happy end “Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg” at the National Theatre in Munich State Opera Festival July 31st, 2016
The visit to the Bavarian State Opera is always a remarkable experience. The landmark of the Capital of the Bavarian State hosts its annual summer festival in the building of the National Theatre at the representative Max-Josep-Square. Running from the end of June until the end of July, the Munich Opera Festival precedes the next two prestigious European summer festivals in Bayreuth and Salzburg and concludes the Opera Houses main season. Attended performance on the July 31st presented the dernière of series of seven shows and marked the twelfth of the Opera in Munich productions of this great opera. Taking place on a warm evening this show had a touch of the premiere night with all the glamor of an international audience coming in limousines and taxis. Surrounded by the beautiful architectural ambiance and attended by friendly, attentive personal the visitors enjoyed Champagne and tasteful snacks looking forward to the beginning of the show.
To listen to and to watch the “Meistersinger” performance is always a task, bearing in mind an extreme length of the performance of more than five hours and its complex ideological and philosophical context. Thus, one was pleasantly surprised to experience a highly entertaining show that came out to be musically, as well as artistically, of an extraordinary level. After the fiasco of his “Tannhäuser” at the Paris Opera and contrary to his own, not very flattering opinion about traditional opera, Wagner decided in 1861 about to write a comic opera. Distancing himself from his idea of musical drama Wagner composed an opera that does not deal with some divine power and Gods and tells story of real historical figures. The score features aria-like solo scenes, polyphony in composition, German church chorales, and folk songs. The last one effectively misused by Nazi propaganda of Third Reich, which made Wagner a banned composer in some countries.
This centuries-old story, reinforced by the sober stage settings of construction scaffolds and gray apartment buildings with chipped plaster (Patrik Bannwart) and well-shaped characters, appears quite up-to-date. Witnessing the everyday life of the community of hard working people we experience an atmosphere of helplessness (there is a lot of beer drinking going on) with St. Johann Fest and the Meistersinger singing contest offering some rare cultural and social highlights. Taking place in sort of boxing ring, with pouring down confetti and accompanied by Hollywood-like video projections (Falko Herold) as well action supporting stage lighting (Michel Bauer) we become the spectators of some kind “The Voice” show with a glamorous atmosphere of covered-up poverty and despair. Keeping up with the practice of the tragic-comedy genre, stage director David Bösch tells the story that is comprehensible to everyone. Placed in the fifties (flattering costumes by Meentje Nielsen), one cannot let go an impression of suddenly being put into a kind of Wagner's "West Side Story". Moving cars and delivery vans, girls in petticoats and groups of young men in shorts, acting either as dutiful citizens or as Hitler Jugend aggressive gang, the bourgeois society is confronted by the gum chewing rebel, a young, strong woman and innovation seeking city shoemaker.
Right at the beginning, we meet Wolfgang von Stolzing, a young knight, who left his parents castle to come to Nurnberg. Dressed in the leather jacket, with huge earphones and strumming on his guitar ( a delightfully amusing scene with the bust of Wagner) his figure reminds that of Bernsteins´ Tony. Unconscious about his talent, he acts, thinks and lives only for the moment. Despite the ardent address from his mentor, Hans Sachs, von Stolzing easily rejects the Meistersinger title putting his personal happiness in the first place. Jonas Kaufmann gives in this production his Stolzing Debüt and can be considered a public darling. He acts and sings naturally, thus remaining authentic and approachable. Sadly, his impressive stage presence often overwhelms his presence as a singer. Musically he struggles with hight notes and from time to time has difficulties to overcome the orchestra. Nevertheless, his final song “At the bright morning”, was sung with exquisite musicality and touching Piani thus considered one of the musical highlights of this evening.
At Stolzings´side, we experience his elderly protector: The city shoemaker and widely recognized Mastersinger Hans Sachs. A good-natured man, widower, maverick and philosopher, he is the only one who recognized Stollings´ talent and who is ready to sacrifice his personal luck for the sake of the young couple happiness. Wolfgang Koch presented well-balanced baritone voice, which in the monologs in the second and third acts found to its best form. His famous “Despise me, not the Master title” scene presents another musical highlight and achieves an enormous impact with the silence in the audience being almost physically perceptive.
Artistically and from a singing point of view, the strongest performance on this evening was given by tenor Martin Ganter in the role of Sixtus Beckmesser. A City Clerk and Meistersinger Guild Marker. His rules possessed, caught in the old times, pedantic, elderly men, deeply in love with Eva and completely lacking any talent and creativity, Beckmesser is genuinely convinced to be able to win the singing contest, by just stealing and memorizing Stolzing´s Song. Leading the life of a continuous challenge and failure and unceasingly making a fool of himself (absolutely hilarious serenade scene with a ukulele in the second act and ridiculous glittery outfit in the third act), singer´s authentic portrayal of this unfortunate character deserves our entire sympathy and compassion. Musically Ganter convinced with his singing, presenting young sounding, clear voice, with easy top, well balanced middle voice and excellent diction.
