Saturday December 13th, 2014 matinee - A large, very attentive and enthusiastic audience for this matinee of MEISTERSINGER at The Met, the only Wagner on offer by the Company this season. It was a very good - though not great - performance. James Levine, the Met's orchestra and chorus, and the opera itself were the stars of the afternoon, along wth some exceptional individual portrayals onstage.
My first in-house experience with MEISTERSINGER was 46 years ago - almost to the day - and it was also a Saturday matinee: it was a Robert O'Hearn/Nathaniel Merrill setting, Joseph Rosenstock conducted, and the main roles were taken by Jean Fenn, Mildred Miller, Sandor Konya, Loren Driscoll, Giorgio Tozzi, Karl Dönch, and Ezio Flagello. Then at the height of my fan-boy stage, I waited afterwards at the stage door and got everyone's autograph. It wasn't til 25 years that I saw the opera again, in the current Otto Schenk production, which has held up fairly well though - as wth so many older Met productions - the lighting has suffered a decline. Also it seemed that there were fewer attendees at the St. John's Day festival than I recall from earlier seasons.
MEISTERSINGER is one of James Levine's conductorial masterpieces; his love for the score is evident from the rich sonorities of the opening theme all the way to the majestic finale - six hours later. Of particular appeal today was the autumnal prelude to the third act. The orchestra, while showing tiny signs of fatigue here and there, produced many heart-touching passages, notably some excellent cello solo work shortly after curtain-rise. With David Chan in the concertmaster's chair, the musicians gave their all. Sharing in the glory were the Met choristers: their roof-raising "Wacht auf!" in Act III was just one example of the key part they played in the performance.
I try not to make comparisons between past and present singers; it's not really fair, and yet sometimes it's difficult to forget a particularly luminous interpretation of a role while listening to a current incumbent. Thus the echos of such Evas as Mari Anne Haggender, Karita Mattila, and Hei-Kyung Hong hung in the air whilst today's Annette Dasch gave a serviceable performance, sometimes a bit under-powered and lacking in tonal radiance. Likewise, it's a challenge for anyone essaying David to rise to the level of Loren Driscoll or the marvelous Matthew Polenzani in this long and demanding part; Paul Appleby seemed slightly stretched vocally by the Act I narrative today, though his portrayal was endearing. Both Ms. Dasch and Mr. Appleby certainly had their appealing passages, and the audience gave them favorable applause at the end of the opera.
Matthew Rose sang well as the Night Watchman (he gets a solo bow) and the Mastersingers were a fine lot - only those seated stage left in Act I were visible from our box - and I especially like Benjamin Bliss (as Vogelgesang - a tall, handsome young man with a clear voice and gentlemanly presence) and David Cangelosi (expert stage savvy, witty and animated). Martin Gantner's characterization of Kothner was apt though the voice was not rich. Hans-Peter König's huge voice was reined in (though still more than ample of tone) to suit the music of Pogner, the most artstocratic of the Masters. Karen Cargill's warm timbre and alert acting as Magdalene sustained the excellent impression she has made at The Met as Waltraute in GOTTERDAMMERUNG and Anna in LES TROYENS.
The three central male roles were very well-taken today. If a bit of the velvet has worn off Johan Botha's voice in his 25-year career of singing some of the most arduous roles ever written, it still rings out tirelessly and in fact his finest singing came in the final scene's Prize Song at a point when most tenors are struggling to stay afloat. Never a very credible stage figure in romantic roles, Mr. Botha simply stands his ground and belts it out, and there's something to be said for that in this killer music.
Above: Johannes Martin Kränzle as Beckmesser, a Ken Howard/Met Opera photo
In a supeb interpretation, Johannes Martin Kränzle's Beckmesser stands proudly amid such memorable portrayals of the town clerk as those of Karl Dönch, Eike Wilm Schulte, Hermann Prey, and Sir Thomas Allen. Mr. Kränzle is an attractive man with a lithe figure, and as such there's no reason why he would not consider himself a contender for Eva's hand. The baritone played down the slapstick elements of the role, favoring a genial (though conniving) manner, and thus his degrading defeat at the song contest was more poignant than usual. And before launching his pilfered, askew song, Kränzle gave a wonderfully subtle portrayal of the proverbial nervous wreck. Aligned to this his excellent stagecraft, the singer also has a voice to be reckoned with: clear, warm, and expertly deployed with some bel canto manifestations in his attempts at a serenade. Herr Kränzle's bio shows a vast and diverse repertoire: Amfortas, Wolfram, Don Giovanni, Don Alfonso, Bartok's Bluebeard, Alberich, Tchaikovsky's Count Tomsky, and even Papageno. Let's have him back at The Met, and soon!
I first heard Michael Volle (above) on a tape from the 1993 Cardiff Festival. Like many a fine lyric baritone, he has matured into a robust-voiced singing actor and is now in the major leagues, singing such roles as Wotan, Scarpia, and Wozzeck. Following a success as Mandryka in ARABELLA at The Met last season, Volle has come back to us for two performances as Hans Sachs when the scheduled artist, Johan Reuter, withdrew from the cast.
With a wonderfully natural stage presence, Volle's Sachs is younger-looking than many who have essayed the role. Sachs is often seen as a father figure in Eva's imagination, but with Mr. Volle he might seem more like an older brother. Pacing himself wisely over the course of the long role, the baritone sang sturdily throughout and in the 'Wahn' monolog of Act III his poetic aspects began to well up. The entire third act was especially impressive, with just a miniscule trace of vocal fatigue in his long final address; yet he called forth un-tapped reserves to carry him thru the final passages and to a big victory: the audience gave him a much-deserved ovation.
The opera had me in a highly emotional state; it was the Met performance I'd most been looking forward to this season, and it was a rewarding experience in every way. Massive waves of love for Maestro Levine, who continues to accumulate laurel wreaths nearly 45-years into his Met career.
Metropolitan Opera House
December 13, 2014 matinee
DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NÜRNBERG
Hans Sachs..............Michael Volle
Walther von Stolzing....Johan Botha
Beckmesser..............Johannes Martin Kränzle
Night Watchman..........Matthew Rose