Tag Archives: richard wagner

Wagner & Seinfeld: Die Meistersinger von Monk’s

Things have been silent on the blog front since the recent Wagner festivities. One reason, honestly, was due to somewhat of a Wagner haze I found myself in for about a week after the birthday. Silly but true. One thought I’ve returned to over the last couple weeks is an odd parallel between Seinfeld (my all-time favorite show) and Wagner (my favorite composer), specifically Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It’s perhaps not poignant, but I think it’s worthwhile to share and hash out a bit. If nothing else, it can be my own little twist on the bicentennial celebrations. After all, there’s nothing like juxtaposing the composer often considered “too German” with the show that was originally considered “too Jewish”…

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[Photo: Kramer attempts to hock some opera tickets outside of Pagliacci in the Seinfeld episode “The Opera.”]

I’ll be walking a bit of a tightrope here, as I don’t want to be either overly general or too deep in the weeds on both topics. Now for some context:

Wagner:
As Gioachino Rossini noted, “Wagner has lovely moments but awful quarters of an hour.” While I don’t agree with the latter sentiment, I understand the criticism. Here at the home front, my love of Wagner’s music isn’t fully shared by my wife. As she enjoys telling me, she thinks his music is beautiful and she enjoys playing it (as he wrote interesting viola parts), but she doesn’t have the patience to sit through a full work. Most of Wagner’s most memorable moments fall into one of two categories:
1. Leitmotif – melody, harmony, rhythm, or combination thereof
2. Lengthy scene or other extended period of action featuring an “endless melody”

It’s worth pointing out because, as you may have noticed, I didn’t mention either of opera’s most noteworthy terms: aria (song) and recitative (musical speech). As a genre, many of opera’s memorable moments are arias or recitatives. Wagner, however, melds the two devices. His hyper-focus on drama kept him from featuring popular musical devices that often stalled the plot and/or dramatic development. Because of this, rarely does one hear an all-out “song” in his works.

Seinfeld:
Yes, Seinfeld is often considered the greatest sitcom of all time by many outlets and publications. I happen to think it’s the greatest show regardless of genre, but that’s just me. I grew up with Seinfeld. I’ve been watching it regularly since before I was ten years old. My mom watched it on its original run I watched right alongside her. And that continued through daily syndication viewings and eventually on DVD whenever I wanted (which was and is often). I laughed as a kid on one level throughout the original airings, and two decades later I’m still laughing just as hard but now at its many subtle layers and nuances. Despite the series’s respect and loyal following, reactions to the series finale were mixed at best. (Many considered it to be an epic disappointment.) Since Seinfeld ended its run in 1998, fans (myself included) had been clamoring for some sort of reunion. Not only did we want a reunion because we loved the show and its characters, but many people wanted a proper resolution to make up for the original finale.

After Seinfeld, the show’s co-creator, Larry David, then created and starred in HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, in which he portrays a fictional version of himself living and occasionally working in LA after Seinfeld. Long story short, it’s a darker, no-holds-barred version of Seinfeld on steroids that quickly became and remains another favorite show of mine. Because of the self-referential nature of Curb, fans were occasionally treated with cameos by the Seinfeld cast in the first six seasons. (Jerry’s brief appearance, his first, in season four’s finale is perfect – he doesn’t even speak.) All the while, in the real world, Larry, Jerry, Julia, Jason, and Michael ruled out a Seinfeld reunion.

Now, what do the above scenarios have to do with one another? If Wagner wrote more full-blown arias, he’d probably have more mainstream appeal nowadays. And if Seinfeld would’ve done a traditional reunion, mainstream America would’ve had more resolution. Alas, both Wagner and Seinfeld delivered, albeit on their own terms and after a very long wait. Hence the parallel.

Wagner, severe dramatist and denier of arias, composed Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, a comedy that revolves around a songwriting guild and a singing contest. It’s also quite lengthy, lasting approximately 5.5 hours including two intermissions. And despite the plot’s emphasis on songs, the listener isn’t treated to a complete, uninterrupted song throughout. Numerous songs are sung, but they are in segments or interrupted if more complete. For instance, all three acts feature passages about songwriting, and therefore examples of good songwriting (from one character to another). But the songs aren’t performed in full. Instead, a verse or after-verse is heard out of context, or a more complete song is sung but is interrupted by another character (e.g., Beckmesser’s chalk, Sachs’s tools, or the vocal reactions of the “audience” on stage). Both kinds of scenarios occur in all three acts. In fact, at the end of Act III, right before Sachs’s closing monologue, Walther sings his prize song (“Morgenlich leuchtend…”) at the competition. Leading up to this point in the opera, the listener has been treated to bits and pieces but one thinks that he/she will finally hear the song in its entirety. Instead, Wagner makes you earn the aria on his terms: he intersperses the contest’s audience’s commentary throughout the song, breaking up Walther’s momentum. And when the aria finishes, the music escalates with the crowd’s reaction, leading to Eva’s response. Here is Johan Botha as Walther in the Vienna Opera’s 2008 production:

