Berlin, Staatsoper im Schiller Theater: “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”

Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin – Season 2015/2016  
Opera in three acts. Text and music by Richard Wagner
Kunz Vogelgesang GRAHAM CLARK
Konrad Nachtigall GYULA ORENDT
Sixtus Beckmesser MARKUS WERBA
Fritz Kothner JÜRGEN LINN
Ulrich Eisslinger REINER GOLDBERG
Augustin Moser PAUL O’NEILL
Hermann Ortel ARTTU KATAJA
Hans Foltz OLAF BÄR
Walther von Stolzing KLAUS FLORIAN VOGT
A Nightwatchman JAN MARTINIK
Staatskapelle Berlin
Conductor Daniel Barenboim
Chorus Martin Wright
Production Andrea Moses
Stage Jan Pappelbaum
Costumes Adriana Braga Peretzki
Light Olaf Freese
Berlin, Deutsche Staatsoper, 18th October 2015    
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg” by Richard Wagner is probably the most festive opera for Germans though once hijacked by Adolf Hitler in the 1930s whose Third Reich welcomed it for its supposedly German cultural supremacy. Yet it was a highly prestigious and ambitious project for Andrea Moses to stage a new production of the opera at Berlin’s Deutsche Staatsoper premièring on the 25th anniversary of the German re-unification. The national colours black, red and gold are consequently omnipresent in every act as flags, ribbons, baloons etc. The action starts before the music. While the audience are taking their seats in the auditorium, the actors in evening dresses and elegant suits (costumes by Adriana Braga Peretzki) are entering from the stalls to go to the stage where they are sitting down on wooden benches facing and reflecting the audience. Auditorium and stage are unified in one room for a kind of ceremony during the prelude to go on with the initial church scene. It is an official state ceremony rather than a religious service. Walther von Stolzing appears like the radiant hero in a leather jacket breaking into the conventions of an established society. Even the apprentice David is wearing his best Sunday suit for the singing lesson that is turned into something academic. His unlucky bowl haircut may underline his simple-mindedness but thanks to Stephan Rügamer’s dedicated playing, the character does not become one-dimensional. The gathering of the Mastersingers looks like a board meeting with a modern sponsor list naming the guilds. Like Stolzing, Sachs appears to be an outsider in his casual wear among the well-dressed Mastersinger managers, just a generation older but unlike him he is rooted in society. While a banana David is furtively eating must do in the first act to refer to recent German history, the apprenctice punks at the beginning of the second resemble the crowd on the Berlin Wall televised all around the world back in 1989 and the final fugue turns into a brawl among the punks which the nightwatchman falls victim to. The traditional cobbler’s shop of the first part of the third act looks rather like Sach’s study with a Cranach-like painting and stage-high book-shelves and some of the books are getting at German history as well (stage by Jan Pappelbaum) such as “The big DDR book”. The song contest of the last scene takes place in front of Berlin’s city palace being re-constructed at present to change into an open meadow after all. It is in fact a good idea of the producer not to have German flags waved at the end but baloons in the national colours are prevailing. Andrea Moses’s strong side is the consistent Personenregie and a moderately modern approach so that the production is likely to last long in the repertory of the Deutsche Staatsoper. Apart from the a little austere beginning it is colourful but never comes out shrill or provocative. A solid piece of work indeed. Musically it is an extraordinary event of first class above all through Daniel Barenboim’s masterful and experienced conducting the outstanding and precisely playing Staatskapelle Berlin. There is a marvellously tranparent and direct sound from the beginning that would have revealed any wrong note in the prelude at once. As a special highlight the production features a few veteran Wagner singers: Graham Clark once a highly-acclaimed Mime still has a distinctly audible tenor for Kunz Vogelgesang. Siegfried Jerusalem and Reiner Goldberg used to be two of the great Wagner tenors of the late 20th century. Vocally very present they appear as Balthasar Zorn and Ulrich Eisslinger, respectively and Goldberg who I once heard as Stolzing at the Staatsoper still sings an impressive “Hier!”. Olaf Bär as Hans Foltz is in on it like the 91-year-old Franz Mazura as Hans Schwarz who is probably the oldest active opera singer at the moment. All of them still have an outstanding stage presence and in case one of the other singers got stuck in the complex score they could certainly help out. Klaus Florian Vogt as Walther von Stolzing was the star of the opera night for me. He does not only look like a young knight, his originally lyrical rather than heroic tenor sounds ideal in the role. He starts “Am stillen Herd in Winterszeit” most romantically to increase tension and power gradually for a first climax. His “Fanget an!” is impressive and he takes up Barenboim’s tranparency from the orchestra pit for his singing throughout the opera to crown it with a superbly sung Prize Song at the end. His emission is effortless especially in the higher pitch and his singing is always on the text. One cannot stage Die Meistersinger without an outstanding Hans Sachs. Wolfgang Koch does a very good and professional job. His powerful bass-baritone is up to Wagner’s requirements till the end when he shows stamina in “Verachtet mir die Meister nicht” but the miraculous moments are missing somehow in Flieder- and Wahnmonolog but that hardly affects Koch’s overall performance in face of the complexity and extent of the role. Julia Kleiter sings the first Eva of her career. As a chic lady from a well-to-do family rather than an innocent girl she smokes a cigarette from time to time and Sachs even gives her a light. Her singing is radiant and always based on the text. A real discovery! Stephan Rügamer has the right character tenor for the apprentice David. He sings with a light voice and produces distinct top notes partly in falsetto. The sympathetic Anna Lapkovskaja makes most out of Magdalene with her plush mezzosoprano. Sixtus Beckmesser is sung by Markus Werba whose veritable baritone masters the demanding role impeccably including the seldom heard top notes making the character all but a cartoon figure. Kwangchul Youn is a vibrant Veit Pogner and proves his command of good German pronunciation. Jürgen Linn lends his dramatic baritone to Fritz Kothner and the “Leges Tabulaturae” takes him some effort. Last but not least I must mention the excellent Staatsopernchor (Chorus master Martin Wright) with its soloists as apprentices. Photos by Bernd Uhlig