Mastodon Bayreuth 2011 Preview 2: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg - The Wagnerian

Bayreuth 2011 Preview 2: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

Written By The Wagnerian on Saturday, 9 July 2011 | 5:52:00 pm

Yes, it's a revival and yes it's Katharina Wagner's "infamous" production - don't expect a Glydebourne here. Oddly, first time this premièred in 2007, the Bayreuth regulars gave the odd hearty clap and whistle after acts one and two - it was only after the Meistersingers with giant penises (yes I did say Meistersingers with giant penises, although "oversized" might be more accurate) went a romping on the hallowed ground of the Festspielhaus  that they became somewhat upset. Perhaps it was a Mesitersinger with a papier-mâché head of Richard Wagner (with accompanying purple beret) doing the "can-can" that was simply to much?


What the reviewers said (this is a mix of reviews from the premier in 2007 and last year, where it was "tidied-up"a little - as it has been each year since 2007)

"One boo for the first act, several for the second. Then the curtain fell on the third act and the storm broke. Katharina Wagner's new staging of her great- grandfather's ``Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg'' unfolded amid passion at the Bayreuth opera festival in Germany."
Bayreuth needs change, and in its convoluted way, this production was a plea for that. The problems lay less with the concept than with its execution"
This incoherent production tries to do far too many things at once. There are abundant clever references to German art, culture and architecture. Statues of Goethe, Schiller, Bach, Wagner, Kleist and others come to life and dance, in grotesquely oversized masks and their underwear, for the third-act meadow festivities. A little nudity and some simulated sex are thrown in for good measure.
Katharina's calculated subversion of the plot could have been brilliant if it had been more sparingly realized. In her frenetic struggle to prove herself clever enough, presumably aided by intellectual dramaturge Robert Sollich, a few good ideas and strong images are lost in the dross. Bloomberg - 2007 
"Meistersinger," an opera about tension between tradition and innovation in art, stands as a glorious affirmation of the human spirit but also has its dark side. Katharina Wagner homes in on the opera's two most troublesome aspects. One is the peroration by the cobbler-poet Hans Sachs urging the populace to keep "holy German art" free from foreign influences. The other is Richard Wagner's mean spirited treatment of the town clerk Sixtus Beckmesser, narrow-minded guardian of the rules of song.
Fascinating though the ideas of Wagner and her collaborator Robert Sollich may be, the result is more a critique of "Meistersinger" - and a negative one - than a production. Nor did she achieve the kind of absorbing interaction between characters typical of the best concept-oriented directors. Of the opera's warmly expansive spirit there was little trace. You left thinking you hadn't really seen the opera." New York Times - 2007
"Katharina Wagner and her set designer Tilo Steffens locate the first two acts in a spacious school auditorium. Peter Konwitschny's Hamburg production of "Lohengrin" comes to mind, and the hunch is proved right again and again that Wagner's great granddaughter - how could it be otherwise - must have seen a good many Wagner productions by now. The school - with galeries on the side and rooms at the back - is clearly an academy for music, theatre and dance: a sombre, ugly building
After the second intermission everything is simply different. Sachs meditates in an elegant salon wearing shoes, a white shirt and a suit, while behind him appear the old German masters - Richard Wagner among them, of course - as huge masks. They then get down from where they're stationed, chain Sachs and whirl in a grotesque satyr's dance. A rather mysterious scene in which only so much is clear: Sachs resigns, and with him a stage crew very much like that of the production, who takes their bows in pantomime.

Sachs resigns, Stolzing conforms, Beckmesser becomes an action artist giving a new twist to the art scene - a commentary on today’s opera in general and the Bayreuth Festival in particular? Perhaps. Yet it all remains too intellectual, on the one hand filled to overflowing with ideas and props, on the other hand a void - the entire history of the ideological reception of the “Mastersingers” as “Nazi opera” is blended out, for example, while Katharina Wagner remains focussed on the performance aesthetic. Sign and Sight - 2007
Her interpretation, which turned the original plot on its head - Richard Wagner danced in his underpants and topless dancers took to the stage - proved too much for the traditionalists, who made up the bulk of the audience, at the same time as irritating the iconoclasts. The Guardian - 2007
This is the opera production singled out as the scandal among those currently presented at the Bayreuth Festival. After thunderous applause at the curtain calls for the singers, a young woman darkly and elegantly dressed comes from behind the curtain to a cacophony of boos … and increasingly a few ‘bravos’. She greets this volley of abuse with a beaming smile, a wave, and an extravagant flick forward of her - equally extravagant - blonde hair. This is the director whose staging goes largely unappreciated mainly because she has had the misfortune to be born into the Wagner family and so some opinion has it that she is there birth right rather than talent. This person is… of course you know already…. - Katharina Wagner, who also now joint director of the Festival. For Die Meistersinger, hers is clearly a Konzept from the school of Regietheater and if it was by Marthaler, Neuenfels or Herheim - all of whom currently have ‘shows’ running at Bayreuth - then the applause would undoubtedly have outscored the catcalls" Seen and Heard International - 2010

Even if the action in the first two acts logically builds towards the final scene this is simply not good “Handwerk”. It is a "Schreibtisch" concept which hasn’t translated into interesting music theatre. When I first saw this production in 2008, I summoned all the goodwill I could manage in a conscious effort to take a stand against the conservative and reactionary elements attending the Bayreuth Festival. Having now seen the production live for the second time, I have to acknowledge that the flaws cannot be outweighed by the ingenious finale of Act 3.
The Bayreuth audiences showed no mercy when Katharina Wagner came out before the curtain. She must have some nerves, enduring such negative reactions year after year. Wagneroperanet - 2010


See Also (as there certainly is some relationship): Nuremberg Used and Abused: The true and imagined Nuremberg of Wagner and others

Cast 2011

Stage design Tilo Steffens

Choral Conducting Eberhard Friedrich

Hans Sachs, Schuster James Rutherford
Veit Pogner, Goldschmied Georg Zeppenfeld
Kunz Vogelgesang, Kürschner Charles Reid
Konrad Nachtigal, Spengler Rainer Zaun
Sixtus Beckmesser, Stadtschreiber Adrian Eröd
Fritz Kothner, Bäcker Markus Eiche
Balthasar Zorn, Zinngießer Edward Randall
Ulrich Eisslinger, Würzkrämer Florian Hoffmann
Augustin Moser, Schneider Stefan Heibach
Hermann Ortel, Seifensieder Martin Snell
Hans Schwarz, Strumpfwirker Mario Klein
Hans Foltz, Kupferschmied Diógenes Randes
Walther von Stolzing Burkhard Fritz
David, Sachsens Lehrbube Norbert Ernst
Eva, Pogners Tochter Michaela Kaune
Magdalene, Evas Amme Carola Guber
Ein Nachtwächter Friedemann Röhlig


Tuesday 26th July -        The Meistersinger of Nuremberg I
Saturday 30th July -       Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg II
Saturday 06th August -  Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg III
Friday 12th August -      Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg IV
Thursday 18th August  - Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg V
Wednesday 24th August Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg VI