So, five hours into an opera about a song contest, the audience is denied a traditional, uninterrupted, full-blown aria. Instead, you get a beautiful song, broken up and delivered on the composer’s terms.

Similarly, Seinfeld indeed had a reunion episode in 2009. Eleven years after the series finale, it was conducted in a truly Seinfeldian manner. Instead of a doing a one-off special, as is the norm with television reunions, the plot of Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s seventh season was Larry David’s convening the Seinfeld cast and crew for a reunion in a ploy to win back his estranged wife. (And the fictionalized versions of the actors occasionally mock Larry for the original series finale, which he wrote.) And what happens throughout the season’s ten episodes is truly magical for Seinfeld fans. We see a (fictional) Larry and Jerry developing and writing a reunion episode for NBC, with the original cast once again taking up their signature characters. It’s not just the main cast that’s included, but also featured are writers, crew, and minor characters such as Wayne Knight‘s Newman, Estelle Harris‘s Estelle Costanza, and Steve Hytner‘s Kenny Bania. And over the course of the season’s final two episodes, the viewer actually gets to see almost all of the “reunion episode.” Between the (fictional) table read, dress rehearsals, Jerry’s whiteboard with bullet points hanging in his office, and select scenes edited with music and a laugh track, one eventually sees much of the plot, jokes, and acting. The lines between reality and fiction constantly blur, as some scenarios in the fictional reunion episode are based on events from Curb‘s first six seasons, just as Seinfeld was based on Jerry and Larry’s real-life experiences as comics in New York. After a while, you don’t know if you’re watching the fictional Seinfeld reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm, or an actual Seinfeld reunion for the viewer at home. Genius. But of course this reunion is broken up, as you’re still watching full episodes of Curb. Once again, you’re on the artist’s terms. Here’s a little taste (it doesn’t include all of the reunion scenes, FYI):

[Embedding has been disabled for this video but it can be viewed here.]

But what would the reaction have been for either of these scenarios taking the traditional route? Let’s face it: five hours into Meistersinger, it’d probably be jarring to sit and listen to an aria dropped into the middle of a final scene. It wouldn’t make Wagnerian sense, and the dramatic flow would be thrown off, especially since Sachs’s closing monologue is right around the corner. Similarly, could you imagine Seinfeld just appearing on NBC on a random Thursday night at 9:00 PM for thirty or sixty minutes? I sure couldn’t. That would betray the spirit of the series. Why would a plotless sitcom whose characters didn’t emotionally develop come back for an out-of-the-blue, traditional reunion special? That’d be like a drama-centric composer who doesn’t write arias featuring one in an opera about songwriting. It’s just too easy. And Wagner and Seinfeld are anything but.

I doubt Larry David was thinking of Meistersinger when he developed his idea for the reunion. But the similarity, for me at least, is quite compelling.

It’s only fitting that I end with this recently-featured clip, in which Larry David and Wagner (including Meistersinger) come to terms with one another:

And if you’re really curious, here’s Ben Heppner singing an “uninterrupted” arrangement of Walther’s prize song:

Previous Wagner-centric posts here, here, here, and here.

MTH-V: Wagner Rarities

It’s still #WagnerWeek (an actual trend on Twitter, believe it or not). The actual anniversary this past Wednesday was nice; it was great to see the various cyber-celebrations and listen to the broadcasts. It was as if the global community was celebrating together, even if I only saw students and my wife that day. You can read my birthday post here, as well as watch last week’s videos here.

Below are a trio of videos featuring Wagner’s orchestral side. Furthermore, they’re not from the Bayreuth canon. Those ten operas are largely what Wagner is remembered for. However, composed three earlier operas that were later disavowed and have therefore never been performed at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus. Although, this summer, each of the operas will be performed in the city of Bayreuth but not at the Festspielhaus. (Consider it classical music’s Separate but Equal clause.) He also wrote a smattering of non-operatic works including a symphony and a half, select vocal works, and various orchestral compositions. Except for Siegfried Idyll and Wesendonck Lieder, however, these other pieces largely gather dust.

