Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg at the Bayreuth Festival

Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Johannes Martin Kränzle, Michale Volle, Günther Groissböck - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Johannes Martin Kränzle, Michale Volle, Günther Groissböck
Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
Richard Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg; Daniel Behle, Günther Groissböck, Johannes Martin Kränzle, Wiebke Lehmkuhl, Camilla Nylund, Klaus Florian Vogt, Michael Volle, dir: Barrie Kosky, cond: Philippe Jordan; Bayreuth Festival, Germany
Reviewed by Tony Cooper on 10 August 2019 Star rating: 5.0 (★★★★★)
Bayreuth Festival’s production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg offered a strong message on anti-Semitism

You soon get a feeling for the style of Barrie Kosky’s innovative and entertaining production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, first seen at Bayreuth in 2017 [see Tony's review of the 2018 revival of this production]. For one thing, he dumps the traditional setting of St Catherine’s Church in Act I for Villa Wahnfried where we meet Wagner and his wife Cosima entertaining bosom friends in a ‘read-through’ of Meistersinger in which the Jewish-born conductor, Hermann Levi, is portrayed and greatly humiliated as Sixtus Beckmesser, the role so magnificently sung and so well acted by Johannes Martin Kränzle.

The date of this well-heeled gathering (13th August 1875) was projected in large lettering on a gauze-covered curtain whilst the names of Wagner’s beloved dogs (Molly and Marke) were also flashed up and, oddly enough, the temperature of the day - 23C. Bayreuth’s usually hot often in more ways than one!



Barrie Kosky's production of Richard Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was again at the Bayreuth Festival this year (seen 10 August 2019). Philippe Jordan conducted with Klaus Florian Vogt as Walther, Camilla Nylund as Eva, Michael Volle as Hans Sachs, Daniel Behle as David and Johannes Martin Kränzle as Beckmesser.

The pivotal role of Walther von Stolzing (seen as Young Wagner) fell to Klaus Florian Vogt, a big ‘favourite’ of the Green Hill and his entrance into Wahnfried’s elegantly-furnished, book-lined drawing-room came by way of a precarious route tumbling from Wagner’s Steinway Grand directly into the arms of Cosima (seen as Eva) powerfully sung by Finnish soprano Camilla Nylund while Günther Groissböck as Veit Pogner (Eva’s father, later appearing as Franz Liszt) showed his muscle equating to his wealthy position.

The Master Singers arrive by the same circuitous route (plus a few Wagner look-alikes, too) with their chains of office denoting their trade dangling heavily from their necks. Robed in traditional processional gowns - inspired, perhaps, by the Nuremberg Renaissance printmaker, Albrecht Dürer - they could easily have passed off as the Lord Chamberlain’s Men from the pantomime, Dick Whittington.

But Mr Kosky’s production was far from ‘pantomime’ and, as always, he keeps plenty of tricks up his sleeve offering a dramatic and stylish ending to Act I inasmuch as Wahnfried was seen slowly retracting to reveal a replica of Room 600 of Nuremberg’s Palace of Justice used by the International Military Tribunal for the War Trials of 1945-46 with a lonely GI on duty, a timely reminder of things to come.

In the original production the same set was cleverly adapted for Act II but here the courtroom floor was free of furniture and completely grassed over finding Wagner and Cosima tucked up one corner enjoying an al fresco lunch. Kosky’s new thinking now depicts Room 600 completely bare apart from a big heap of goods and chattels from Wahnfried bunged up one corner which, I guess, would not look out of place as an ‘installation’ in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Johannes Martin Kränzle, Klaus Florian Vogt, Camilla Nylund - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Johannes Martin Kränzle, Klaus Florian Vogt, Camilla Nylund
Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enrico Nawrath)

One of the highlights of this act was the formidable tête-à-tête between Hans Sachs (sung by Michael Volle portraying Old Wagner) and Sixtus Beckmesser with Sachs interrupting and greatly annoying him by bumbling away at his old cobbler’s song while hammering the soles of Eva’s half-made shoes while marking his musical errors. And the moment David (sung by Daniel Behle) confusingly sees Beckmesser - whom in Kosky’s thinking is a Frankenstein-type creation of everything Wagner hated not only Jews but the French, Italians and critics alike and, no doubt, the tax man - serenading his girlfriend Magdalena (Wiebke Lehmkuhl) all hell breaks loose.

And with Kosky portraying Levi as Beckmesser a nasty and disturbing scene brought Act II to an unsettling close as he became the target of a brutal pogrom-style attack. The townsfolk flared up in arms egging on the forces of evil and, disturbingly, Beckmesser’s beaten up by David (Sachs’ apprentice) with a few of his mates and forced to wear a caricature head of a Jew. The Bayreuth stage then became dominated by an inflatable caricature of a Jew unfolding from the witness-box staring longingly into the auditorium as if we, members of the audience, are being put on trial. When deflated the only evidence remaining of the inflatable was the black skull-cap heavily embossed with the Star of David.