Stolzing, Sachs, and Beckmesser build a love triangle around Eva, the young daughter of wealthy city goldsmith. Christof Fischesser in the role of Veit Pogner offers a bright, pleasant baritone sound, good articulation and gives the figure of dutiful, but somehow a distant father, who promises his daughter Eva as a trophy prize for the winner of the upcoming singing contest. Soprano Sara Jakubiak sings and performs a courageous, independent young woman who wants to break free. Resembling the character of Maria from "West Side Story" and deceptive in her elf-like appearance, she manipulates and acts to achieve this goal. Vocally, soprano presented a resolute but sweet, lyrical sounding soprano which, if necessary, can develop an impressive power and expression.
Tenor Benjamin Bruns in the role of Sachs´s apprentice David and Okka von der Damerau, mezzo-soprano, in the role of Eva´s companion Magdalene, give an admirable buffo couple. David, who seems to be a younger version of Beckmesser, tries to follow the rules accurately and to do everything properly. Thus he occasionally accepts his master´s violent treatment to become a companion. Bruns enjoys a lovely sounding tenor voice that sure has enough power and expression for the role of Stolzing in the future. Okka von der Damerau as Magdalene is pleasant to look at and to listen to. A pretty singer with a beautiful, female appearance and supple voice, she gave a convincing performance of a worldly-wise and gracious young woman. The rest of the cast is perfectly fitted together and include singers with throughout good voices for all Meistersingers and City keeper (Tareq Nazmi with warm bass sound). Together with the excellently prepared Choir (Sören Eckhoff), we are invited to dive into an atmosphere of the beautiful midsummer night and hearty laugh at the hilarious male cheerleaders at the beginning of the third act.
The real star of this evening though is the Bavarian State Orchestra and its leader, Kirill Petrenko. Completing his third season as a general music director, Petrenko advanced to the Master of orchestral sound and power. There is love in the air between him and his orchestra. Hardly at the pit; he begins straightway to conduct as if he could not wait to start to make music. From the very first minute and throughout the performance one is overwhelmed by his musicality and his knowledge of Wagner’s´ score. With each instrument group perceptible en detail and yet sounding like unique entity, Petrenko's temperament and endurance seemed to have no limits of never decreasing high emotional level. We witness precise, accurate, yet relaxed, energetic and dynamically powerful conducting in the prelude to the first act; The sensitive, thoughtful, reflective, almost impressionistic prelude to the third act and melancholic, romantic feeling in dynamically perfectly balanced “Johannisnacht” choir in the second act.
Despite lacking some pointing and emphasizing towards Wagner’s political and social concerns as well his ideas about the role of the art and artist, this production nevertheless offers a rare opportunity to experience an amenable, easy "Meistersinger” of an excellent musical quality. The production will return to the National Theater on Max-Joseph-Square next season with performances on September 30th, as well as on October 3rd and 8th 2016.
Cast on July 31st, 2016:
Conductor: Kirill Petrenko, Stage director. David Bösch, Stage setting: Patrick Bannwart, Costumes: Meentje Nielsen,Video: Falko Herold , Light: Michael Bauer Dramaturgy: Rainer Karlitschek , Choir: Sören Eckhoff, Hans Sachs: Wolfgang Koch,Veit Pogner: Christof Fischesser,Sixtus Beckmesser: Martin Gantner, Kunz Vogelgesang: Kevin Conners, Konrad Nachtigall: Christian Rieger, Fritz Kothner: Eike Wilm Schulte, Balthasar Zorn: Ulrich Reß, Ulrich Eißlinger: Stefan Heibach, Augustin Moser: Thorsten Scharnke, Hermann Ortel: Friedemann Röhlig, Hans Schwarz: Peter Lobert, Hans Foltz: Dennis Wilgenhof, Walther v. Stolzing: Jonas Kaufmann ,David: Benjamin Bruns, Eva: Sara Jakubiak, Magdalene: Okka von der Damerau, Night guard: Tareq Nazmi. Bavarian State Orchestra Choir and extra Choir of the BSO.
**Oxana Arkaeva. The Winner of Placido Domingo World Opera Contest in Mexico, soprano Oxana Arkaeva, enjoyes vast range of concert and opera repertoire with more than a 100 roles sung and more than twenty years on international stages as well as a member of “fest” ensembles in Germany. Besides her singing career, she is involved in music project organizing and management activities. Curently she copmplets her Executive Master in Arts Administration (EMAA) studies at the Univercity in Zurich and acts as advisor and presentation trainer and for the person of public life and politic. Links: www.arkaeva.com and http://www.emaa.uzh.ch/de/StudierendeEMAAVI.html