I attempted to get my own trend going on Twitter. Alas, the cheese tweeted alone:

 

Because I prefer to post actual performances instead of videos of pictures, finding usable clips for this collection was rather irritating. I wanted to include a performance of his Großer Festmarsch, written on commission to commemorate America’s bicentennial, but I couldn’t find video of a strong performance readily available. Given the limitations, though, some gems are below.

Das Liebesverbot (The Ban on Love) is Wagner’s second opera. And, considering Wagner met his first wife around this time, the title is a bit humorous. Anyway, it’s such a rarity that a 2008 staging in Cooperstown, NY claimed to be the American “fully-staged premiere.” Here is a spirited performance in Munich by the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Harding:

Rienzi, Wagner’s third opera, is perhaps the most well-known of the orphans. The overture isn’t easily confused with any material from Tristan or Meistersinger, but the style has matured beyond its predecessor. (I always enjoy those nagging violins.) Here is a 1988 performance by the London Philharmonic under Klaus Tennstedt:

Kaisermarsch is a standalone orchestral work written in 1871 to celebrate the outcome of the Franco-Prussian war. (I’m surprised there’s not a cameo for Hans Sachs.) Written decades after the above overtures, this is more representative of his mature sound. (And yes, Ein feste Burg is quoted…German through and through…) There is an optional choral ending that is not included here. Enjoy this 1996 performance by Venice’s Orchestra del Teatro La Fenice under Ricardo Muti (now a Chicago treasure!):

Wagner

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(Photo: Wagner’s grave at Wahnfried, taken by myself)

Today is Wilhelm Richard Wagner‘s 200th birthday. The real world and cyberspace are rife with celebrations today and throughout all of 2013. Although, as Dr. Mark Berry correctly noted, “every year is a Wagner year.” This blog is but a drop in the digital ocean of related tributes, and therefore I’m going to be realistic. First, I won’t be breaking any new Wagnerian ground here. Second, there’s no point in writing what others will and have had covered already. But I would like to share something, and so I’d like to jot down a few thoughts about my relationship with my favorite classical composer.

Before going any further, I’d like to suggest a few timely and noteworthy posts and articles (published before today):
Nicholas Spice‘s “Is Wagner bad for us?” from the London Review of Books
Alex Ross‘s “A Wagner Birthday Roast” from The New Yorker
Mark Berry‘s “On entering the week of Wagner’s 200th anniversary” from Boulezian
Alex Ross’s “A Walking Tour of Wagner’s New York” from The New Yorker
Alex Ross’s “Wagner everywhere but New York” from The Rest is Just Noise blog

Being a saxophonist, I ostensibly have little to do with Wagner outside of my instrument’s namesake. (Adolphe Sax was whom Wagner turned to for the development of his Wagner tuba.) That, and Wagner’s use of the saxophone to fill out the needed twelve French horn parts for Tannhäuser‘s Paris premiere, cover most of his saxophonic bases. (Further proof that what you need a ringer, hire a saxophonist!) So what’s my deal?

Honestly, aside from a few random facts and musical excerpts, I knew very little about Wagner until covering him in my music history survey in college. I spent a number of years in my teens voraciously learning about the Holocaust and Nazi Germany, and so I was also aware of some sort of Hitlerian connection, but the specifics were lost on me until later. So I was a relative novice my class’s Romantic unit. I must say that I was instantly fascinated and even a bit overwhelmed. Some reactions, as I can somewhat remember them:
1. I was instantly moved by the music. If I remember correctly, we watched both the end of Die Walküre (I still have my worksheet) and a portion of Act III (?) of Tristan und Isolde (it’s been a while since that course…). And of course listened to the Tristan prelude. Two passages and works that I’m now all too familiar with but that were completely new to me at the time.
2. The theoretical concepts – leitmotif, gesamtkunstwerk, endless melody, etc. – scratched me where I itched. Saxophone literature is largely twentieth (and twenty-first) century or bust. Chronologically, Wagner’s music and musical approach and philosophy represented the first time we covered music in a similar vocabulary (i.e., late Romanticism, highly chromatic, etc.) as some of the solo literature I’d been learning.
3. DRAMA. Wagner’s focus on drama sucked me right in. That music should serve the drama – the actual end – is something with which I whole-heartedly agree (in many contexts still, but at the time it was absolute).