There was so much good stuff in this production but none comes better than the ‘Morgentraum’ quintet celebrating the radiance of love and art infused with a sense of wonder with each singers’ line revolving round the word ‘Morgentraum’. A wondrous, beautiful and fulfilling piece expressing a host of different emotions by the five characters, it was heard against the drabness of the empty Nuremberg court-room with the flags of the four occupying nations - the Soviet Union, Great Britain, the USA and France - lining the back of the court. And harbouring a richly-textured baritone voice, Michael Volle (as Sachs/Wagner) delivered a brilliant and effortless rendering of the ‘Wahn’ monologue - a tribute to Holy German Art - from Room 600’s witness-box thereby putting Wagner and his music on trial. But music, I guess, wins over politics?

Mr Kosky’s a master of surprises and towards the end of the opera an entire symphony orchestra and chorus arrives on a slowly-moving platform to the front of stage. The ‘musicians’ were acted but it was hard to define at first. As they came into full view the walls of the courtroom slowly vanished reminiscent of the retraction of Wahnfried in Act I with Room 600 slowly coming into view.

Adding to the overall pleasure of the production were Rebecca Ringst’s sets which were thoughtfully designed to capture the correct scale and detail of the opera’s respective scenes. For instance, Wahnfried (created as a doll’s-house box set) was accurate, I should imagine, as one could possibly get from Wagner’s day while costume designer, Klaus Bruns, was just as thoughtful in his ideas producing a good wardrobe.

Mr Kosky delivered Bayreuth a production of Meistersinger that puts Richard Wagner - who described Jews as enemies not only of German culture but also of humanity as a whole - firmly in his place. This production might just be the one that’ll help to separate Wagner’s operas from their dark, distant and murky past.

Swiss-born conductor, Philippe Jordan, did a sterling job in the pit capturing the true essence, richness and beauty of Wagner’s wonderful score while the chorus-master, Eberhard Friedrich, drilled his charges so well. The large chorus more than made its mark especially in the final scene witnessing the singing competition when they flooded the court-room in excitement and wonder following Walther being awarded First Prize. The scene, I felt, echoed a Pieter Bruegel painting as the peasants were attractively dressed in pale- and grey-coloured outfits as befitting their station in life with the womenfolk adorned by those iconic-looking white-linen starched bonnets.

The audience roared their approval for the performers in true Bayreuthian style but when Mr Kosky arrived on stage to take his bow (how lovely to have him present) he was partially greeted by the Bayreuth booing mafia who were outshone by their counterparts - and I’m pleased to say mostly from my side of the house - showing wholeheartedly their support for his production. Now - that really is a touch of pantomime. Oh no it isn’t!

Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner: Die Meistersinger - Bayreuth Festival 2019 (Photo Enrico Nawrath)
Wagner: Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Saturday 10 August 2019, Bayreuth Festival
Director: Barrie Kosky
Conductor: Philippe Jordan (Bayreuth Festival Orchestra)
Chorus-master: Eberhard Friedrich (Bayreuth Festival Chorus)
Set designer: Rebecca Ringst
Costume designer: Klaus Bruns
Lighting designer: Franck Evin
Video director: Regine Freise
Dramaturg: Ulrich Lenz
Walther von Stolzing (a young Franconian knight): Klaus Florian Vogt
Eva (daughter of Veit Pogner): Camilla Nylund
Magdalena (Eva’s nurse): Wiebke Lehmkuhl
Hans Sachs (a cobbler): Michael Volle
David (apprentice to Hans Sachs): Daniel Behle
Sixtus Beckmesser (town clerk): Johannes Martin Kränzle
Viet Pogner (a goldsmith): Günther Groissböck
Kunz Vogelgesang (a furrier): Tansel Akzeybek
Konrad Nachtigall (a buckle-maker): Armin Kolarczyk
Fritz Kothner (a baker): Daniel Schmutzhard
Balthasar Zorn (a pewterer): Paul Kaufmann
Ulrich Eisslinger (a grocer): Christopher Kaplan
Augustin Moser (a tailor): Stefan Heibach
Hermann Ortel (a soap boiler): Raimund Nolte
Hans Schwarz (a stocking weaver): Andreas Hörl
Hans Foltz (a coppersmith): Timo Riihonen
Night-watchman: Wilhelm Schwinghammer
Helga Beckmesser (harp): Ruth-Alice Marino

  • Tony's review of the 2018 revival of Barrie Kosky's production of Wagner's Die Mesitersinger at Bayreuth
  • This year is the centenary of Wolfgang Wagner, Richard Wagner's grandson and director of the festival, read Tony's article about the centenary celebration at Bayreuth
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