14 March 2007

Checking back in with Meistersinger

Wagner DIE MEISTERSINGER VON NURNBERG, Met 13.III.2007; c. Keenan; Morris, Hong, Botha, Polenzani, Ketelsen, Nikitin, Zifchak.

It is a feat, for both sides of the footlights, to endure this work. Performance begins in full afternoon light, ending, after a 2-hour last act, after midnight. Thus, to have an engaging ensemble of singers is paramount. Equally, a conductor with a clear map and a good battle plan. It is difficult to judge Maestro John Keenan's work based on this single assignment, under the long shadow of James Levine (who'd been the sole Meistersinger conductor at the Met since 1993 till last evening), in a work possibly the most challenging of Wagner's to take in. But, I'll go ahead and venture that perhaps some of the brilliance of the opera's intricate weave was lost in Keenan's thoroughly brusque reading. As for the singers, James Morris has the whole Hans Sachs thing down. A voice of natural elegance and considerable size, sensitive to the words, mature in disposition. And his so-called "bark", which upsets a sizeable proportion of fans but has never offended me, is a quirk that works well in the character. As Eva, Hei-Kyung Hong labored during her dialogues with Sachs, which sit in a tessitura just below her comfort zone. But as soon as Wagner launches her line upwards in lyrical legato heaven, Hong is just perfect, youthful and simple. Johan Botha continues to improve as the Met's rising heldentenor, this time with a more secure "bigness" to the already attractive voice. Matthew Polenzani makes a sweet David, and Hans-Joachim Ketelsen a complete (remarkably not too caricaturish) Beckmesser. The only casting misstep may have been Evgeny Nikitin, whose voice lacked the stentorian presence to establish Pogner as a considerable ballast of the Guild. It hurts him more that the memory of Rene Pape's Pogner is surprisingly fresh in my mind.

Next in line: Aegyptische Helena and my complicated relationship with Deborah Voigt's ever changing voice.