A few weeks after my aforementioned introduction, I checked a recording of Tristan und Isolde out from the music library, and the rest is history. From there I moved to Der Ring des Nibelungen – the Levine/Met recording of the whole cycle – and then Lohengrin, and beyond. I was hooked. A couple years later I completed an independent study for which I researched and wrote about exclusive similarities between Der Ring des Nibelungen and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth works, separate from both creators’ common mythological sources. (Tolkien, along with C.S. Lewis, was at one time quite the Wagnerite.) While at first blush it seems like an easy target, there’s much debate surrounding this topic. Sometime I’d actually like to revisit that paper/project for revision and expansion.

The following semester I saw the full Ring cycle live at the Chicago Lyric Opera featuring James Morris, Michelle DeYoung, Plácido Domingo, Jane Eaglen, and John Treleaven. From the rushing, flowing E-flat chord that opens Das Rheingold to Valhalla’s destruction at the end of Götterdämmerung, I was transfixed. And not just when I was in the theater, mind you. For example, I saw Joshua Redman with the SFJazz Collective on the night between Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, and remember only bits of that performance. My mind was with Wagner throughout. It was my first Ring, and surely not my last. There are so many aspects of that performance I could write about here, but suffice it to say I was profoundly moved. I will say that one of the many things that stood to me was Sir Andrew Davis‘s musicianship. He phrased throughout the whole cycle. For example, the loudest and biggest moments of the whole week were Siegfried’s “Trauermarsch” and Brünnhilde’s “Immolation Scene,” both in Götterdämmerung‘s Act III. He let the music unfold with the drama, and therefore the audience and production alike grew throughout the week.

At this point, there was (and has been) no turning back. In 2008, I had the good fortune of spending some time in Bayreuth while on vacation. Having not been on the infamous years-long wait list, I didn’t attend that afternoon’s Tristan. But simply touring the grounds of the Festspielhaus and spending considerable time at Wahnfried was all I needed (and hoped for) for that trip. (And I ended up seeing Tristan that following fall in Chicago. Another moving performance.) Hopefully I’ll get a chance to return this summer while teaching abroad.

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(Photo: Yours truly at Bayreuth, 2008)

Yadda, yadda, yadda. I could go on and on, but it’s best to find a point.

So those are some things I’ve done. But what does that have to do with today’s bicentennial? The day I returned to school after seeing the Ring, I met with my saxophone professor, John Nichol, to talk about my trip. I jokingly told him that by the end of Götterdämmerung I felt like I had accomplished something just by sitting through it. After a good chuckle, he asked, “But did Wagner accomplish something?” I told him that he did. And I really meant it. Much like Beethoven with the symphony, Wagner composed a relatively “small” number of operas (13, with only 10 being performed regularly). But most of those compositions seemed to dramatically shift the music world in its own way. Most of the operas are artistic behemoths, requiring significant work on behalf of both performer and observer. Unlike Beethoven, however, he wrote very little outside of his operas. (Various orchestral works, songs, and piano work exist but are rarely performed, with Siegfried Idyll being arguably the most well known. I recommend The Other Wagner as a nice, comprehensive starting point.) He also wrote a lot of prose, and his ideas were/are just as game-changing as his music (and not all for the better).

200 years on, Wagner’s legacy continues to cast a shadow over so much in the art world, extending far beyond opera, and in ways that most people perhaps don’t notice. For instance, film music – from the early talkies to present – owes much to his lush musical style and leitmotif-laden compositional approach. Just think: The Wizard of Oz would be a very different film if it weren’t for him (e.g., the overture’s lush orchestration and play-by-play of the various melodies/characters.) And, specifically, much later, how would Apocalypse Now have fared? And how many weddings use Lohengrin‘s “Bridal Chorus”? (That’s not without controversy, as most Wagnerian things aren’t.) And how many children have enjoyed this cartoon? And without Wagner there’d possibly be no castle for Cinderella. Hell, Wagner even gave us horns, spears, and breastplates. (And, occasionally, the all-too-familiar fat lady who sings.)

Yet, despite all of this and more, we Wagnerites must often defend our love of his art and publicly state that we’re not in fact members of the Nazi party. (I didn’t really address that issue in this post. That’s not the purpose here, and it’s much too broad and muddled of a topic, though I touch on it here.) A nice, humorous encapsulation of this, especially the latter point, can be found is “Trick or Treat” from Season 2 of Curb Your Enthusiasm. (Imagine my delight upon first seeing this, considering that Seinfeld – Curb‘s older brother – is my all-time favorite show.)  Here’s a slightly NSFW clip:
[NOTE: Larry David’s brief but hilariously clever quotation of “Springtime for Hitler” is especially entertaining when juxtaposed with the Meistersinger overture at the end, the latter having a main character named Walther – the clip’s antagonist – and being closely associated with German nationalism.]

