The Meistersinger’s city of Nürnberg is a somewhat rundown affair in David Bösch’s uninspired and uninspiring production for the Munich Staatsoper: shabby 1970s apartment blocks, complete with satellite dishes and a cigarette vending machine, are the background for Act 2, the rest is scaffolding around a kind of boxing ring, decorated with a few lights and banners for the final scene. The lacklustreness of the set and costumes reduces the storyline to its bare basics: young alpha-male arrives in the herd; old alpha-male instantly recognizes his qualities and takes him under his wing. Old beta-male doesn’t understand a thing and gets his comeuppance good and proper. Young alpha-male gets the alpha-female and they live happily ever after. The second theme, the eternal and unanswerable question of craft in the arts, of talent versus hard work, is not really addressed. Given the bleak sets, one can only suppose that the stage director identifies most strongly with carefree and talented newcomer Walther von Stoltzing. Stoltzing’s inspirations, however, bring him the beauties that Wagner wrote for him. Sachs’ house is a mobile workshop, a small truck of the kind normally used for selling snacks and fast food on the streets. It’s kind of cute, but one wonders: why? And why should Hans Sachs be a drunk? Certainly, it is amusing to see young Stoltzing choke on his laced coffee in the morning after the aborted elopement, and the whole stage play around this coffee and schnaps is entertaining to watch, but what does it have to do with everything else? Sachs is the very incarnation of integrity and honesty; he has enough self-control and discernment to encourage Walther and to stay away from Evchen himself. He is the one who pulls the strings – an alcoholic would never have achieved all this. The Meistersingers themselves are just as drab as their environment, grey and brown suits long gone out of fashion: they seem to cling to a better past and when the future comes along, they don’t see it with a favourable eye. This at least makes sense and goes with the story. Fortunately, Kirill Petrenko and the Bayrische Staatsorchester, along with a magnificent cast, bring at least some musical sparkle to this production. With his usual energy, Petrenko reveals and highlights many a lovely detail of the score. But even they cannot remedy the tediousness of Act I, and neither can the occasional gag in the staging; one wonders if, when arias can be cut or rearranged in Don Giovanni or Le Nozze di Figaro, nothing could be done about this. Wolfgang Koch, with his powerful and warm baritone voice, is Hans Sachs, and he brings out the whole range of emotions that he experiences. Baritone Martin Gantner is equally perfect as Sixtus Beckmesser, ridiculous and touching at the same time. With the golden suit he wears for the contest scene, he is the only shining thing in this production. Jonas Kaufmann is Walther von Stoltzing, the newcomer who butts in, full of irreverent talent, carefree and a tad naïve. Winning the contest is important to him only as a means to get the girl he loves. Kaufmann, who is in his forties, seems to belong to this set of people who don’t believe in years and whose youth in truth never ends: his every movement on stage is full of youthful energy and he is totally credible in his part. Needless to say, he has the loveliest music to sing in this opera, and he delivers the goods: with his particular timbre, warm and strong, and his particular brand of pianissimo, his every intervention is pure delight. Sarah Jakubiak, light of voice and of foot, charming and natural in her every movement, is the adored Evchen. Okka von der Damerau is Magdalene, full of wit also vocally. Young tenor Benjamin Bruns is equally convincing in the role of the apprentice David. The quintet of Act III, “Selig wie die Sonne”, when all these wonderful voices come together, is a moment of serene beauty. It is a pity Veit Pogner doesn’t have more to say – we’d have liked to hear more of Christoph Fischesser and his elegant baritone. An entertaining evening all in all, but nothing that will stay with us for longer than it takes to get home, no new insights into the workings of the story itself, nor into the inner life of the characters. Drab’s the word.