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6 Degrees Entertainment

'Wagner: Die Meistersinger Von Nurnberg' (2-DVD]
(Michael Volle, Klaus Florian Vogt, Johannes Martin Kränzle, Anne Schwanewilms, et al / 2-Disc DVD / NR / 2018 / Deutsche Grammophon)

Overview: The high-point of the 2017 Bayreuth Festival, Barrie Rosky's "astonishingly entertaining and convincing" (Der Spiegel) new Meistersinger is "a triumph" (Berliner Morgenpost"): "a production of enormous insight and quality ... that plumbs the depths of both the opera and its composer" (Opera News).

DVD Verdict: After Tristan und Isolde (2016) and Parsifal (2017) this is the third installment of the exclusive, multiyear partnership between Deutsche Grammophon and the Bayreuth Festival; in which the Yellow Label is the exclusive audiovisual partner of the mythical Wagner festival, releasing each edition's new production on DVD/Blu-ray.

This year, Deutsche Grammophon are proud to release on a well-presented 2-DVD set, the celebrated production of 'Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg,' which was premiered on July 25th 2017, staged by Barrie Kosky and conducted by Philippe Jordan.

The main characters provide double-duty as they start out impersonating Wagner and his family and retinue before Act 1 gets under way. During the prelude we see the Wagner family in the parlor at Wahnfried. Baritone Volle is Wagner in his beret with his fondness for silks and perfumes. Liszt, impersonated by bass Günther Groissböck, is seen with his shoulder length silver hair; warts and all.

His daughter Cosima is impersonated by soprano Anne Schwanewilms who will later become Eva. The implication is that Wagner saw Cosima as Eva and himself as Hans Sachs. Liszt and Wagner play the piano, Wagner brushing Liszt aside as he sees himself the superior composer. We see the Jewish conductor Hermann Levi preparing to conduct Wagner’s works.

During the opening choral hymn unbeliever Levi is seen resisting the religious gestures that others urge him to show. Wagner’s only son Siegfied and Walther von Stolzing emerge from inside the grand piano. As the singing begins, the family characters become the operatic characters.

Volle, stand in for Wagner, becomes Hans Sachs, Groissböck, having been Liszt, Cosima’s father in real life becomes Veit Pogner, Eva’s father in the drama. Hermann Levi played by Johannes Kränzle becomes the marker Sixtus Beckmesser, the hopeless suitor for Cosima/Eva’s affection.

Act 2 begins with Wagner and Cosima picnicking in a field. A text from Cosima’s diary is seen, she is the inspiration for the master’s melodies. Eva remains in Cosima’s black dress as if to emphasize that Cosima is the model for Eva’s character.

This is really the central idea of this production and one which I have never before considered: Cosima was the model for Eva and Wagner saw himself as the model for Hans Sachs. During the crowd fight a giant mask of Wagner is placed over Sach’s head and he dances amid the chaos not of a medieval pillow fight, but more of Third Reich pogrom.

Beckmesser is wounded. During the final night watchman’s chant Wagner’s mask is enlarged to room size. As it melts into the floor, the top of the head is seen with a star of David symbol.

Act 3 begins with a text from WWII stating that the new German weapons provide “Schräge Nachtmusik,” (off-key night music), implying that Hitler borrowed some words from his favorite opera, Die Meistersinger. The scrim rises to reveal the post-WWII Nuremberg trials courtroom.

The flags of the victors Russia, Britain, United States and France festoon the wall. This is the sober setting for Sach’s monologue “wahn, wahn.” (Why do people torment one another in their futile rage). A wounded Beckmesser is briefly tormented by 6 midget jews in masks clawing at him as he stands near a lectern reflecting on his miscreant behavior.

Eva enters with “Sieh Evchen” having shed Cosima’s black dress for a youthful one and a flowing hair style. The glorious quintet is sung at court table.

The final scene of the Saint Crispin festivities takes place in the same Nuremberg courtroom. This is where the opera production falls short in my opinion. We are denied the joyful medieval festival that Wagner wrote and instead have this polemical message of a guilty Germany in judgement at Nuremberg.

The clock winds backwards and David dances before the painting of Cosima as does Siegfried. After the prize song the nation’s flags are lowered and the room cleared as Sachs sings his soliloquy on German art in an empty court as he faces the audience. The choir and orchestra are then moved on stage as Sachs/Wagner conducts the final chorus.

In all, a very interesting production of this massive comic opera. Very amusing, thought-provoking and highly original. The prelude and Act 1 were the best parts, for me personally, but maybe you will discover your own upon watching this - which, I truly hope you do.

Michael Volle (Hans Sachs), Klaus Florian Vogt (Walther von Stolzing), Johannes Martin Kränzle (Beckmesser), Anne Schwanewilms (Eva), Daniel Behle (David), Wiebke Lehmkuhl (Magdalene), Günther Groissböck (Pogner), Daniel Schmutzhard (Kothner), and Karl-Heinz Lehner (Night-Watchman).

Bayreuth Festival Orchestra and Chorus / Philippe Jordan, Barrie Kosky (director).