Pros, cons, and everything in between, Wagner left a huge mark. As mentioned above, his legacy extends far beyond his own music. Price asks if Wagner is bad for us, to which I strongly answer NO. Speaking for myself, his music has left an indelible impression on me. Two of my favorite musical experiences have been because of him (seeing the Ring and Meistersinger), and he’s never far from my ears and mind. And that is why his 200th anniversary is worth noting for me. I’ll of course be enjoying some of my favorite recordings and may even go through some select scenes on DVD. Who knows, perhaps I’ll wear one of my t-shirts and play with my action figure…

For y’all, I recommend and leave you with one of my favorite clips from the great BBC documentary The Golden Ring (about Solti’s recording Götterdämmerung for his landmark cycle):

And so I say, in the manner of Cosima’s tweets: Happy Birthday, R.

(Recent blog posts on Wagner here and here.)

 

MTH-V: Rhinemaidens

“How brightly you once shone, glorious star of the depths!” -Richard Wagner, Götterdämmerung

2013 may be Richard Wagner‘s bicentennial year, but this coming Wednesday 05.22 is his 200th birthday. Therefore I can’t help but post just a taste of his genius for this week’s video. (Finally back after last week’s absence as the semester wrapped up.)

More elaborate thoughts on Wagner are to come, but for now I’d like to share one of my favorite of his musical sections. Of course, with Wagner, one has a difficult time isolating segments. His concept of “endless melody” makes it difficult to find start- and endpoints in his operas beyond whole acts. Like many, arguably my favorite part of Der Ring des Nibelungen is in Götterdämmerung‘s Act III. However, unlike most, it’s the first scene. Most go to the Siegfried’s “Trauermarsch” or Brünnhilde’s “Immolation Scene,” both of which are sublime, but the Rhinemaidens’ trio which opens the act (after the prelude) is heaven. (Believe me, I have a hard time placing the trio above the “Trauermarsch,” but right now I’m going by which track has the bigger play count in my iTunes library.)

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(Photo: Arthur Rackham‘s The Rhinemaidens lament the loss of the Rhinegold.)

Oddly, this lyrical, light, and melodic passage by the three Rhinemaidens – Woglinde, Wellgunde, Flosshilde – doesn’t quite jive with the stereotypical Wagner sound, especially that associated with the Ring. If looking for aggressive Wagnerisms, see the aforementioned “Trauermarsch” and “Immolation Scene.” This scene occurs almost 17 hours into the Ring, offering a final respite before (SPOILER ALERT) Siegfried’s murder (after which is the “Trauermarsch”) and Brünnhilde’s destructive suicide (“Immolation Scene”).

There are subtitles in this clip if you’re interested, but I otherwise won’t get into the plot’s labyrinthine intricacies. (Though if you’d like to engage on that, I’m more than happy to. 🙂 ) I’m posting this for the music. Also, I generally strive to avoid posting commercial material in the MTH-V posts due to copyright concerns, but am afraid that I’m going to here. This footage is of Bayreuth’s landmark centenary Ring cycle by conductor Pierre Boulez and director Patrice Chéreau. This production was particularly scandalous at the time with its 19th-century industrialist setting. As you’ll see, the Rhinemaidens are presented as hydroelectric dam workers instead of water nymphs.

NOTE: I don’t own the copyright to this production.

Boulez/Chéreau production:

FOR FUN: The three Rhinemaidens, with piano reduction, from Cosima Wagner‘s 1904 production!

 

Die Meistersinger von Chicago

Last week I trekked to Chicago to see my first live performance of Richard Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. The Lyric Opera of Chicago is featuring the Glyndebourne production this season, and starring the Hans Sachs: James Morris. Rounding out the cast was Johan Botha, Illinois native Amanda Majeski, and Bo Skovhus. While I’m not here necessarily to write a review of the performance, I’d definitely like to reflect on my experience.

