Music and Libretto by Richard Wagner
A larger-than-life marathon rom-com
|Lyric Opera of Chicago presents|
|Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg|
Review by Katy Walsh
Lyric Opera of Chicago presents Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. Walther loves Eva. And she love him. The problem is Walther is a poor nobleman. And Eva is the daughter of a wealthy goldsmith. Plus, Eva is promised in marriage to the winner of the Mastersinger contest. In Nuremberg, the town takes their singing very seriously. The Mastersinger Guild is founded on only the best of the best. Eva’s father, Pogner, vows to marry his daughter only to a Mastersinger. Despite having no formal training, Walther is in it to win it. He’s ready to take on the Guild. Before he gets the girl, he’s going to need some help from the nurse, the apprentice and the cobbler. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg is a marathon rom-com.
Legendary Composer Richard Wagner is known for his operas riddled with ominous and memorable symbolism. If anything, Die Meistersinger is the surprisingly softer side of Wagner. Writing both the score and the libretto, Wagner shows his sense of humor in an opera tale suggesting the main character, in this case the adept Johan Botha (Walther), isn’t a master singer. Of course, the amusing fallacy reinforces this is not a serious opera of gods and mortals sleeping together. Although the music itself is grand, in length and depth, Die Meistersinger is grounded in hometown living.
Under the energetic and skilled baton of Sir Andrew Davis, the music rivets as the bright ,and sometimes playful, sound mingles with the sharper German words. Schön!
For an opera about Mastersingers, of course, there are a stageful! The entire ensemble gave it their impressive all for the entire duration. In particular, David Portillo (David) captivates in his love quest and singing lessons. A charming James Morris (Sachs) anchored the show and town with a gentle and formidable presence. And because it’s the Lyric, it’s not enough that there is 5 1/2 hours of audio pleasure, it must be aesthetic.
This is a new production. Designer Vicki Mortimer’s sets and costumes are majestic, moving us from cathedral to neighborhood street to cobbler house to townsquare. Mortimer uses the same framework, including a magnificent ceiling with a floral carving, in multiple scenes for town unity. She fills the scenes with colorfully clad villagers. In some scenes, the townsfolk are wearing modest festival attire, making the vibrant, sometimes stilted, performers pop out. The setting is the Feast of St. John’s and the Lyric fills the stage with revelers. There are a few scenes, like a group pranking a statue by putting on a bonnet, that seem excessive for the excessive opera. What are a few more minutes in Wagner’s village? I enjoyed the operatic buffoonery although ultimately I wished Wagner had given us slightly less of his romantic side.
Die Meistersinger is The Mastersingers. It’s good and long. My observation of opening night night is the audience stayed with it through the finale. There was a standing ovation and multiple ‘Bravos‘ attributed to performers. After 5 1/2 hours, that says it all!
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg continues through March 3rd at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker (map). Tickets are $34-$249, and are available by phone (312-332-2244) or online through their website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at LyricOpera.org. (Running time: 5 hours 30 minutes, includes two intermissions. Boxed meals available.)
Photos by Dan Rest
James Morris (Hans Sachs), Johan Botha (Stolzing), Amanda Majeski (Eva), Bo Skovhus (Beckmesser), David Portillo (David), Jamie Barton (Magdalene), Dmitry Ivashchenko (Pogner), Darren Jeffery (Kothner), David Cangelosi (Moser), Daniel Sutin (Nachtigall)
behind the scenes
Sir Andrew Davis (conductor), Marie Lambert (director); Ian Julier (projections), David McVicar (original production), Vicki Mortimer (designer), Paule Constable (original lighting design); Ian Robertson (guest chorus master), Andrew George (choreographer), Dan Rest (photos)
Loving every one of the 330 minutes total, M-Vo describes it with ‘melodious modal moods.’