In brief, Die Meistersinger stands out among Wagner’s output. First, it’s his only comedy. (More specifically, it’s the only comedy in the Bayreuth canon.) As a loyal Wagnerite, I concede that humor is generally the last characteristic associated with the composer. He has occasional comedic moments in other works (e.g., “Das ist kein Mann!”), but weighty melodrama is often his weapon of choice. And, what’s more, it’s an actual comedy – instead of just “funny for Wagner.” (And if comedy’s not your thing, then you’ll at least find the subplot regarding arguments of aesthetics quite relevant.) Second, it’s his only opera that’s not about a vaguely Medieval – or earlier – plot or legend. It revolves around the actual singing guilds in Renaissance Europe. (And Hans Sachs, the main protagonist, was a real person, though he’s arguably more of a template than anything else in Die Meistersinger.) Third, Die Meistersinger is a structural departure from Wagner’s other works. In it he employs more traditional operatic devices – aria, chorus, ballet, a quintet, catchy melodies – albeit in his own Wagnerian manner. Finally, it’s long. And that’s saying something when discussing Wagner. Despite Der Ring des Nibelungen‘s mammoth length (~18ish hours over a week), Meistersinger is his longest standalone work. (Parsifal and Götterdämmerung aren’t far behind, however.) Including the two intermission, Chicago’s production lasted 5.5 hours, from 5:30 to 11:00 PM.

[Before going any further, it’s worth addressing the work’s controversy – something I’ll mention but not dwell on here, as it’s not the post for it. While Wagner in general was heavily propagandized by the Third Reich, Meistersinger was given particular attention by the Nazi regime. This stemmed from Hans Sachs’s final monologue, heavy with nationalistic sentiment. (It’s worth noting that the work was completed in 1868, a time rife with Franco-Prussian tension.) Also, the character of Beckmesser, the antagonist, is often considered an anti-Semitic Jewish caricature. It’s still debated today, and Katharina Wagner, the composer’s great-granddaughter and current co-director of Bayreuth along with her half-sister, has weighed in on the topic – she thinks Beckmesser probably relied on Jewish stereotypes.]

The production itself was wonderful. (See the above video for a taste.) While the staging was Walther’s peeping in on the congregation in the opening scene, the first act was “open” visually. Every inch of the stage was used in the second and third acts. From the streets and doorways and balconies of Nürnberg, to Hans Sachs’s detailed home and workshop, to the city’s celebration and contest, the sets were elaborate and helped to welcome the audience into a Nürnberg of centuries past. Perhaps what I appreciated most was the fact that the set grew in complexity throughout the work. After the prelude, the audience was treated to the opening scene’s expansive though minimal design. However, about four and a half hours later, at the start of the city’s festival, I felt as if the set engulfed the whole theater. (Did I mention that I sat in the first balcony?) The curtains rose on that final scene to full orchestra, chorus, dancers, jugglers masquerading on stilts, and other visual delights. Music and drama aside, it was a clever way to continually draw the audience in throughout such a massive work. After Chicago’s quasi-minimalist productions for 2005’s Ring and 2009’s Tristan und Isolde, it was nice to see something more fleshed out.

The performing was stellar. Botha was a joyous Walther von Stolzing and Majeski‘s Eva was heavenly. If what I saw last week was any indication, she’ll be one to watch over the next many years. She had a lighter timbre for Wagner, but the fact that it was never abrasive fit well with the piece’s tone. But James Morris towered over the rest of the cast – musically and literally (he’s 6’5″) – as Hans Sachs. He’s been arguably the world’s leading Sachs for the last number of years, as evidenced in The Met’s 2001 production (the one I enjoy at home). I saw him as Wotan in Chicago’s 2005 Ring, and he amazed me again in Meistersinger. Finally, honorable mention goes to the scene-stealing Bo Skovhus as Beckmesser. Not only did he sing magnificently, but his physical comedy throughout really brought the character’s foibles to life. I was struggling to contain my continuous laughter during and after Beckmesser’s his final, confused aria. (The rest of the audience was laughing, but I lost it.) He and Morris alone were worth the price of admission. Vocals aside, Sir Andrew Davis did wonders at the orchestra’s helm. Aside from a couple slight French horn hiccups in Act I – a farewell nod to Dale Clevenger? – the orchestra was near flawless.

Finally, the overall experience itself was transcendent. Again, Gesamtkunstwerk is better experienced firsthand rather than explained. All of the above elements, experienced together, led to my being transported out of my seat and into the story for a few hours last week. From the overture’s opening chord to the finale, I at no point looked down at my watch to check the time. I savored every minute of it, and it ranks as one of my favorite live musical experiences as an audience member. I look forward to seeing it again sometime. (Hopefully the next production and cast hold up!) Until then, I look forward to seeing Lyric’s production of Parsifal this fall!

A discussion of the piece and production by Lyric’s creative heads Anthony Freud, Renée Fleming, and Sir Andrew Davis: